Mile Marker Zero
“There is a saying that if you remember the sixties, then you weren’t there; in the same vein, this book should be read by not only anyone with even a passing interest in this fascinating period of literary creativity, but also by anyone who actually was in Key West during the seventies—they could probably use a few reminders of just what was buzzing on the island at the time anyway.”
Geographically, Key West is little more than a two-by-four mile island tipping the toe of the United States of America into the ocean. Artistically, it has been the inspirational refuge for the creative brilliance of giants from Hemingway to Williams, McGuane to Thompson, with a generous helping of musicians such as Jimmy Buffet on the side.
The small island—or rather its alumni—reached hedonistic heights during the seventies, with love and drugs as freely available—and as openly indulged in—as the fishing. After the influx of sixties hippies, the laissez faire nature of the island soon attracted a thriving gay community in the seventies because, as Key West resident, author, publisher, and Jimmy Buffet’s best pal, Tom Corcoran, explains: “No one was in the closet in Key West. There was a lot of tolerance. After all, there was nowhere to hide. There were no secrets on the island.”
As Mr. McKeen’s enthralling book reveals, there was enough partying and rampaging on a nightly basis to give the National Inquirer a daily headline. But it was also a place where friendships formed “like amoebas.” But this was not the place for the fainthearted, as the reader learns when Mr. McKeen retells a story of the Old Anchor Inn, known as the Snake Pit, where “a guy with a wooden leg unscrewed it, filled . . . it up with beer and passed it around the bar.”
Knowing Papa Hemingway’s love of all things fishing and drinking, it’s no surprise that the great man was captivated by Key West and of course, numerous writers hungry to follow in the great man’s footsteps were tempted down U.S. Highway 1. What is perhaps astonishing is the pool of diverse creative talent that accumulated during this period, when everyone, from Tennessee Williams to the unpredictable genius Hunter S. Thompson, seemed to fall under the spell of the “Island of Bones.”
Mr. McKeen is perfectly placed to relay the antics of this decadent decade, not merely because of his academic credentials, but more importantly because of his fine use of the English language. His words would most certainly draw a nod of approval from all those he writes about and clearly admires.
Well-crafted observations, such as his description of McGuane’s distinctive writing as being “rock and roll literature . . . each burst of wordplay like a lightening-fast solo on a Gibson Les Paul” are indicative of just how in tune with the era the author is.
But it is the words of famous (and infamous) writers like Hunter S. Thompson—“The music business s a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side”—that steal the show, as Mr. McKeen clearly intends.
There is a saying that if you remember the sixties, then you weren’t there; in the same vein, this book should be read by not only anyone with even a passing interest in this fascinating period of literary creativity, but also by anyone who actually was in Key West during the seventies—they could probably use a few reminders of just what was buzzing on the island at the time anyway.