WAY OFF ABBEY'S ROAD

CHUCK BOWDEN EXTOLS ARIZONA'S UNIQUE PLANTS AND ANIMALS. HIS LATEST SUBJECTS ARE WEASELS IN THREE-PIECE SUITS.

It was with Vonier that Bowden first came across Charles H Keating Jr. That was in the late 1980s, while both were working as editors of City Magazine, a big-format journal they helped to found in Tucson. Keating was still running at almost full throttle in those days, and he had sent a few developments south down I-10 toward Tucson, catching the editors' attention.

Bowden and Vonier wanted a Keating piece for their magazine, and contacted Binstein, who had, by then, done a long Keating article for Regardie's magazine.

Documents changed hands, including damaging audit papers Binstein had somehow obtained from banking regulators.

Keating's law firms and PR flacks began muscling Bowden and Vonier almost immediately after they expressed an interest in the financier. The fledgling magazine's investors were, understandably, intimidated. Bowden and Vonier were, understandably, inspired.

"Magazines exist because people with more money than I do invest in them," says Bowden. "Those people were terrified of Charlie Keating. I didn't give a shit. I didn't care if he destroyed the magazine. It has no reason to exist if it didn't print that stuff. That's what it's for."
The magazine did not print that stuff.
But using the Binstein audit documents as blackmail leverage, the men from City Magazine did manage to gain several hours of access to Keating himself, including face-to-face interviews at American Continental Corporation headquarters on East Camelback Road, and during a long, liquid meal in the dining room at Keating's Crescent hotel.

One of the only significant interviews any journalists had with Keating during his time on top, it was, nonetheless, an interview with ground rules. The audit stuff was off-limits in the final story.

When the Keating issue hit the streets, critics read the story as a puff piece that went too easy on the old man. Keating bought 1,000 copies.

"I felt suicidal," says Bowden.
Not long after the Bowden-Vonier cover story on Keating (which New Times reprinted in August 1988), City Magazine died. But for Bowden, a fixation had been created.

"I realized my early ways of explaining Keating and dismissing him weren't gonna work," Bowden says. "I couldn't get rid of him by saying it's a Ponzi game, he's a crook. People who do Ponzi games don't spill $300 million into concrete building a hotel. They spill 30 cents into stock certificates for the hotel. They don't build it.

"The only hostile feelings I had for Charlie Keating was that he was trying to stop me to protect his interests. The harder he made it, the more I wanted to find out, the more I was convinced it was worth finding out."
At that point, though, Trust Me was still years away. Binstein would try to write a Keating book on his own, and Bowden would move to Mexico for a year.

By 1991, Bowden had returned to the First World, Keating had fallen and there was an immense paper trail to follow, with Binstein's help.

Bowden realized he could synchronize the movements of a huge cast of players in the Keating drama, including politicians, regulators, Charlie's troops--even porno king Larry Flynt, who had a part to play, as well.

"I went nuts," says Bowden. "I became obsessed. I could tell where everyone was and what they were doing."
@rule:
@body:Chuck Bowden's reputation is built on such obsessions. According to one former wife, Bowden once jogged obsessively. Then it was long bicycle rides. Then it was long desert hikes in summer heat, dressed in a tee shirt, running shoes and gym shorts.

In his books, he has obsessed over Mexican drug gangsters (Red Line), the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson (Frog Mountain Blues), groundwater (Killing the Hidden Waters), his own past (Mezcal) and now Charles Keating.

The obsessions are sketched in often lyrical, sometimes knuckle-busting prose that occasionally drifts off into screed. Bowden doesn't like to call what he does essays. But they're not novels, either. His agent, Tim Schaffner, says Bowden's created his own genre.

The title Red Line comes from the mark on dashboard tachometers that indicates when engine parts start to fly through the hood. Chapters in the book begin and end with boldface quotes from the likes of Del Shannon, Adolf Hitler, Carl Sandburg and Charles Bronson.

Bowden has obsessed over sources, as well. These characters, all inspirations and/or mentors, appear and reappear in the books and magazine pieces. They are ecologists, crazed Spanish explorers, Ed Abbey, his dad.

Bowden, who turned 48 a couple of weeks ago, refers often to Alvar N£¤ez Cabeza de Vaca, a lost wacko from Spain who wandered through the Sonoran Desert in the 1500s, became a kind of faith-healing god to the natives, but died in disgrace upon his return to his homeland. Bowden writes that Cabeza de Vaca was "the first European to have ever been an American or be in America. And he may well have been the last."

Ecologist H.T. Odum, author of the book Environment, Power and Society, launched some of Bowden's deepest thinking about energy and life.

Julian Hayden, a Tucson archaeologist who helped Bowden see the desert as a "wonderland," lives in a house off Speedway Boulevard that Bowden describes as a "kind of salon for Sonorans, aficionados of the Pinacate [Mountains], archaeologists, yarn spinners, writers, geologists, cranks, citizens, fellow fans of mescal."

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