True stories of writers and pirates, painters and potheads, guitar pickers and drug merchants in Key West in the 1970s.
For Hemingway and Fitzgerald, there was Paris in the twenties. For others, later, there was Greenwich Village, Big Sur, and Woodstock. But for an even later generation—one defined by the likes of Jimmy Buffett, Tom McGuane, and Hunter S. Thompson—there was another moveable feast: Key West, Florida.
The small town on the two-by-four-mile island has long been an artistic haven, a wild refuge for people of all persuasions, and the inspirational home for a league of great American writers. Some of the artists went there to be literary he-men. Some went to re-create themselves. Others just went to disappear—and succeeded. No matter what inspired the trip, Key West in the seventies was the right place at the right time, where and when an astonishing collection of artists wove a web of creative inspiration.
Mile Marker Zero tells the story of how these writers and artists found their identities in Key West and maintained their friendships over the decades, despite oceans of booze and boatloads of pot, through serial marriages and sexual escapades, in that dangerous paradise.
Unlike the “Lost Generation” of Paris in the twenties, we have a generation that invented, reinvented, and found itself at the unending cocktail party at the end—and the beginning—of America’s highway.
Geographically isolated Key West, Fla., gained a reputation for vice and lawlessness while also developing a unique spirit and culture both Latin and Anglo, writes McKeen (biographer of Hunter S. Thompson). The spirit of Hemingway, who wrote or worked on nearly all of his major works there between 1928 and 1939, hovers over the island; and Tennessee Williams moved there in the'40s and was still hanging out into the '70s when the streets were thick with younger writers, artists, and musicians like Tom McGuane, Jim Harrison, Hunter Thompson, and Jimmy Buffett. Although McKeen's portrait of Key West as a onetime bohemian utopia and hotspot is atmospheric, and many of his anecdotes are absorbing, others are marred by patches of flabby and testosterone-fueled prose and never quite gel into a cohesive narrative. 8 pages of b&w photos.
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Mile Marker Zero
Having lived in Key West in the late 70's and early 80's, and being a fan of McGuane, Corcoran, Harrison, Chatham and Buffett, this was a great trip down memory lane. Aside from Corcoran, they had flamed out of Key West just as I was arriving, and they hung with the hippie crowd while I hung with the local Conch crowd, but Mile Marker Zero really filled in the blanks.
Heady times, a wild frontier town that played by it's own limited rules, and a fun cast of misfits at at the genesis of their respective trajectories, some on the way up, some on the way down, some just along for the ride. A good reminder that the creative process can be painful, and ambition often leaves a trail of anguish. McKeen has provided interesting insights into the post-Hemingway literary Key West, and important backgrounds on some of our most successful entertainers.
As a writer myself, and a survivor of the phase that followed the era in Key West that McKeen covered in Mile Marker Zero, it was a lot of fun to read. Well done.
An excellent ode to the seventies
An intriguing set of tales about the seventies in Key West that paints a colorful picture of the era and the famous writers and artists who called that place home.
Nice recent history of Key West. Great characters. Too many words. Not enough dates to keep you on track as you read through. Probably should've re-wrote it a few more times.