April 05, 2006
It's an Honor Just to be Dominated
Hey look, I'm one of the
top losers Honorable Mentions in the Felix Morley Journalism Competition. Congratulations, Kerry: I knew you'd win as soon as I saw the finalist list.
April 01, 2006
Interview With a Drunk
I was chatting with my friend Sean Higgins the other night about his profile of Modern Drunkard editor Frank Kelly Rich that ran at NRO a couple weeks ago. He mentioned there was a lot of stuff from the interview that didn't make it into the piece. "That's why you need a blog," I offered, and added that if he sent the Q&A to me I'd post it.
Jeremy Lott chimed in that he would put it on 4Pundits, which he has, but Sean sent the transcript to both of us, so I might as well post it here, too.
FKR: Howya doing buddy?
FKR: I’m sorry I missed you yesterday but things got a little out of hand as they usually do.
Q: Oh yeah, care to tell me?
FKR: Oh, a mini-bender.
Q: Well, it’s a little bit of color for my story. So, let’s start there. How often does that happen, mini-benders around the Modern Drunkard office?
FKR: Pretty often. Sometimes they’ll be actual seven-day-style ones, especially when I’m researching a story.
FKR: That’s how you research it, man. You go to the bars.
Q: How often do you remember your research?
FKR: Well, I carry a little data recorder with me. So I just jabber into that.
Q: How often has there been stuff on your data recorder that you have no recollection of how it got there?
FKR: Oh, all the time. If you do a proper bender you’re going to blackout almost every night around midnight or so. When I say you blackout, I think that you’re actually conscious during those times you just -- for psychological reasons -- don’t want to remember it.
Q: It’s not that you can’t remember it, you just don’t want to?
FKR: Yeah. Nowadays everybody has these videophones. They can show you what you did the previous night. Then when you see it you kind of remember it. It’s like, oh yeah, yeah, I was conscious then, I just blacked it out. I think you’re conscious while you’re there. It’s like when people say, “Oh, forgive me for smashing your windows, I was blacked out. I wasn’t really there.” But you were actually there. You just want to forget you were there. You had a good reason to want to smash those windows.
I always believe that whatever you do when you’re drunk is what you really want to do anyway. It just removes all the kind of …
FKR: Exactly. It removes that device in your head that says you probably shouldn’t do that.
Q: The ego is replaced by the id?
FKR: Exactly, exactly. The lizard brain comes up.
Q: Now when you do this is it with the rest of the staff of the magazine? Or do you do independent research? How does it work?
FKR: Usually it is with some staffers or some friends but last night half the time I was by myself because I was doing a story on some of the new bars down on Broadway [in Denver]. You notice more when you’re by yourself. You record more because if you’re talking to somebody the conversation drifts away from whatever subject you’re researching.
Every time we have a sales meeting or planning a writing meeting they always generate parties or benders. I’ve never seen that not happen.
Q: Let’s go back to the beginning. Where did the idea for your magazine come from?
FKR: I was in Austin, Texas. I had a four-book contract. I was about midway through. I was a Bladerunner-esque futuristic private detective series. I was a punk rocker then. I always wanted to start a punk rock ‘zine. I was reading a lot of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer at the time. I wanted to call it Modern Nihilist. It would talk about existentialism, nihilism and punk rock and stuff.
So I started writing for it and I noticed that I was doing a lot of my writing in bars. I had spent the previous ten years traveling the world, drinking and absorbing the culture of drinking. I decided then that I should do a magazine about something I actually knew something about, which was drinking.
Then I moved to Denver about ten years ago. In fact we’re coming up on our ten-year anniversary.
It was really crude at first. It was a 16-page, black and white, kind of photocopy thing.
Q: I read in one interview where you said you actually made up ads to appear in the early issues.
FKR: Yeah, in our first issue every ad was made up because nobody would advertise with us. Not even the dive bars would touch us. In the second issue we got one advertiser. In the third issue I think we got three. It’s been growing ever since then.
I’m amazed that anybody advertised because back then it was such a crude, crappy ‘zine. The writing was terrible. It was always done in a fit of drunkenness. I’m surprised it lasted.
Q: So how long has it lasted?
FKR: Ten years. Yeah, June is going to be our ten-year anniversary. We’re going to put a special issue out.
Q: I first noticed it about two and a half years or so ago. At least that’s when I first started finding it in the Washington D.C. area, where I live, in a few local bookstores and magazine stands. It’s interesting because it is usually right next to Cigar Aficionado and the other so-called “lifestyle” magazines.
FKR: Yeah, it’s always been a problem for the bookstores in terms of where to put it, in the humor section, in food and wine, in the lifestyle section.
Q: Well, how pleased are you with the ten years of progress?
FKR: As much as I can be, I think. It’s actually been pretty fun. Not many people can drink all the time and not feel guilty about it because it is research. When I wake with a horrible hangover having spent all of this money, I think, “Wow, I did some great research last night. If only I can remember any of it.”
Q: So you’re living out the dream then?
FKR: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. We’re negotiating the second book now. We’re also talking to some TV people who want to do a Drunkard TV show.
Q: Sort of like [Comedy Central’s] Insomniac?
FKR: Yeah, but more expressly about the art of drinking. It’ll discuss history and lore and how to drink cocktails and stuff like that. It’ll be a little more upscale.
Q: Is it as fun to put together as it seems when you’re reading it?
FKR: You know it’s always the same. I always swear every issue I will stop doing this but its always the same way. It’s always like you drink for three weeks straight, doing your research then you have a one-week frenzy of work. Of not sleeping or sleeping on the floor of the office. You’re panicking because you have all of these ads that have dates on them for music shows or events so you have got to get it in. It is just madness.
I always say, “This time, the day I turn it in I’m going to turn around and start doing articles for the next one right away.” But it never happens. It’s too easy to just go to the bar and say I’m just going to do research.
Q: Why does the world need a magazine like Modern Drunkard?
FKR: Well there really isn’t another one like it. There are scotch magazines and whiskey magazines and beer magazines but none of them talk about heavy drinking as a lifestyle. And a lot of people do it. There are a lot of drunks out there and they’ve never had a voice or an instructional guide. They just kind of absorbed it from their peers at the bars and stuff.
Q: You’ve referred to drunks as an oppressed minority, right?
FKR: Majority. They misquoted me on that. The majority of Americans drink but they tend to vote against alcohol. They’re like Baptists. They’ll get loaded on the weekends and then they’ll go to church and say how bad alcohol is. We have a really weird dualism here in America. It’s a half-puritan, half-wild west mindset. We have the greatest number of binge drinkers in the world but we also have the greatest number of non-drinkers, which is strange.
Q: Well, what do you think the culture in America is like right now towards drinkers?
FKR: It’s weird. It is kind of going both directions at once. It is tending to move toward prohibition. The pendulum tends to swing every hundred years in that direction. MADD is getting more powerful. They are attacking the bars to get rid of cigarettes. Now they’re trying to get rid of happy hours and making shots illegal. But at the same time some states are getting rid of their old blue laws where you can’t buy liquor on Sunday. They also did a “pop the cap” thing in North Carolina where they raised the [allowable] level of alcohol for their craft beers. So it’s going in both directions. We’re kind of stuck in the middle now but I tend to see it going toward prohibition because MADD is becoming more powerful. I just think these kinds of nanny groups are moving in that direction.
Q: Is it just MADD or are there any other groups?
FKR: There is a whole bunch of them. All these nanny organizations. They’re against almost anything that is fun.
Q: The Center for Science in the Public Interest?
FKR: Yeah. Then there is the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which has a huge half-billion dollar budget. They give all of this money to all the anti-drinking groups like MADD. It’s funny too because that organization was founded by one of the Johnson brothers of Johnson & Johnson. What they do now is they produce a lot of the pharmaceuticals that are kind of trying to replace alcohol.
I see a conflict of interest there.
Q: Do you see the magazine as having much of a political bent? It would seem to be libertarian-inclined.
FKR: Yes, we are. I think most of this staff is libertarian. We have a broad range though. We have Republicans and Democrats and even a monarchist.
We’re political in the sense that we’ll attack MADD. I think we were the first publication to touch those guys because everybody else was so scared of them. They were the great sacred cow you couldn’t touch. The politicians won’t go against them, that’s for sure.
Q: Have there been many repercussions for you or the magazine based on that?
FKR: No. We’ve been trying to get a dialogue going with those guys but all they do is curse us in the press. We try to talk to them but they realize that we know all of the lies they are telling. They know we won’t duck the issue like some mainstream journalists will: “Oh I sense you’re lying here, but I won’t call you on it.”
We will pound on their lies and they won’t have a dialogue with us. We’ve tried but they won’t talk to us.
Q: Have you tried the same thing with Alcoholics Anonymous?
FKR: Actually, no, because we’re not really against those guys. I understand why that organization exists. I’m glad it does exist. I’m glad there is a safety net there for some people because not everybody can handle alcohol. Alcohol is certainly not for everybody. I’m glad that there is an organization to catch those people because we certainly don’t want them at the bar, dragging us down and ruining our good time. And they will.
Some of those guys who go to AA, those are the guys who go to bars and just lose their freaking minds and smash stuff. Who needs that, you know?
Q: One of the things that is interesting about your magazine is that it doesn’t try to be too glamorous about drinking. You talk about the whole experience, like getting hangovers.
FKR: Exactly, we don’t try to hide it. We don’t try to glamorize it to the point where it is this just a wonderful thing. If you read a cigar magazine, they tend to do that, as if smoking a cigar will make you a king or something like that.
There’s always a sense of humor in the downside of anything. We’re not a rah-rah, cheerleader type of magazine. We talk about hangovers and going to jail and all the kinds of things that go with drinking a lot.
Q: You want to talk about the entire culture of drinking?
FKR: Exactly. We tend not to do a lot of hangover cure-type things because we think hangovers are part of drinking, the yin and yang of the experience. You’ve got to have that. Otherwise every jerk would be at the bar drinking and you’d never be able to drink because there’d be like 50 people in front of you every time. Hangovers weed out the amateur drinkers, a good proper hangover.
Q: Do you have any issues with those weekend warriors?
FKR: No, because I understand why they are doing it. They have jobs and wives and maybe families and they can’t get out there. There were times in my life when I was working the nine-to-five thing and I couldn’t get out to drink every night. Sometimes it’s just circumstances. I don’t blame them a bit. It’s better going out on a vacation two times a week than none.
Q: Another thing that is interesting about your magazine is that you have a real interest in the history and culture of drinking. You just had a three-part series of female drinkers in history called “Ladies Thirst.”
FKR: We do a lot of historical stuff. We tend to look backwards a lot because the grandest drinking eras were in the past. There was the Jackie Gleason-Rat Pack era [the 1950s and early 60s], then was the W.C. Fields era during prohibition, then there was the Gay 90s before that.
There were all these great drinking eras in the past and what we try to do is to borrow a lot of information from those. A lot of information was lost in the 1970s when the hippies took over and they turned away from alcohol and towards drugs and stuff. A lot of drinking lore went down the tubes. We’re trying to rediscover that stuff.
I don’t consider this a great drinking era right now. There is a lot of anti-alcohol attitude. None of the big celebrities will admit to drinking unless they are checking out of rehab. It’s sad. In the old days Bogart and all those guys were really upfront about their drinking. They didn’t give a damn who knew.
Q: You talked about the culture turning away from drinking during the hippie era. What is your opinion on anti-prohibition movements like marijuana legalization and that type of stuff?
FKR: (Sighs) Well, we recently clashed with those guys. They just passed this thing in Denver where you can possess so much marijuana – it’s still illegal though under state and federal law. Anyway, I sat down and had a debate with one of these [pro-pot] guys on the pages of a local magazine because the whole crux of his campaign was that it was safer than alcohol. It demonized alcohol. It was, “How can you have this evil, evil drug that’s kills all these people and yet you won’t legalize this harmless little drug that doesn’t kill anybody.”
So I took him to task in this interview. I told him, “We’re going to launch a campaign against you because if you trash alcohol we’re going to try to bring you down. We’re going to make sure every drunk in the state knows what kind of methods you’re using.”
Before then, I was for legalization of pot. It’s not a dangerous drug although it does make people stupid. That is why I don’t use it. But I don’t see any danger in it. It just makes people mellow.
Q: And legalization of drugs generally?
FKR: You know, not so much. I’m a libertarian in that sense that I’m a big believer in personal responsibility, in individual responsibility, but I think Americans could not handle that kind of thing. If you could go to the store and buy crack at a 7-11 or something I think people would just lose their freaking minds.
Q: We have a president who is a former drunk and is now a professed teetotaler. What do you think of that?
FKR: Yeah, I guess he was a pretty wild boy until he was, what, 40, 42? Then he went solidly straight. I’ve heard rumors that he is drinking but of course there is no proof of that.
I think he needs to drink. I think he needs to have a couple of drinks.
Back in the day though presidents used to drink like crazy. FDR was loaded every night. Even Ronald Reagan drank a couple of beers a day I think. I don’t know about Carter. I’ll bet Clinton did.
In fact, I had a friend who was a waitress at some Louisiana [Arkansas?] place. I’m not sure if this was when he was governor or president. But he had this system where he would only drink the neck of the beer down and then she would have to bring him a new. This happened all the time. This made it look like he wasn’t really drinking all that much.
Q: Are you still running the boycott against Jack Daniels?
FKR: Yes, we are. It looks like they are not going to back down on that. Hopefully we have impacted their sales. I think eventually we will. Because once you get that reputation dinged …
Right up until then Jack Daniels was a solid drink. I grew up on the stuff. If you were drinking Jack Daniels, you were drinking a manly drink. But nowadays we’re trying to get out that it isn’t a manly drink anymore, that it’s for sissies.
I think it is taking effect. I’ve checked the Internet and now when people talk about Jack Daniels it is in much less glowing terms.
Q: It’s the Zima of whiskeys?
FKR: That’s right. In fact they can’t lower it anymore and still call it whiskey. They’ll have to call it “diluted whiskey.” That’s probably what’s stopping them from dropping it any lower.
Q: Just to back up a bit, how exactly did you find out that they had lowered the alcohol content of Jack Daniels?
FKR: One of our alert readers caught onto it. I mean they did breathe a word about this to the press. They just slipped it right under the wire. They did not announce it anywhere. So I did my research and I sent them an e-mail. They sheepishly admitted yeah, we lowered it. They said they had talked to our good folks, our customers – they have a weird kind of southern, homey language they use when they respond to you by e-mail. It’s kind of funny. I’m sure it’s some guy who just graduated from Harvard who’s following some kind of guideline …
Q: “Drop all your ‘g’s in all written correspondence”?
FKR: Exactly, exactly. And use the word “folks” a lot like you are some humble 70 year-old whiskey-maker.
We’re upset about a few other things too. We’ve talked on our web site about lowering the drinking age and stuff like that too, which I really believe in. If those kids are old enough to go over to Iraq and possibly die then they are definitely old enough to have a beer I think.
Q: What do you think of the liquor industry generally?
FKR: Well, we don’t have much contact with them aside from at the bar. They stay away from us. I think we’re a little too controversial to work with right now. People like Molson have advertised with us and some absinthe companies but we’re still a little too far out there for the mainstream.
Q: I notice you have a lot of bar ads in your magazine but no ads from any of the industries except for the ones you mentioned.
FKR: Yeah, we never really pursued that. I know better. They’re not going to touch us. And the one time they did, they tried to reformulate our editorial policy and soften us down. Molson advertised with us for a while and suggested that we change the magazine’s name to Modern Drinking or Modern Drinker. I was like, nahhh.
We made that decision really early on. It could have been easier to call it Cocktail Magazine or something safe like that but it wouldn’t have gotten the point across.
Q: What do you think of these drink responsibly ad campaigns?
FKR: It’s just lip service. They’re just trying to cover their asses legally. It’s ridiculous. They’ll have this commercial about just crazy things happening because this guy is out drinking beer and he’s meeting all these great girls and dancing around and then it shows them all arriving home at 7 a.m. and then a caption says, “Please drink responsibly.” How can you drink responsibly and have those kind of wild times? It’s impossible.
And what does that mean anyway, “drink responsibly”?
Q: Do you ever worry about lawsuits against yourself or the magazine? If like a reader ever wrapped his car around a telephone poll, then blamed you guys?
FKR: I think the First Amendment is going to protect us on that one. It’s like if some guy wrecks his car and he reads NASCAR magazine or Car and Driver Magazine or something. “Oh, I’m gonna sue them for making me drive fast?”
I don’t think there’s going to be any trouble. We have a lot of satire in there, so they’d have a hard time. I’m sure it’s going to happen eventually. There is no doubt in my mind, especially if we become really rich or something.
Q: What is your circulation at right now?
FKR: It varies between 30,000-50,000. We’re about to re-launch in Minneapolis again, so that’s probably bring it up to 45,000.
Whenever we try to go into a new market – which happens all the time. Like right now we are re-launching in Minneapolis and Philly and New York and San Francisco. And sometimes if we go into those markets it’ll be like 50,000. Our sales reps in those makers tend to be – not flaky, but they’re busy drinking and stuff. You can never really tell what is going on.
Q: Is it true that you guys were once thrown out of a liquor industry convention?
FKR: Yes, they threw us out because we were distributing our magazine. It was Absolute Vodka -- something in Vegas, during the bar and nightclub convention. It was funny because they had these girls in there doing body shots and they had these guys going around pouring liquor right in to people’s mouths like some decadent orgy. It was like somebody throwing a Hustler rep out of an orgy because, ohmigod, that’s a dirty magazine. It was totally ridiculous because people were getting loaded as hell there and we go in with our pro-drinking magazine and they throw us all out. They called all the security on us.
Q: What do you think of DWI and DUI laws? Should they be changed?
FKR: Yeah, they should all go back up to one [.10 percent blood alcohol level] as far as I am concerned. They always say oh, we are happy with it at .08 but now here they are saying it should be .05. Once that goes through, it’s going to be .03.
Which is funny because there is a famous -- or should I say not so famous? – study called the Grand Rapids study, where they took all this data from Germany, mostly Bavaria. They did this study over ten years of who gets in accidents and what their BACs are. What they found out was that the people who were the safest drivers and who were the least likely to get into accidents on the road were the guys with a .01-.05 BAC. So if they were slightly drink they better drivers than even the sober people. I guess you just loosen up a bit.
It’s weird that that study is so rarely quoted. They just kind of buried it.
It came out, I think, in the late 80s, early 90s. I’ve read about it only twice since it came out. I think the Denver Post mentioned it once and some journal of medicine mentioned it. But it was totally suppressed. Nobody wanted to hear about that.
Q: Suppressed by who? Or was it just a conspiracy of silence?
FKR: It was the Man. The Man! (Laughs)
I think journalists have this unstated agreement with MADD that they would just take whatever they said as fact. If you into their data and actually break it down they tell so many lies it is just amazing.
Like the whole “alcohol-related” thing. You know that 40-50% of all accidents are alcohol-related. But [to MADD] that means that if two sober people crash into each other and there is a drunk guy in the backseat or if a sober guy runs over a drunk guy on the sidewalk – in fact, if anybody involved in the accident had any measurable amount of alcohol or if there is a beer can nearby, it is considered alcohol-related.
Alcohol-caused [accidents] are about 13%, when you break all of the statistics down.
Q: Here in Washington D.C. …
FKR: I read about that.
Q: No, not that case – I know what you are referring to and that spooked a heck of a lot of my friends – but there is a big effort to ban smoking in all the bars and restaurants.
FKR: Yeah, they’re about to do that here in Colorado.
Q: New York too. Bloomberg is big on that. What do you think of those things? Is that part of the prohibitionism that you see as being on the rise?
FKR: It is, it is. It is just the governments getting deeper and deeper into the bars and controlling stuff. We printed a propaganda poster concerning that. “First they’re going come for your cigarettes. Then they’re going to come for your happy hours. Then they’re going to come for your booze.”
Once the government gets in there -- and the more they get in there -- they’re just going to want to regulate it more and more. Next, they’re going to attack happy hour because it encourages drunk driving and bad behavior. Then they’re going to take away shots. It’s going to get ridiculous.
We’re going to end up in these little cafeterias where they give you one beer and then kick you out.
Q: You think people will stand for that?
FKR: Well, they’re doing the “drop by drop” prohibition approach. Instead of shoving down our throats all at once, they’re just going to slowly take it away, just piece-by-piece. Eventually I think people are going to start wising up and there is going to be a counter[-movement] and people are going to start repealing some of that stuff.
Unlike Europe, Americans have this weird guilt thing about drinking. They all go out and get loaded and the next day they’ll feel guilty about it and they’ll go out and vote against alcohol. It is a weird dualism. It’s been part of our entire culture since the Puritan days.
Q: Do you have any hopes that your magazine will snap people out of that?
FKR: Damn straight! At least we are a voice. In fact I think we were the first publication to come down on MADD.
It’s weird. Right after we put out our third article attacking MADD, some Columbus, Ohio paper took on MADD. They did an interview with them and just took them apart. So I think it is starting to shift off a bit.
MADD has always tried to sell itself as this grassroots organization run by these victims, these women. But the president of MADD is a man. It is just a pure corporation now. It is a money-grubbing … They accomplished all the early goals they set out to accomplish and like any animal or machine, once it is alive, it does not want to die. Like a shark, if it doesn’t stop moving forward, it dies. So every year they just get “mad” all over again. Now they attack alcohol in general, like alcohol advertising. They’re not involved in driving anymore. They’ve turned into the anti-saloon league – slowly, but surely.
Q: You talked about a 100-year cycle with these things?
FKR: Yeah, about every hundred years we have a big prohibition push.
Q: Where do you think we are in that cycle?
FKR: We are right at the very start of it. Like I said, they are going to do it slowly this time. They learned their lesson from prohibition [in the 1920s]. They shoved it down their throats and everybody just ignored it. Drinking went up every year of prohibition after that.
They know that is not going to work. They are going to try to use some kind of social control thing instead of outright – they are going to try to create in everybody’s mind the idea that alcohol is bad and all these drugs are better.
Which is what they are trying to do now. They are trying to say don’t drink but take all of these pills. Go home and take a Zoloft. The problem with pills is that they are not social. You go to a bar at happy hour and you drink with friends and you make contact with fellow human beings. But who gets together and drops a pill together? “Hey let’s go do some Zoloft at Mike’s house!”?
It’s an anti-social drug but the government is all for that. People taking drugs and giving drugs to kids because they are acting like kids. At the same time they are attacking what used to take the place of all those drugs, which is a couple of beers with your friends after work.
Q: Given the fact that we are in the early stages of this, are you worried for your own future? Do you think they may come for you and shut down your magazine at some point?
FKR: I keep waiting for that. It is going to be a while. I think the First Amendment is going to protect us for a long time, but I can see them doing that. I remember, as an example, when that hitman killed that kid back in the 1980s I think. He learned how to be a hitman from a book published here by Paladin Press in Boulder. They sued him and they got him. They got the money for that. I thought that was pretty chilling that a book could be held responsible for people’s actions. I mean you call still go out there and buy Mein Kampf even with millions of people dying but you can’t have a book that shows you how to kill people. It’s weird.
Q: In parts of the world it is completely illegal to drink. I’m speaking specifically of the Middle East. How much do you think that is a contributing factor to the radicalism there?
FKR: Oh absolutely, I’ve always said that. I’ll be talking with these prohibitionist types and they’ll be like, “There’d be no crime. Everybody would be so much happier. There’d be no domestic abuse if we just got rid of alcohol. It would just be this beautiful paradise.”
I’ll be like, “Can you think of one place in the world where those laws are actually in effect and how peaceful they are?” And they’re like, “Well …” And I’ll be like, “The Middle East!”
It’s not peaceful there at all. Everybody is always blowing each other up. They have got really oppressive laws for women. They have honor killings all the time. It is a really unhappy, unstable place.
I think if they started drinking, if they started introducing alcohol into that culture it would definitely help out. If you get off work and you’re all pumped up about some new cartoons in Denmark or something, if you had a couple of beers you could just chill out. But there’s no release in that place.
Q: It does appear as though the places where they are the calmest in that region are the places like Bahrain are where they have the least of these kinds of problems.
FKR: Yeah. In Egypt you can get alcohol pretty freely. Israel, of course. Those are generally the calmer nations. It is the ones that have the really strong Islamic laws [against alcohol] that are all kind of wacky.
Q: Have you done much of a study of the drinking habits in other places in the world?
FKR: Yeah, I spent six years over in Europe. Mostly in London, but also bumming around the continent and stuff. I absorbed a lot of the drinking culture and lore there. We don’t compare that favorably to those guys. Those guys have a much more laissez faire relationship with alcohol. They start drinking it early when they are kids at the table. They start drinking wine at eight years old. That’s not a big taboo for them. But here you have got to wait until you are 21 supposedly. That’s why we have so many binge drinkers. You just go crazy with it. But there they drink early and it’s not like a big deal. You don’t rush out and get loaded.
Q: In one of your recent issues you promised “exhaustive tests” of a KGB anti-hangover pill. Have you done that and what were the results?
FKR: We did do that but then they started advertising on our website. I think giving an advertiser a good review just makes us look like hacks. There are too many magazines here in Denver that do that. There are a couple of entertainment magazines that do that and they’re so bad about it. They’ll have an ad and right across the page from the ad will be this glowing review of the bar or the restaurant. They make it sound like paradise when in fact it is just some fucking shitty bar. They are so fucking cynical about it.
We used to do what we called cruising down Colfax. We’d bar hop from bar to bar and review each bar. But then when all those bars started advertising with us it became hard for us to go in there and tell the truth about it without fear of losing the ad. So we just didn’t cover it.
Q: And you landed in Denver precisely because you thought it was a good bar town?
FKR: Yeah, specifically one bar. I knew I was going to launch this magazine but wasn’t sure where so I moved to Denver because my parents live up in the Rockies. So I visited them and came down to Denver. I was just driving through town and I was on my way out when I saw this sign for the Lion’s Liar. It was this old great retro sign up above this bar. So I stopped in there at about noon and got drunk and I met all these really great people. In the daytime it was all these old men telling stories. In the nighttime it became this hipster place for kids. The bar was just the epitome of what a great American dive was. I had spent the previous year driving around the country investigating these and I said this is the best dive bar in America. So I slept in my car – or passed out – and then in the morning I had a couple of bloody marys and started walking in concentric circles until I found a place for rent about two blocks away and I moved in.
I wrote my third and fourth book right inside that bar on and old Tandy laptop.
Q: Before you were writing the books, and the magazine, what were you doing?
FKR: I was squatting in London mostly. I was in the military until I was 21. Then I went to college for a couple of years and then to Europe, and back and forth between college and Europe.
When I was in Europe I didn’t have a whole lot of money back then. In London they have this great system where if you can get inside an abandoned house and change the locks you are the legal occupant until they throw you out in the civil court system as opposed to criminal. And the courts are so backed up that it takes like 6 months just to get a court date, so you have like 6 months free rent. They’re usually kind of crappy places. There’s like water damage and no furniture. It’s usually canceled property which means the government owns it. You turn the electricity and the water on and you are totally set, man. It’s like a pension system for artists because all of the people you will meet will be artists and writers and so forth. That’s where I wrote my first book, under those conditions.
It’s funny because I was so hungry all the time that it kind of spilled onto my character. My character was hungry all the time. He never had any food. And, of course, he was drunk all the time too.
Q: Was it a good environment to learn the culture that you would eventually put into the magazine?
FKR: Yeah, it was because I didn’t really have to work. I learned how to scrounge alcohol for sure. And food. For months at a time, I would not work one lick at getting a paycheck. But you could always survive. There was an underground barter system with the other punk rockers and stuff. You’d steal food and stuff and learn where the free drinks are at.
Q: You ran an article I guess about one or two years now – I don’t know if it was you personally that did this but – that investigated absinthe.
FKR: Yeah! That was me.
Q: Oh, okay. As it happens, I was dating a French girl at the time and I showed the article to her. She was absolutely horrified that anybody would say anything nice about this stuff because she had always been told her entire life that it was the equivalent of playing Russian roulette.
FKR: (Laughs) Yeah, because France banned it. It was just recently that the EU overturned all that. You can actually buy that 10 milligram stuff over there legally now just about anywhere. I guess that is changing now because the French are getting back into it. All of the old distilleries are coming back up.
Q: So you think it has gotten a bad rap?
FKR: Oh, yeah.
Q: It just seems to me that that particular thing was almost emblematic of what you are trying to do, that you are trying to change conventional thinking on these things.
FKR: Yeah, it became a scapegoat. It was like the crack of the Belle Epoque. It was like the 1890s when all the countries started banning it. It was when the newspapers really started getting into that yellow journalism kind of thing. The big thing was the Swiss farmer who shot his family who shot his family with a rifle after drinking it. But he had been drinking five different kinds of liquors though. At the very end of it he had a glass of absinthe, but he blamed it on the absinthe. It made him crazy and caused him to murder his family. It was kind of one of those O.J. Simpson trials where everyone is following those big crowds and people just lost their minds. So they got rid of it.
But now I’ve read scientific reports that say that the good absinthe that they were making in the distilleries was actually harmless. It wouldn’t drive you crazy any more than any other liquor. It was all of the bootleg absinthe that was causing the problems.
Q: The bathtub gin type stuff?
FKR: Yeah, they were using like a lot of weird chemicals in it to make it turn green and stuff. It was like really bad bathtub gin. People would drink those weird chemicals and it was very bad for the system and people would die.
When I first got a bottle, I got the 100 milligram stuff, which is illegal still in Europe but you can still order it. I drank it in one setting just to test the effects of it and there is a definite effect. It is, ahh, not like acid or mushrooms but you feel that shift in your head. You can see why it was so popular with the lost generation because you’ll be very drunk – it’s 140-proof – but your brain will kind of be above that wave where you can still type effectively and string sentences into paragraphs, which you generally cannot do when you’re really fucked up.
Q: Yeah, you called it a “clear drunk.”
FKR: Yeah, you’re body is obviously drunk – you kind of look down at yourself and say, “Wow, I am staggering around like the town drunk here.” – but you brain is still active and on top of it. Which is kind of a weird thing. You can type effectively. You can write down thoughts that are very clear as opposed to your usual drunk writing, which gets kind of blurry and ridiculous.
Q: Is there any other drinking conventional wisdom that is totally wrong that you are hoping to upend?
FKR: There is a lot of medical stuff that is wrong like that drinking kills brain cells. It doesn’t kill brain cells. What does sometimes kill brain cells is withdrawal. If you stop drinking your body releases creatin (ph?) into your head and that actually kills brain cells.
That is like the whole, “each beer kills so many brain cells.” That’s all nonsense. It’s not true at all.
There is a lot of medical nonsense. The Man of course tells a bunch of lies about everything.
Another one is that if you don’t drink you live longer, but moderate drinkers live 3-10 years longer than nondrinkers do. In fact I just read a new report where not drinking anything is as dangerous to your heart as being morbidly obese. As far as cardiovascular benefits, you cannot beat alcohol.
Q: But just to play Devil’s advocate, isn’t that the all things in moderation thing?
FKR: Yeah, that’s what they always ask me. It’s like, “Are you a moderate drinker?” I’m like “no.” (laughs)
But even hard drinkers live about the same length of life as nondrinkers do. I’d rather you have a good time than not drink.
Everybody has this Peter Pan complex now. They want to live forever. So they exercise and they take vitamins and they don’t drink. But if they were smart they would be actually be drinking moderately.
I just talked my father into drinking again because he thought he was going to live longer by not drinking but I showed him all of the reports I was reading. Now he’s drinking again.
Q: So you’d rather have good times even if it costs you a few years?
FKR: Oh yeah! Absolutely man! Who’d want a dreary, long, gray life when you can have those highs and lows? I’d trade ten years for that.
It’s like a blackout. It’s better a good time that you can’t remember, than a bad time that you can.
Q: I hesitate to ask this because this is from the L.A. Times article in which you said they misquoted you, but they quote you as saying that you are a self-admitted alcoholic. Is that True?
FKR: Well, that word has a lot of different meanings. According to AA, an alcoholic is a guy who usually drinks three beers a day. That’s ridiculous because that is the health amount of beer you should be dinking.
That word is really abused. Nobody knows what it means anymore. There is a definition of binge drinking now that is four drinks in one setting even if it like over a 20-hour period, which is totally ridiculous. You can’t even get drunk on that if you drink that slow. They say stuff like that so they can say, “Oh, 40% of college students are binge drinkers because they drink four beers in one day. “ Which is ridiculous.
Q: But do you consider yourself one?
FKR: Yeah, technically I suppose I am. I prefer the word “drunkard” but I don’t think alcoholic is a bad word. It just means you are excited about alcohol.
If you take that strict meaning -- some people think it means that you are out of control and you are damaging your family and you are a drag on society and so forth, which is ridiculous
If you think about it, all the great movers and shakers of the past – whether it be artists, writers or statesmen – have all been pretty heavy drinkers.
Q: You don’t think that is a coincidence?
FKR: It would be a hell of a coincidence if it was! If that were no true there would be all of the great teetotaler authors out there. There isn’t any. Even Emily Dickinson drank wine every now and then and she was as uptight as they get. But if you look back all the great artists, all the great writers consistently were heavy drinkers. I don’t think it was because they were tortured souls or anything. I just think they found a lot of inspiration in it. I think a certain personality is drawn to alcohol because it is a good time.
If you were an artist or a creative person you would naturally want to tap into that.
Q: Is it because creative people simply tend to drink or does drinking make you creative?
FKR: I think it is both. This guy was asking me, “I want to become a writer. Is drinking going to help?” I said absolutely it is going to help. I get my best ideas when I’m drunk. That’s why I have the data recorder around.
Like I said earlier you can’t lay down structure when you’re drunk but you’re subconscious shifts just a little bit – 7 degrees to the left or right and you see things a little bit differently and those great ideas creep in. Sometimes the sheen and shine fall off of them in the morning but generally they end up being pretty good ideas.
Q: Aside from what you said earlier, where do you get the ideas and the material for the magazine?
FKR: It is a broad, deep well man. Alcohol has been so pervasive in human history that it just goes on forever. I keep a list on the wall of all of the stories coming up and there’s hundred of stories we haven’t even touched yet, hundreds of celebrities like W.C. Fields and FDR that we have haven’t even touched yet. We haven’t even done Churchill yet.
Q: So you have no fear of ever running out of material?
FKR: I could do this for the next forty years and still have stuff to write about.
Q: Has your drinking ever gotten you into trouble?
FKR: The one time I’ve ever been in jail was when I was in college. I was drunk when that happened. I wasn’t thrown in jail because I was drunk. I was thrown in jail because were we running around this abandoned hotel, loaded. I spent two weeks in jail, but it was fine. I was fresh out of the Army Rangers. I had a Mohawk and nobody was going to fuck with me because I was probably the biggest guy in there.
Q: You were in the Army Rangers?
FKR: Yeah, four years during the Grenada era.
Q: Did you actually see combat in Grenada?
FKR: Yes, I did, for one whole week. Actually five days. It was fun. We parachuted in at 500 feet with no reserve chute. It was the lowest jump since World War II. We tried to find booze down there. We couldn’t find any. They took it all with them.
Q: Was that one of those situations where you were living life on the edge and you realized you wanted to keep that sense going or something like that?
FKR: The Rangers are kind of a weird unit because you're triple-volunteered to be in there so everybody really wants to be there. There are no guys who don’t want to go into combat. Everybody wants to go into combat. Everybody is really gung-ho. So everybody has this false sense of immortality. They think they’re bullet-proof so everybody was just charging around. The Cubans and the Grenadians were not that good soldiers so it was pretty easy.
We lost some guys but it was fun. There was danger and people got killed near me and you’re shooting at people. It was really exciting.
I went to Europe on my terminal leave and it was fun. I was kind of living like a young Hemingway. I was living in youth hostels and sleeping in parks and drinking a lot. It was fun.
Q: Were you ever homeless throughout this period?
FKR: Yeah, in fact I kind of thought it out. I was homeless throughout a couple of different periods. I was homeless over there until I found a squat. Then I bummed around the continent. I’d sleep on the roadsides and stuff in Europe. Then I went to L.A. and lived in my Pinto for a few months because I was on a Bukowski kick. I could have gotten a job and gotten out of it and got an apartment but I found romance in that, in living on the streets and drinking all your money.
Q: It was a voluntary thing? You weren’t down and out?
FKR: Absolutely. No, I could always have gotten out of it. It is never hard to get a job. I see those guys on the street now and they’re usually crazy, that’s why they’re homeless. But anybody can get out of that situation. I always did. When I got tired of living in the Pinto, I got a job and moved into one of those wino hotels on Hollywood and Western in St. Francis, where I found out later on that Bukowski used to live there. Kind of weird.
It’s interesting because when you’re homeless in America, it’s not nearly as romantic. Here you’re just kind of a wino, while in Europe you’re like a young Hemingway, you know, experiencing other cultures and stuff.
Q: Well, I’ve run out of questions and I see I’ve kept you on the phone for 45 minutes.
FKR: Not a problem.
Q: It’s been a real pleasure. Thanks, Frank.
FKR: My pleasure entirely.
Q: Oh, one other question, are you having that convention this year?
FKR: Yes, were are. It’s going to be in Vegas again. It’s going to be June 23rd, 24th and 25th at a place called the Celebrity Club, which is downtown in old Vegas.
Q: I’m also angling to cover that event.
FKR: Yeah, you gotta come down for that. It’s going to be crazy. (Tape cuts out.)