Jose Teodoro 2015-02-28 04:44:27
Crime novelist Tom Corcoran has co-written songs with Jimmy Buffett, photographed literary luminaries like Hunter S. Thompson and established his own publishing house, all centered around Key West Whn Tom Corcoran got out of the Navy in 1969 he called up his old college roommate Jon Hilton, who’d just finished a stint in the Army, with a proposal to hit the road. They met up in Corcoran’s home state of Ohio and started roaming the continent—two young men with just a silver Datsun 2000 and the loosest of agendas. They made memorable stops in Montréal, Quebec City and New York City and then headed south all the way to Florida before the money finally ran out in Fort Lauderdale. After two weeks of digging ditches under the punishing Florida sun to earn enough to get gas back into the tank, Corcoran suggested they drive down to Key West to unload the remains of their earnings at Captain Tony’s Saloon. Corcoran wound up staying for 10 years. Hilton stayed for 40 years. This wasn’t Corcoran’s first time in Key West; he had spent two months of Navy duty on the island in 1968, riding his bike back and forth to Anti-Submarine Warfare School every day and living at The Old Island Inn on Simonton Street, unaware at the time that it was the same building Hemingway had occupied when he and Pauline first arrived back in 1928. But it was upon this fateful second date with Key West, coming to the island after all that youthful wandering and soul searching, that Corcoran realized Key West was the right place for him. “That was when I really fell in love with it,” Corcoran says. “It was like being in some Caribbean outpost out beyond Antigua and Martinique.” As with so many things in life, timing seems to have played a crucial role in Corcoran’s taking root here and finding success when he did. He met Thomas McGuane and Jim Harrison. He met Tennessee Williams. All three of these esteemed authors encouraged Corcoran to write, something he’d been dreaming of doing since the age of 15. Just as importantly, he met Jimmy Buffett the very day Buffett arrived in Key West in November of 1971. They would become close friends, sailing partners and collaborators, with Corcoran co-writing the Buffett tunes "Cuban Crime of Passion" and "Fins." It was the early ’70s—a time when a tremendous confluence of creative currents were brushing up against one another in Key West with Corcoran right in the thick of it, soaking it all in and slowly defining his own diversified creative path. Some of Corcoran’s adventures with Buffett, McGuane and other creative Key Westers of that time are chronicled in William McKeen’s 2011 book Mile Marker Zero. In 1974 Corcoran purchased a little Olympus camera and began taking pictures of the island. “I was in love with the history, the architecture, the tropical light, the funkiness, the humor,” Corcoran says. “I still am in love with it all. And I’m still taking pictures.” So many pictures in fact, and so many striking ones, that Corcoran has assembled a generous helping of the very best of them for Key West in Black and White (1974-1999), a book of more than 160 images with extensive anecdotal captions published by Corcoran’s own publishing venture, The Ketch & Yawl Press/ Dredgers Lane. The photos chronicle the shifts in our island’s character over a quarter century through images of buildings, boats, street scenes, beaches and businesses. It functions as both an intimate history in stills and a playful, personal record of an individual’s encounters with a place that changed his life. Of course, Corcoran, who spent six years editing Mustang Monthly magazine in central Florida, is also wellknown for his shots of beautiful cars, not to mention portraits of numerous famous faces that have breezed through these parts over the years. He’s photographed several beloved album covers for Buffett, and eventually put together Jimmy Buffett: The Key West Years, another book of photos and anecdotes published by The Ketch & Yawl Press in 2006. He’s created numerous distinctive author photos for the likes of McGuane (who was himself a feature subject of the article “A Writer Reflects” in our Summer 2014 issue) and the late Hunter S. Thompson (many of which were published for the first time in a 2009 Thompson biography, also by McKeen) And Corcoran describes Key West in Black and White as capturing “the nautical spirit of the island, the funkiness and architecture; a quasiguided tour for locals and visitors alike.” The photo work aside, all this time spent around some of America’s finest writers and haunting one of the country’s richest literary hideaways would finally pay off, perhaps ironically, only after Corcoran stopped living here. Since 1980, Corcoran has technically lived elsewhere—he’s settled for spells in Fairhope, AL and in Cudjoe Key, FL and in Lakeland, FL, his current home—yet Key West has never stopped being a regular acquaintance, either through frequent visits or through pure flights of imagination that have found their way into print. Corcoran’s fictional character Alex Rutledge came upon his first Key West crime scene in the late ’90s in The Mango Opera, Corcoran’s literary debut. Sixteen years and seven (soon to be eight) celebrated mystery novels later, the photographer and reluctant sleuth has come to be woven right into Key West’s fluid mythology; He’s a figure so fully realized as to be a virtual citizen. “When I started writing my Alex Rutledge crime series,” Corcoran says, “I intended from the start to make Key West a living character in my books. Too few novels set in the Keys capture the personality, the spirit of the island. McGuane’s Ninety-Two in the Shade and Panama got it right, but not many others.” Jim Harrison, whose own prolific body of work includes the novella trilogy Legends of the Fall, has credited Corcoran with deftly evoking Key West’s “low tide jubilance and enlivening fetor of its pleasures and instinctive criminality, as if the sun and ocean had blasted all the flowers of evil into its very genes.” This “instinctive criminality” may not help promote tourism, but it makes a hell of a good read. Corcoran is currently finishing a series spin-off, Justice on the Skids. His 2012 Alex Rutledge book, The Quick Adios (Times Six), continues his hero’s popularity with local readers. And readers can satisfy their hunger for Corcoran’s singular perspective by delving into Key West in Black and White, the engrossing array of images that hold a multifaceted mirror to the yesteryear of this tiny island we call home. Corcoran has also expanded the publishing enterprise he began with Ketch & Yawl to include Keys history such as Young Wrecker on the Florida Reef, first published in the 1860s, Yesterday’s Key West by Wright Langley and Undying Love by Ben Harrison. Those titles can be found at local outlets such as Key West Island Books, 513 Fleming St., and online.
Published by Key West Magazine. View All Articles.
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