Mile Marker Zero
The Moveable Feast of Key West
By William Mckeen
(Crown, Hardcover, 9780307592002, 320pp.)
Publication Date: October 4, 2011
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True tales of writers and pirates, painters and potheads, guitar pickers and drug merchants in America’s southernmost city
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: KeyWest, 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.
WILLIAM McKEEN teaches at Boston University, where he chairs the department of journalism. He is the author or editor of nine books, including the acclaimed Hunter S. Thompson biography Outlaw Journalist. He is married and the father of seven children and lives on the rocky coast of Cohasset, Massachusetts.
“A tall but telescopic-sight-true tale of Hunter Thompson, Jimmy Buffet, 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
"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
"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 Buffet, 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
“McKeen's portrait of Key West as a onetime bohemian utopia and hotspot is atmospheric, and…his anecdotes are absorbing.”—Publishers Weekly
“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
“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