Who Wants to be E.L. Doctorow?

We may all want to be the next drug and booze fueled literary outlaw like Hunter Thompson, but Josh Lieb explains that alcohol leads to early flameouts and difficult lives. E.L. Doctorow, on the other hand, is a model of a long-lived, productive writer.
  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Question: Is there a relationship between alcohol and creativity?

Josh Lieb: I like to drink. I like to tipple, but I also like to stay away from it too. I’ve had too many wonderful friends who really hurt themselves with alcohol, and I’d warn against that. No, I don’t think – I think that creative people think that their creativity and their bohemian lifestyle gives them license to be dysfunctional people. It gives them the freedom to drink too much and to be bad about paying their bills and to shave irregularly. And paying your bills and shaving irregularly can have their downside, but alcohol can have a real downside. It doesn’t give you that license, and it doesn’t make you more creative. I know people who have been absolutely paralyzed by drink, and by other drugs. You do get that romantic, like – I want to be Fitzgerald, I want to be insane, and I want to be miserable. When you’re young and you’re a writer, you want to be miserable, you want to be that tragic figure, you know, the genius taken too soon. You want to be the alcoholic, the suicide; these are the real heroes, the people who grind it out everyday and live to be 100. I mean, who wants to be E.L. Doctorow. He was a wonderful writer, but there is no romance there. But, you want to be Hunter Thompson. But I don’t think – I think E.L. Doctorow would have probably been a better writer longer than Hunter Thompson was a good writer because he had more normal habits. I’m not even like a bit E.L. Doctorow fan; I just picked him as a long-lived writer.

But Hunter Thompson who, boy, there’s not a better political book than Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Train ’72, and there’s not a funnier book than Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but anything he wrote in the past 30 years I would say is probably largely unreadable. I guess you could get through it, but the spark isn’t there anymore and then it kind of got killed in him and I think he probably realized that too. But for 20 years there, from the early 60’s to 1980 or so, he was great. I don’t know if the drugs spurred that creativity. I think it was all of a piece. He was a crazy man and he wrote like a crazy man, and he lived like a crazy man. But I don’t think the drugs made him the crazy writer that he was. Drugs can certainly give you a new perspective, but generally they’re stultifying. Marijuana, stultifying. LSD, I guess fascinating when you’re 18 years old, kind of a brain killer. I think you have to – we all have our adolescent fantasies and I’m going to be this guy, I’m gonna Rambo and blah, blah, blah. But, it’s not the way to happiness in life certainly, but it’s also not the way to great writing. It generally just gets in the way. You know what? I’m a bit more lyrical when I’m hung over. My poetry is a little fleeter, but if I take a sip of alcohol, I can’t write. It kills the spark in me.

Recorded on: October 9, 2009. Interviewed by Paul Hoffman.


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