By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
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Jude Bowden, who died in 1975, taught his son, Charles, that work was one's worth. The elder Bowden rolled his own cigarettes, so he wouldn't have to pay taxes on the smokes, and is memorialized in the dedication of Chuck Bowden's first book. "He never gave up or gave in," Chuck Bowden wrote. "But he gave all the same."
Jude also gave his son this advice: "With an education, if you can't make it in this country, you ought to get out of the gene pool."
@body:Chuck Bowden's off-the-page obsessions are equally colorful. In Tucson, he's got an old-fashioned, writerly reputation as an ass-grabbing bravo who can't be counted on to say the politically correct thing at all times--evidently, a trait dear to the residents of Tucson, the sandals-with-socks capital of the Southwest.
He's a boozing carnivore who smokes a ton of filter-free cigarettes every day. And, Christ, there have been a couple of busted marriages, lots of wild women, a child out of wedlock, fast driving and drugs. Did we mention the drinking? And the fucker likes Charlie Keating, too.
It's a persona Bowden has done little to discourage.
Bowden always carries a pen, sometimes three. His books can be brazenly autobiographical. Even Trust Me, Bowden's most reportorial work, incorporates both of its authors as characters. Bowden's not afraid of first person.
To all of these grievous charges, Bowden pleads no contest.
"I'm a failure at marriage," he says. "I have many grievances, but not against my ex-wives. I feel badly the marriages failed. I still do. I know it's my failure.
"I've disappeared into work. Ask any woman who's been with me."
(Ex-wife No. 1, Tucson attorney Zada Edgar Soto, wouldn't return repeated telephone calls from New Times. Ex-wife No. 2, Kathy Dannreuther, a Tucson librarian, spoke highly of Bowden in all regards, up to but not including the breakup of their marriage, which she wouldn't speak about at all. "He pays his bills on time," says Dannreuther. "His obligations are always met. He's pretty fanatical about that." Sandra Lanham, a Tucson pilot with whom Bowden has been linked for several years, runs an environmental flying service in Mexico. With some initial funding help from Bowden--We couldn't get any grant money for start-up," says Bowden. "Too crazy."--Lanham has flown research missions to count shore birds on the Gulf of Mexico, has counted sheep along Baja's Pacific coast and has tracked pintail ducks wearing radio collars. In all, Lanham flew 500 hours last year in her Cessna 182, a single-engine bomber she describes as "not a yuppie airplane," dropping onto and flying off of remote airstrips built for the drug trade in places that roads don't go. Bowden calls her a "latter-day Amelia Earhart." Lanham didn't want to talk about her relationship with Bowden. "Never get hooked up with a woman who flies," says Bowden. "Get a coke addict, they're cheaper.")
Still, there are plenty of folks in Tucson--Bowden admirers, too--whose eyebrows flap at his "prodigious philandering." Bowden calls himself a "frisky heterosexual." A close woman friend says he's irresistible to some women, "high maintenance" but a "babe." Pressed once to explain his behavior, Bowden told some colleagues, "Who am I to reverse 50 million years of primate evolution?"
His child, whose birth is documented near the opening of Red Line, is being raised by the boy's mom with help from Bowden's mom. Bowden pays child support. There's a picture of the boy displayed in the writer's living room. It is framed beside a colorful label from a mescal bottle and the only outline for Trust Me, actually a dozen or so words scribbled on a cocktail napkin.
Bowden's rep for boozing comes from the autobio books, one of which is named for the rasty, Mexican hangover-fuel mescal, and which are full of somewhat reverent references to beer, wine and whiskey.
It is an earned thirst, friends believe. Someone who spends so much time wandering through the Pinacates, or wandering inside paragraphs on the computer screen in the corner, earns long drinks whenever the drinks are available.
Also in the books are accounts of drug intake, especially of speed and reefer binges in younger days.
Bowden says the drinking is for winding down. Beer is the perfect accompaniment for the spicy, foreign cuisines he prefers; otherwise, Burgundy is his drug of choice. Strangely, his favorite setting for nightcap glasses of red wine is among the parents of undergrads who gather in a quiet, hotel-lobby sports pub near the university.
He claims he's a social pot smoker, that the cumulative tokes at parties over the last decade add up to no more than two doobs, total. He claims he last did cocaine almost ten years ago, in a bar in Washington, D.C., after an awards banquet at which he was the big awardee.
"I like what I do," he says. "I don't want cocaine. I want Burgundy. I'm too work-oriented to be a good user."
(Interestingly, a publisher recently sent Bowden to Colorado to try to pry a 1992 presidential-campaign book out of Hunter S. Thompson. When Bowden realized that he'd have to actually write the book for the addled godfather of gonzo, he split. "Junkies are boring," says Bowden of the experience.)