From Mad Dogs to Mister Golf

Bud Shrake, continued

In this extended outtake from the print version, Shrake talks about being a Texas writer and reflects on two related aspects of his reputation: running with the notoriously booze-fueled cadre of writers and associates known as the Mad Dogs, and the golf habit that led to his novel Billy Boy and the bestselling sports book of all time, Harvey Penick's Little Red Book.

Austin Chronicle: So obviously, you're identified as a Texas writer. What has that meant to you?

Bud Shrake: You can't get around the fact that you are a Texas writer if you grew up here. It was a foreign country, and we are as foreign as Frenchmen. If you were born in France, are you a French writer? Well, yeah. Sometimes it's been in fashion, stylish to be a Texas writer and have a Texan accent. Under Bush, it's kind of the worst thing you could possibly do. I have a new novel out, came out in October, called Custer's Brother's Horse. I call it a Civil War novel, but in New York publishing, if you write a novel that takes place before 1900, in Texas, and there's a horse, then they call it a Western. And Westerns, you know, have been out of favor for 30 to 40 years.

Michael Rudman and I wrote a play that ran in London five years ago, right as the Iraq war was starting. [Rudman] is a theatre director in London who's very successful. But he's lived in London for 40 years, so people think he's British. But it starred Jerry Hall and it was written by Rudman and me, and of course several of the critics who said, if there's a play here that's starring a Texan and directed by a Texan, written by Texans, how can it possibly be worth a shit? And that was kind of the attitude. I can't tell you how much they hate Bush over there. On opening night, I sat on a bench in Piccadilly and watched a million people march against his war. From early in the morning until late at night. And so that wasn't a good time to say, "I'm a Texan." But back when Lyndon was president, that wasn't that great either, because Kennedy had been shot. But there are times when it's good. The first major serious novel I wrote was But Not for Love. And the cover stuff on it was, "Wild Texas Millionaires!" Sex. Money. Drugs. Texas sounded good. Good to have wild Texas millionaires then. Wild Texas millionaires now are the kiss of death. Unless you're just writing about what assholes they are.

AC: Tell me about how the Mad Dog thing got started.

BS: Mad Dogs started when we were doing Kid Blue. We shot the movie down near Durango in a little town called Chupaderos. So we got up a little group to drive down there. Took a motor home and my Ford van, and we had a sign made that we put on the side of the motor home: "No Fumar." So that cops wouldn't think we were smoking dope in there. I forget how we decided to call it Mad Dog. Mad Dog Productions. And we put a sign up. You know, you'd be surprised that if you have a panel truck or whatever and you put a sign on it that says Mad Dog Productions, you can go anywhere. Kind of amazing.

That's how we started. We decided that we had two things – our mantra, our philosophy was, "doing indefinable services for mankind." And our slogan was, "anything that's not a mystery is guesswork." And we had membership cards printed up, and if you were selected into Mad Dog, we gave you two pesos, to sort of give you a financial foothold in the world. That's sort of how it all started. Anyway, when we drove down through Mexico and arrived in Durango, first thing that happened was we walked into Dennis Hopper's rented mansion, and there were a whole bunch of people who had taken acid and were carrying guns. And so we thought, well this is where we belong. This is going to be an adventure. And it definitely was. A life-changing adventure. I didn't have any idea when we did that that I would ever really be a screenwriter. It was really a whole surreal experience. And the acid, of course, made it a lot more surreal. Because we're walking out to Chupaderos, and here's this town I had seen before only in my imagination. But they built it. One thing in it was the Great American Ceramic Novelty company. They made ashtrays. And there it was, this big factory with a kiln and a boiler and all this stuff, a real working ceramics plant that the movie company had built. And I thought well, this was magic. You know, it was left behind for the people of Chupaderos. And they tore it down and used it for firewood. They didn't need ashtrays.

AC: Who got membership cards?

BS: Hopper, Ann Richards, [Gary] Cartwright, of course. Pete Gent, Jody Gent, and there's a lot of 'em out there. Peter Boyle, Warren Oates. The last person that got a Mad Dog card was David Milch, and that was during the shooting of John From Cincinnati, about six months ago. Howard Hesseman, who was an actor in Kid Blue, he was in John From Cincinnati, and he gave Milch a Mad Dog card and a Mad Dog T-shirt, and a two-dollar bill. Used to be two pesos, but now it's two dollars to get your foothold in the world.

AC: There's a lot of drinking and drugs and carousing associated with the Mad Dogs. How are you feeling about that now?

BS: I went through many years of that. I don't know how I survived it. But what I especially don't know is how I got so much work done. I of course took a lot of speed and drank. But I managed to do a lot of work. There was a period of about ten years there when I was running around with Jerry Jeff Walker and Willie Nelson and those guys, and also writing movies at that time. And we'd stay up for days at a time. God knows why. Afraid we'd miss something, I guess. And the main trouble with that was that when those guys were working, they were also playing at the same time. And I was playing. And then when they weren't working, they were playing, and I was playing again. So I'd have to slip out and go somewhere alone and write something really fast. I worked on – during that period – probably 30 different movie screenplays for money. I should have paid more attention to what I was doing with the screenplays, and less attention to the tequila bottle. I had a whole bunch of movies that came right up to the threshold and then collapsed. Sometimes it was my fault.

When Hopper – it was 1985, when Dennis quit drinking, and I had just quit drinking – when he came to Austin he said to me, "how do you spend your days?" How do you fill up all this time that we used to spend in bars and running around and doing shit, and I said, "playing golf." And he said, well, I better start. So I took him out to the discount golf store on Anderson Lane, and he bought himself a set of golf clubs, and I drove him out to Willie's golf course, and he became a golf nut. It's happened that you see a lot of the time with show business and musicians, that people replace those hours they spend drugged out and they become addicts of another kind. And a lot of them become addicted to golf. Not long ago, I saw a big full-page color photograph in Golf Digest magazine with Dennis Hopper standing out at the first tee wearing knickers, plaid socks, a little cap, leaning on his driver, and it said "Mr. Golf." Hopper.

  • More of the Story

  • Riding the 'Wave'

    Bud Shrake compacts his far-flung, storied career in his new collection

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Mad Dogs, Bud Shrake, Dennis Hopper, Custer's Brother's Horse, Harvey Penick's Little Red Book

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