The American author of 'Even Cowgirls Get The Blues' on taking acid with Timothy Leary and not being responsible for killing Elvis - despite rumours to the contrary.
The author of ‘Even Cowgirls Get The Blues’ talks about taking acid with the world’s leading authority on the subject and explains that there’s no truth to those unkind rumours that he killed the King
Contrary to popular belief, I didn’t kill Elvis Presley. For years there was this rumour that Elvis was reading my first novel when he died on the toilet. One of the guys in the Memphis Mafia had said as much in his autobiography. According to the official Elvis biography, ‘The King’ was actually reading a book which compared sexual positions to signs of the zodiac. Which is pretty embarrassing but at least it lets me off the hook.
If it wasn’t for the drug scene in the 1960s and ’70s, I’d have never befriended Timothy Leary. Timothy was a riot. My wife and I once went for a meal with him and his wife. We went to the hot new place in town, only we dropped acid on the way. Soon after we arrived we were asked to leave, so we got outside and discovered we had a flat tyre. Tim and I, being men, are convinced we can fix it so we get to work. According to my wife, it was like watching a Laurel and Hardy movie. And because we were on acid, time began to warp. In the end, we drove home on three good tyres, four hours after we’d been thrown out of the restaurant.
I’m quite deaf nowadays. In the ’60s I was a huge fan on the MC5, the self-professed world’s loudest band. I once listened to them for 12 hours straight. After that, I hear the world the way Pete Townshend does.
Fernanda writes for Italy’s Corriere Della Sera. A few years ago she christened me ‘the most dangerous writer in America’. You simply can’t beat publicity like that.
Gus Van Sant
Hollywood fucks up everything. I wrote seven drafts of the screenplay for Even Cowgirls Get The Blues. Each time I was told the script was too literary. So the director Gus Van Zant went off and wrote the script on his own. Given the chance again, I’d rewrite it for free. I later attended the infamous Toronto screening after which the picture was completely re-cut. I actually thought the first version was more enchanting than the second. Still, at least it helped the film do okay business – it was a big hit in Hungary. Thank God!
Rain Phoenix and Uma Thurman
Rain and Uma starred in Cowgirls. One of the big problems with the film was the first monologue which was performed by Rain, who looks great but wasn’t really an actress back then. So that was the first 15 minutes blown. And the movie went downhill from there. You had Rain and Uma both playing passive, so there was no spark between their characters – which is terrible since there’s is the key relationship of the story. People talk about all the great cameos in the movie – John Hurt, Keanu Reeves, Buck Henry – but if the people carrying the film haven’t got it, you’ve an uphill battle.
Deborah Winger and Bruce Willis
It’s nice to have friends in high places. I’m close with Deborah Winger who was Oscar-nominated for Terms Of Endearment and An Officer And A Gentlemen. Thanks to her I got a part in Breakfast Of Champions with Bruce Willis, which is one of the few films Hollywood didn’t fuck up. It really is a great film. Look, I don’t care for Kurt Vonnegut – he’s pompous and rude. And talk of the cult of Vonnegut is just lazy journalism. But Breakfast Of Champions the film was fantastic –-Bruce Willis has never been better.
Writers have to have their secrets. Biographical information can be useful but it can really get in the reader’s way. Take Norman Mailer – I knew way too much about him by the end of his life. Mystery is my great stock in trade. And the greatest thing about art is its mystery.
Joyce is my favourite writer. I have Finnegan’s Wake on my bedside table. I’ve had it there for years. I think I’m only on about page 43. But it’s a great aid to dreaming. And it’s very interesting because its subject is water and we’re about 75% water. We’re sopping wet. I should be wearing an oil skin.
Tom Robbins’ B Is For Beer is available from No Exit Press here
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