Kerouac, L. Ron Hubbard and South Park: Denver Before Its Moment in the SunFor four days next month the eyes of the world will turn to Denver, Colorado, where the Democratic Convention is being held. Sure it’s all going to be about speeches, balloons and scoring coke and hookers on Colfax Avenue, but what if you want to get deeper than that? What if you want to find out about the real Denver?
I lived in the Mile High City for nine years so I know a bit about it. Modesty forbids me from mentioning my own Denver novels HIDDEN RIVER and FIFTY GRAND. Oh wait, I just did. Sorry.
Jack Kerouac is Denver’s big name author. Kerouac came to town in pursuit of America, the open road and his man-crush, native Denverite, Neal Cassady. It was in Denver that Kerouac bought his first house, had his first serious tequila bender and began planning ON THE ROAD. Sniffing after Kerouac came William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, who spent many a fertile hour in the Colburn Hotel cooking mescaline, injecting bug spray and writing the occasional poem.
Thomas Pynchon followed a little later, Denver cropping up in several places in his work, but most importantly in AGAINST THE DAY, in which we are transported back to the bawdy turn-of-the-century city where you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting a gin joint, a prostitute or another lunatic swinging a cat. AGAINST THE DAY contains my favourite line in all of literature, a graffiti written on a Denver wall: “Roses is red/shit is brown/nothing but assholes/live in this town.”
But surely the highlight of Denver’s literary legacy has to be its prominence in L. Ron Hubbard’s BATTLEFIELD EARTH. The first time I tried to read BATTLEFIELD EARTH it got thrown out of a train window, when I was 14, by me. Years later I read it again, because a girl asked me to do it for an article she was writing. The girl is now a rich and fairly well known TV historian and I’m a substitute teacher living in Melbourne, Australia. Let me summarize the book for you, so you don’t make my mistake.
In 3000 AD, Earth is ruled by the Psychlos, nine-foot-tall sociopathic aliens. Humans are slaves called “man animals” who toil bare chested in open cast mines. The hero of the book is Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (yes, really) an escapee from Psychlo clutches who makes his way to the ruins of the Denver Public Library where he finds a copy of the US Constitution in a display case. Inspired perhaps by the commerce clause of this austere legal document Jonnie decides to lead a revolt against the alien overlords. After a few setbacks the revolt gathers momentum and then we only have about 900 pages to go. Interestingly, the Denver Public Library has no display cases containing the US Constitution and all five of its copies of BATTLEFIELD EARTH have been stolen. A Psychlo conspiracy perhaps?
I haven’t seen the film version of BATTLEFIELD EARTH but by all accounts it’s up there with Swept Away, Gigli and other modern classics.
If you’re an L. Ron Hubbard fan then allow me to suggest a field trip while you’re in town. Jump on I-70, drive west for a few hours and you’ll come to Tom Cruise’s house in Telluride, Colorado. Mr. Cruise welcomes visitors, especially if you’re carrying a copy of his and (potential McCain VP) Mitt Romney’s favourite novel. Seriously, just park right outside the big metal gates and start yelling “Tomcat! Tooomcaaat!” You’ll have lots of fun. Tom’s sister is in charge of security at the Cruise Lair and is famous for her sense of humour.
Strangely, Denver is also home to those nemeses of Scientology - Matt Stone and Trey Parker, creators of South Park. The Denver suburb of South Park is near Evergreen where Parker went to high school but South Park itself is probably modelled on either Boulder, Co. where the boys attended college or Colorado Springs about forty minutes south which is the HQ of Focus on the Family and is reputedly the “most right-wing town in America.” Trey Parker’s childhood home can be found easily but leaving little brown gifts dressed as Santa on the front porch is a joke well past its sell by date.
If the idea of making a Christmas Turd or being pepper-sprayed by Tom Cruise’s security guards doesn’t excite you, then head back to Denver and out on the I-76 to Fort Morgan, where Philip K. Dick rests forever opposite a sugar cane refinery in the grim Fort Morgan Municipal Cemetery. There are always a lot of interesting characters at Dick’s grave, many from Japan, Finland and that comic-book shop you always walk by but never go in. Get them talking about the nature of reality and whether Dick could be alive in a parallel universe and you’ll happily watch the morning pass by.
Finally, let me mention David Icke’s book THE BIGGEST SECRET, in which the former BBC reporter and Green Party co-chair claims that “lizard aliens from Mars, through their allies, the Freemasons,” have been running the planet Earth from a secret bunker at the Denver International Airport. Once I lost my bag at DIA and had to go to a basement storage area to retrieve it. I see now that I was lucky to get out alive.
To sum up: If you’ve never been to Denver before, don’t worry about it, for most people it’s that place they groggily drive through on the way to Vail. But take my advice and go. Even if the Democrats have left town you can still cheer for Obama, eat an Illegal Pete Famous Fish Fajita and put an offer on my house on Pennsylvania Street. Now that property prices have collapsed I’ll take anything: crayons, a box of old keys, interesting (or not) house plants. I might even consider a soiled copy of BATTLEFIELD EARTH. – Adrian McKinty
Adrian McKinty’s FIFTY GRAND will be published by Holt later this year.