In the post-Hemingway Key West, the creative void his death created was quickly filled by an artistic rat-pack of sorts. Jerry Jeff Walker introduced the town to Jimmy Buffett. Jimmy lent his apartment to Hunter S. Thompson to “get his head straight”. Writers Thomas McGuane and Jim Harrisson, actors Peter Fonda and Margot Kidder, Tennessee Williams and more; hung out together drinking too much, and smoking a lot of dope.
They chased tail and tarpon as much as they chased their muse. Out of the cocaine, acid, and mushrooms came Jimmy’s unparalleled fame. Rancho Deluxe, The Rum Diaries, Easy Rider, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; all percolated up from the end of the road in the southernmost city in the Continental United States.
Before the cruise ships came, before Key West began to draw the northern tourist trade, it was a fishing town. Dope running paid better though, and the weed poured in and out of the island like in untold volumes. Flats boats, charter rigs, and shrimp boats; the only thing that prevented them from reaking of dope was the stink of fish and forgotten bait wells.
The single best account of that time was written by William McKean in Mile Marker Zero: The Moveable Feast of Key West.
But, that’s not what I want to talk about today. I just finished reading Thomas McGuane’s 92 in the Shade
It is very hard to describe. You can read the blurb and the reviews, but to fully understand you have to actually read the book. The true creative genius’ of that era, bordered on insanity. You can see it in the Gonzo Journalism of Hunter S. McGuane was much the same. His characters battle for sanity, sometimes not winning the fight. The prose is esoteric, written in words that people don’t normally use in everyday speech. Some of it is brilliant. Some of it is bizarre. I bought it for the story of a guy who wanted to escape normal society by becoming a Keys fishing guide. What I got was so much deeper, and a little bit disturbing.
I feel that the author was telling us more about the state of the human condition in the 70’s than anything else. It’s a challenging read, not for the casual Keys enthusiast. There’s a fine line between creative genius and crazy. Which side McGuane falls on is up to you to decide.