Interview: Carl Hiaasen

By JIM SULLIVAN  |  July 22, 2010

Devo had it right in 1978 with de-evolution.
They were ahead of their time. There’s ample evidence of it. I do think what we’ve lost is “the survival of the fittest,” because if you sit in any airport and look at the people for an hour and tell me this is the survival of the fittest, well, a thousand years ago, a sabertooth tiger would have culled the herd.

Star Island is a funny book but . . .
It’s not slapstick, it’s not comedy. If it’s good satire, it’s about something serious, and that’s even true with Star Island.

Your ex-Gov, Skink, reappears and exacts some nasty vengeance. You write that “he fled the governor’s mansion with values intact but idealism vanished.” Is that you, too, sort of?
I don’t know that I was ever — even as a young person — that idealistic. I certainly hope there’s possibility for change, but I think that can get beaten out of you if you’re not careful.

One thing about your generally repulsive characters, they’re not total scum. They are imbued with some positive, albeit limited, qualities.
I don’t believe somebody is all good or all evil. In Cherry’s case, I was just trying to say there are really people who are, in their own way, harmlessly shallow. They do not engage in deep thinking. They really don’t think past tonight, and if you’re good-looking enough, you can get away with it. They float along, and they don’t try to hurt anybody, but they’re really simpletons. Especially in the world of show business. They’re operating at such a basic level of biological functioning, you can’t get mad at them. People say they’re stereotypes. There’s a reason they’re stereotypes.

You were close friends with Warren Zevon and even wrote a few songs with him (“Seminole Bingo,” “Rottweiler Blues,” “Basket Case”). What are your thoughts looking back on your relationship?
He was such a dear friend and a complicated person. I truly believe at some level a genius, and he had all the problems that geniuses have. When we first met, he had come to a book signing of mine and then at some point he said, “I’d love you to help me write a couple of songs.” That was just the best. We would fax lyrics back and forth and did a couple things. One of the high points of my life was when Zevon did “Seminole Bingo” on the Letterman show — it was unbelievable. He was such a gifted guy. It’s very hard for all of us. He was a larger-than-life guy. When we would talk in the last year, one of the best lines he ever said to me, which I wrote down was, “This is gonna be a lot harder on you than it is on me,” and he meant all of us who cared about him. He said, “I went to bed so many times not knowing if I was gonna wake up. Look at it like this: I got to be Jim Morrison a lot longer than he did.” It was a great way of looking at it. The amount of talent was so daunting, his brainpower. First time I met him, I think he was buying a book by Thomas Mann and insisting I read it, and I said man, I gotta draw the line at Thomas Mann, I can’t stand any more fucking gloom in my life. He was sometimes his own worst enemy, but he was in many ways a genius.

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