Mile Marker Zero, a nonfiction narrative
Crown Publishers, 2011
Mile Marker Zero is a nonfiction narrative about a group of writers, actors, artists and musicians who found their identity in the drugged, boozed-out world of Key West in the 1970s.
With an astonishing cast of characters and a narrative of musical beds and coming-and-going lovers, the book tells a rich, full tale of the madness of creating art and the eventual redemption and happy ending.
The cast includes actors Margot Kidder, Peter Fonda, Warren Oates and Elizabeth Ashley; writers Thomas McGuane, Jim Harrison, Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Corcoran and blasts-from-the-past Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams; musicians Jimmy Buffett and Jerry Jeff Walker; and painter Russell Chatham.
Despite oceans of booze and boatloads of pot, through serial marriages and sexual escapades, somehow they all came out of that dangerous paradise alive.
This book gathers true tales of a generation that invented, reinvented, and found itself at the unending cocktail party at the end—and the beginning—of America’s highway.
Read ‘The Taco Man,’ the first chapter from Mile Marker Zero.
Read ‘Crazy From the Heat,’ an outtake from Mile Marker Zero about the carnal escapades of Russell Chatham, the great American artist. Please note: this is explicit. Do not read if easily offended.
“The locale suggests promiscuity,” Russell Chatham said. “You could feel it in the air: this was a place where people didn’t wear very many clothes. You knew that at any second, the girl sitting next to you would **** you.”
“It’s an undiscovered treasure.”
Read this post from The Great Florida Road Trip
Speaking of explicit, please note these revelers (at right) from a recent Fantasy Fest in Key West. Check out the Fantasy Fest website before planning a trip. It’s probably not a good time to visit with the whole gang — mom, pop, sis and Baby Boy Phil. It’s not for the faint of heart. Read my
Key West Travel Guide
before taking a trip to the island.
Click ‘play’ above to hear me read
from the chapter called “Square Grouper.”
What the Critics Said
“A romp….a rollicking chronicle of the musicians, artists, writers and filmmakers who created a vibrant if nihilistic scene in the 1970s. Deft storytelling…a good story about good times (and bad)” —Wall Street Journal. (Read Wayne Curtis’s complete review.)
“A tall but telescopic-sight-true tale of Hunter Thompson, Jimmy Buffett, Tom McGuane, and a large cavorting cast running around with sand in their shoes at ‘ground zero for lust and greed and most of the other deadly sins:’ Key West.”—Tom Wolfe
“McKeen’s portrait of Key West as a onetime bohemian utopia and hotspot is atmospheric, and…his anecdotes are absorbing.”—Publishers Weekly
“Mile Marker Zero is a wonderful zinger of a book. Never before have the literary traditions of the Conch Republic been mined for such gold nugget anecdotes. McKeen has once again proven why he is perhaps the most lucid and imaginative professor of journalism history in modern-day America. Every page sings a story worth a Jimmy Buffett song.” —Douglas Brinkley
More reviews below
Mile Marker Zero tells the story of the lifelong friendship of these gents, known as the Sporting Club. Left to right : Guy de la Valdene, Jim Harrison, Russell Chatham and Thomas McGuane.
“Not just another paean to sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, William McKeen’s gritty, no-holds-barred oeuvre, Mile Marker Zero, carefully and thoroughly establishes the groundwork for understanding and appreciating the achievement of literary mavericks and artists of Key West in the Seventies. This treatment of the personal lives and works of Tom McGuane, Jim Harrison, Russell Chatham, Jimmy Buffett, Hunter S. Thompson…offers an arresting and instructive rendering of this colorful cadre of characters, in the shadow of Key West’s most famous resident, Ernest Hemingway, drawn together in this tropical Greenwich Village to establish a new enclave on the fringe.” —Beef Torrey, Co-Editor of Jim Harrison: A Comprehensive Bibliography, Conversations with Hunter S. Thompson, and Conversations with Thomas McGuane
“An engrossing tell-all in which Key West’s most notable residents struggle to find sanity, sobriety and a place to call home.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Make McKeen’s tale your next trip to the island.” —Sun Sentinel
“You may not believe that these writers were able to take their eyes off the famous Key West sunset to focus on their work, but every feast needs a backdrop.”—Cape Cod Times
“[E]nthralling…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….are indicative of just how in tune with the era the author is. 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.”—New York Journal of Books
“[O]nly enhances the appeal of the Conch Republic….a tale of the island’s famous personalities that flows as easily as an ocean breeze.”—Orlando Sentinel