Bach, Richard (1936—)

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Bach, Richard (1936—)

Richard Bach, a pilot and aviation writer, achieved success as a new age author with the publication of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a novel that Bach maintains was the result of two separate visionary experiences over a period of eight years. Bach's simple allegory with spiritual and philosophical overtones received little critical recognition but captured the mood of the 1970s, becoming popular with a wide range of readers, from members of the drug culture to mainstream Christian denominations.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1970) deals with the new age theme of transformation. It is the story of a spirited bird who by trial and error learns to fly for grace and speed, not merely for food and survival. When he returns to his flock with the message that they can become creatures of excellence, he is banished for his irresponsibility. He flies alone until he meets two radiant gulls who teach him to achieve perfect flight by transcending the limits of time and space. Jonathan returns to the flock, gathering disciples to spread the idea of perfection. With a small edition of only 7,500 copies and minimal promotion, the book's popularity spread by word of mouth, and within two years sold over one million copies, heading the New York Times Bestseller List for ten months. In 1973 a Paramount film version, with real seagulls trained by Ray Berwick and music by Neil Diamond, opened to mostly negative reviews.

Bach has been inundated with questions about the book's underlying metaphysical philosophy. Ray Bradbury called it "a great Rorschach test that you read your own mystical principles into." Buddhists felt that the story of the seagull, progressing through different stages of being in his quest for perfect flight, epitomized the spirit of Buddhism, while some Catholic priests interpreted the book as an example of the sin of pride. Many have turned to the novel for inspiration, and passages have been used for important occasions such as weddings, funerals, and graduations. Bach continues to insist that he merely recorded the book from his visions and is not the author. He emphasizes that his usual writing style is more descriptive and ornate and that he personally disapproves of Jonathan's decision to return to his flock.

A direct descendant of Johann Sebastian Bach, Richard David Bach was born in Oak Park, Illinois, to Roland Bach, a former United States Army Chaplain, and Ruth (Shaw) Bach. While attending Long Beach State College in California, he took flying lessons, igniting his lifelong passion for aviation. From 1956-1959 he served in the United States Air Force and earned his pilot wings. In the 1960s he directed the Antique Airplane Association and also worked as a charter pilot, flight instructor, and barnstormer in the Midwest, where he offered plane rides for three dollars a person. During this period, he worked as a free-lance writer, selling articles to Flying, Soaring, Air Facts, and other magazines. He also wrote three books about flying which were Stranger to the Ground (1963), Biplane (1966), and Nothing by Chance (1969).

Since Jonathan Livingston Seagull, he has continued to share his philosophies on life, relationships, and reincarnation in six different books. Gift of Wings (1974) is a collection of inspirational essays, most with some connection to flying. The 1977 book Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, which received an American Book Award nomination in 1980, deals with Bach's encounter with Shimode, a self-proclaimed Messiah. There's No Such Place as Far Away (1979) tells the story of a child who learns about the meaning of life from an encounter with a hummingbird, owl, eagle, hawk, and seagull on the way to a birthday party. The autobiographical book The Bridge Across Forever (1984) discusses the need to find a soul mate and describes Bach's real-life relationship with actress Leslie Parrish, whom he married in 1977. One (1988) and Running from Safety: An Adventure of the Spirit (1995) use flashbacks to express Bach's philosophies. In One, Bach and his wife Leslie fly from Los Angeles to Santa Monica and find themselves traveling through time, discovering the effects of their past decisions both on themselves and others. In Running from Safety, Bach is transformed into a nine-year-old boy named Dickie, a representation of his inner child. In 1998, Bach opened a new channel of communication with his followers through his own internet web site where he shares his thoughts and answers questions.

—Eugenia Griffith DuPell

Further Reading:

Metzger, Linda, and Deborah Straub, editors. Contemporary Authors. New Revision Series. Vol 18. Detroit, Gale, 1986.

Mote, Dave, editor. Contemporary Popular Writers. Detroit, St. James, 1996.

Podolsky, J. D. "The Seagull Has Landed." People Weekly. April 27, 1992, 87-88.

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Bach, Richard (1936—)

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