This column was corrected on Dec. 27, 2004.
LONDON — Holidays and homesickness. That’s the eternal combo plate served in London with a side of SAD, which is the acronym for the medical condition “seasonal affective disorder,” or in Hollywood ex-pat terms, “Dude, where’s my light?”
Luckily, I found two solutions: a pair of sunny biographical studies of contempo classic American characters no other country could have produced.
The first is Philip Trevena’s “Landesmania” (Tiger of the Stripe: London), a lighthearted look at ex-pat raconteur and rascal Jay Landesman. The second is Slim Randles’ “Ol Max Evans: The First Thousand Years” (U. of New Mexico Press), a romp through the white-hot life of the cowboy novelist behind “The Hi-Lo Country” and “The Rounders.”
On the surface, the two gents couldn’t be more different.
Landesman’s a sophisticated hustler who founded Neurotica magazine in New York in the late ’40s and published then-unknowns like Jack Kerouac and Marshall McLuhan. This after running a nightclub in the Midwest that hosted such burgeoning talents as Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen and Barbra Streisand.
Norman Mailer once said Landesman and his songwriter wife Fran “could be accused of starting it all.” You can’t get more “beat” than that.
Landesman fled America in the ’60s and landed in London, where he’s continued to write and raise hell and become as much of a Soho landmark as the Groucho Club where he’s held court since it opened.
In contrast, “Ol Max Evans” — he’s been calling himself that since boyhood — never left the sun-scorched Southwest and, thanks to his eye and his physical stamina (he’s just turned 80), the region has a voice that took me from my chilly Hampstead home to Albuquerque for some hot chili and hotter storytelling.
The beatniks of Landesman’s milieu may have sported berets and sipped espressos, but trust me, Evans is a spiritual cousin — never mind the Stetson and the longnecks. As L.A. film critic-historian Charles Champlin said of Evans, “He’s one of those guys you can take anywhere and still be ashamed of him.”
Among the many raucous stories in Randles’ affectionate study are a few about director Sam Peckinpah, who was no slouch in the bohemian lifestyle department, but wasn’t quite a match for Evans when it came to drinking and fighting.
But they shared the same maverick spirit, and there’s a good chance that when they unroll a Peckinpah tribute planned for European shores next year, Evans will be on hand to tell those stories.
Already, though, I owe him thanks for riding roughshod on the holiday blues and chasing SAD across the arroyos of North London.