Just Say No

The Red Shark415At your right is a photo taken of me in 1990. Behind me are Gigi and Roxi, two strippers from the Mitchell Brothers’ O’Farrell Theatre in San Francisco. We are adorning a replica of The Great Red Shark made famous by the writing of Hunter S. Thompson, the godfather of gonzo journalism. We were in Woody Creek, Colorado in support of Hunter as he battled the authorities on a variety of charges, including assault, drugs and weapons.

Although we didn’t realize it at the time, we were also battling to survive our reputations and lifestyle. The RL Crabb you see here is at the tail end of a twenty-five year binge. Like so many of my generation, I dove head first into the cultural revolution of the sixties. I idolized  guys like Hunter, whose drug-fueled adventures in Las Vegas and on the campaign trail inspired many to emulate his indulgences.

By the time we landed in Woody Creek, the inspiration had become just a routine habit, and it was slowly killing us. Running with an outlaw gang like the Brothers was like running with the James Gang, and we all know how that story ended. Fortunately, we didn’t end up in some quixotic showdown with the police. The charges against Hunter were dropped, and we limped home to California. It would be the last time the gang rode together.

A year later, Jim Mitchell shot and killed his brother. Artie had become a liability, constantly drunk and drugged, careening around the City with a gun and threatening anyone who got in his way. Sane people would have thrown a net over him and sent him to rehab, but things had gone too far by that point. Jim managed to get off with a seven year sentence, and only served three, but he was never the same. The Brothers were joined at the hip, and without Artie, Jim withered and eventually died of a heart attack while watching TV at home.

Hunter went on to write more books, but never found his voice again. It was as if the muse had grown tired of being abused and filed for divorce. The stuff Hunter was writing sounded more like a sad imitation of the Hunter S. Thompson who caroused with the Washington elite and wrote so eloquently about the death of the American Dream. Perhaps he knew that. And maybe he decided that his self-inflicted death was preferable to the slow decay of age. He couldn’t live up to his image anymore.

Back in the eighties, we used to mock Nancy Reagan and her “Just Say No” campaign. We were too cool for that square stuff. And the Reagan’s generation wasn’t much better. Every guy wanted to be like John Wayne; hard drinking and hard fighting. But the real John Wayne was a swaggering mean drunk who died before his time. Just as we had our Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Jerry Garcia, the Greatest Generation had their Errol Flynn, John Barrymore, and Marilyn Monroe. I can’t tell you how many adults I knew growing up who were hardcore alcoholics.

So it was encouraging to see President Obama on the TV yesterday talking to young black America about choices. He readily admitted to the mistakes he made with drugs in his youth. He inhaled, just like the rest of us, but managed to overcome the impulse to wallow in the behavioral sink. He went on to bigger things, and they can too if they resist the siren call of being “cool”.

It’s been twenty-four years since I gave up hard drugs and alcohol as a lifestyle, and they’ve been the best years of my life. I traded outlaws for in-laws and produced my best work as a cartoonist. Soon I hope to unveil the final chapter of my chronicle of the crazy years, not to glorify them, but to serve as a warning. Maybe I should market it as a “how not to” book.


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15 Responses to Just Say No

  1. Chris Peterson says:

    I could never stand being too drunk; hence the drugs. And I could never stand being too high; hence the alcohol. Took me years to figure out that my original condition was the one I most enjoyed, and like you, and about the same time, I quit both. Growing up with no known abnormalities, it was something along the lines of an Eagles lyric that said, “I tried every ill to find the cure.” I still have a scotch now and then, but my current bottle is over three months old.

    As far as the good old days; it was the best of times and, surely, it was the worst of times.

  2. Ben Emery says:

    Crazy years are meant to be had when we are young and it sounds like you did it. We are all glad you migrated away from the lifestyle to share the tales with us today. I wouldn’t call them mistakes I would call them learning experiences that shaped who you were to enjoy these last 24 years.

    You might enjoy this clip

  3. Greg Goodknight says:

    Bob, you look like you were having far too good a time.

    Everything in moderation. Here’s hoping Gigi and Roxi are doing OK… the Merry Widows would do well to give them some exercise in their golden years.

    • rlcrabb says:

      Gigi (whose real name was Julie Baio) was Artie Mitchell’s girlfriend at the time. She was in the house when Jim broke in and shot him. Several years later I heard she was in town at McGee’s asking about our whereabouts, but no one there knew how to contact me. I haven’t heard anything from or about either since then.

  4. Don Baumgart says:

    “I’m a sinner. I like it that way.” -Madonna

  5. What a story! Welcome Home!!

  6. Breen says:

    I’d say, not as a ¨how not to”, but a memoir.
    ¨This is what happened.¨ Those stories always seem to have the most effect. I didn’t sober up until long after you did, but I did make it. As you say, many didn’t.

  7. Tom Manuel says:

    Chris, I think you nailed it. But remember, we’re not here for a long time, we’re here for a good time.

  8. Jeff Pelline says:

    RL Crabb,
    This explains a lot. Many thanks for “sharing.” Go, RL, go!

  9. What an absolutely wonderful story Bob. The experience and wisdom you’ve shared is an inspiration for others. You are an excellent cartoonist and writer. Thanks…

  10. Doug Keachie says:

    Had a passing connection, love to ski Aspen, but no money back in the 70’s, so my trusty 66 Ford Fairlaine and I roamed the ski areas of West, videocam in hand, KMCV. Saw beautiful vista on way into Aspen, past Carbondale. Pulled over to take a shot, got out, and discovered just below the roadway, the roof of a barn/house something. Beautiful technicolor clouds, rainbow Sgt. Peppers band style, and a big hand poking out and up through them, middle finger prominent. I’ve always assumed this was his place?

    Artist with a somewhat familiar style?


  11. Todd Juvinall says:

    As the proverbial shithead square who never did drugs or was a drunkard, I applaud this post.

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