A bad literary trip though 1970s Aspen
August 30, 2007
So these are the Aspen glory days I’ve heard longtime locals pining for.Life here was once an amalgamation of raucous parties, sex and drugs. It was an insular place where eccentricity was the norm and morality was hardly a necessity. One lived fast and skied faster.Or so says Charles K. Spetz, a self-proclaimed rock star turned ski bum, in “Aspen out of Bounds.” Spetz’s book provides a glimpse of this small ski town during the 1970s. It’s a memoir of sorts, replete with sensational tales, outlandish characters (some things never change), self-evaluation and discovery, and significant personal loss.
After reading Spetz’s account, it’s abundantly clear that Aspen’s bygone era in no way resembles the present. But I’m not sure I really missed out.Sure, Spetz’s wide array of anecdotes casts Aspen in a somewhat mythical light. Here, on a “normal” night at the Mother Lode, one could pull up a stool alongside Hunter S. Thompson, a man with a 1-foot-tall rubber alligator, big Teddy and the Nubbins brothers. Here, you could stop into Gretl’s for lunch after a morning spent charging down Bell Mountain, then take a few runs with Jack Nicholson. Here, you could use drugs for currency, trading product for anything from dinners, skis and clothes to car stereos. Here, life was freewheeling.”To my way of thinking at this time, as long as I had a good stash of buds, a pocket full of hundred-dollar bills, a full bottle of blow, and a good looking babe to play with, good skis and plenty of cold Heinekens, life was complete.”Spetz’s description is compelling and initially desirable. But something gets lost in this translation. Maybe it’s the book’s poor grammar, which was bearable at first, but after 300 pages clouded Spetz’s message and, ultimately, his credibility. Add to that his rambling style, and “Out of Bounds” fast becomes a clumsy, clouded mess. I initially thought the format was contrived deliberately to mirror Spetz’s fast-paced and unquestionably erratic life. In the end, it seems as though he wrote all his thoughts on napkins, then threw them together with no regard for order; it may have worked for J.K. Rowling, but not here.
By the end, Spetz’s account resembles a bad Hollywood script. A life lived on the edge begins to spiral hopelessly out of control because of drugs and greed. There’s nothing to suggest Spetz learns from his tragedies and mistakes. Spetz is always in search of something – money, companionship, self-assurance and acceptance – but he seems as rudderless at book’s end as he was at the start.All he has to show for a decade of excess is an impending jail sentence. A life of euphoria has yielded little more than paranoia and uncertainty. It’s clear that Spetz went so far out of bounds that he could never pull himself back. “Aspen out of Bounds” is a tragic tale that amounts to little more than a bad literary trip.