“I was an evangelical briefly, and then I discovered pussy.”
At my age it’s probably a bit childish to admit that you still have heroes. But I do, and here is my favorite living American writer sitting two tables away from me at an outdoor bar in Livingston.
That’s Jim Harrison in the green shirt looking at me with his one good eye. He wrote ‘Legends of the Fall’ with Brad Pitt, and ‘Wolf,’ with Jack Nicholson. But it’s his lesser known novellas and memoirs that most appeal to me.
‘Brown Dog’ – a bawdy, reckless, down-on-his-luck Indian from Michigan who prefers fishing to working – is an irresistible character in several stories.
‘Off To The Side’ is an impressionistic memoir that gives free rein to his magnificent “obsessions”: alcohol, food, hunting/fishing, religion, the open road, and our place in the natural world.
‘Conversations with Jim Harrison’ – a collection of interviews conducted over the years – is chock-full of penetrating insights and as close to being a ‘bible’ for the artist/authentic personality as any recent book is likely to become.
JIM HARRISON: WHAT I’VE LEARNED
– by Cal Fussman on July 29, 2014 –
Harrison is a poet, essayist, novelist, and screenwriter who has devoted particular attention to themes of American manhood and the American wilderness. His novella Legends of the Fall was first published in Esquire in 1979.
I don’t see any evidence of wisdom accelerating as you get older. Old people will say it does, but they’re generally speaking full of shit.
Given free rein, our imagination can get infinite.
A couple of weeks before she died, my mother—so old and sweet—said, “You’ve made quite a good living out of your fibs.”
I’d gone to Granada to see where Lorca was murdered on the mountainside by the Franco people. That Franco was a wicked cocksucker, but they certainly never bothered killing poets in America.
Legends I wrote in nine days. But that’s the only time it ever happened that well. It was like taking dictation … but it was after I’d thought about the story for five years.
I won’t even talk to young writers anymore unless they can give me a good reason. I say, “I don’t have any time to talk to you unless you intend to give your entire life over to it, because it can’t be done otherwise.”
Once in twenty years we’ve had here [in Arizona, where he has a second home] the elegant trogon. It looks sort of like a paint-by-number bird. Very rare bird. You’re always so pleased when you have a rarity in your front yard.
I probably wouldn’t have been a poet if I hadn’t lost my left eye when I was a boy. A neighbor girl shoved a broken bottle in my face during a quarrel. Afterward, I retreated to the natural world and never really came back, you know.
It’s just like when I was twenty and my father and sister got killed in a car accident. I thought, If this can happen to people, you might as well do what you want—which is to be a writer. Don’t compromise at all, because there’s no point in it.
If all I did was answer the correspondence I get, that would be my job.
It’s like hunting with Mario Batali. He checked his fancy phone and said, “Fuck. I’ve got 280 e-mails.” And I said, “What do we do now?” And he said, “Nothing” and put it in his pocket, and we went hunting.
I don’t hunt mammals. My friends all do. I love antelope and elk, but I depend on the kindness of friends, because I shot a deer when I was young and it was very unpleasant.
Unlike a lot of writers, I don’t have any craving to be understood.
They published my Fireflies in The New Yorker, and they took a sex scene out of it, which irked me at the time. I said, “That was evidentiary to her character!” She’s got to get laid like anybody else at some point.
I don’t know if it was writer’s block or if I just didn’t have anything I wanted to say.
Fifty-four years later and we’re still married. Very few keepers like that.
The interesting thing about Nicholson is his inability to lie about anything. It just doesn’t occur to him to lie, and that’s a rare actor.
It’s overwhelming when you know Indian history. What fuckin’ assholes we were for so long.
The reason why writers go out to Hollywood is to get some money. Which I still found preferable to teaching. If I can write a screenplay in two months and it pays what I would earn teaching for a year and a half, why not?
I revere bears. I had a big male bear that I used to leave extra fish about a hundred yards from my cabin. I’d leave the fish on a stump and the bear would eat them. When I would come home from the bar, sometimes he would stop me and I would roll down the window, and he would set his chin right on the doorjamb and I’d scratch his head—but that’s stupid.
I work every morning, all morning, sometimes in the afternoons. Then sometimes I hunt in the afternoons—quail, doves, grouse up north—but just to stay alive, because writers die from their lifestyle but also from their lack of movement.
If you’ve written all day, you don’t want to talk about it at the bar.
My grandmother lived to be ninety-seven, and I would carry her in and out of the house because she was arthritic and I was real strong then. Grandma said, “This has gone on too long, Jimmy.” Ain’t that a great thing to say?
All people disappear.
I didn’t want to die on the Warner lot.
Has happiness changed with age? Yes, I expect less of everything.
No conclusions on time. Other than the old beginning, middle, and end.
You end up missing your dogs.
What’s the meaning of it all? Seems to me nobody’s got a clue. Quote Jim Harrison on that: Nobody’s got a clue.
Now, where did I put my cane?
[Interview Published in the August 2014 issue of Esquire]
Coincidentally, even though Harrison was unbeknownst to me at the time, I lived for a year in Reed City, Michigan – the very town where he grew up. We both, of course, spend time now in Livingston, Montana. And I have been known to hang out in Southern Arizona near his winter place in Patagonia.
Nope, I’m not a stalker. I guess great minds just think alike!
He explains the draw of the town (Livingston, MT.), “millionaires and people on Food Stamps living on the same street, and they still talk to each other,” as we roll over to a park overlooking the Yellowstone River. “I can’t keep off the river. It’s such a beautiful place to be compared to anything else.”