In February, I had the pleasure of interviewing the legendary Tom Robbins in his La Conner home. He's extremely generous, genuine and gentlemanly. He even paid for our salmon burger lunch and insisted on walking to my side -- he said it was a practice started many moons ago in Europe so that men, instead of women, would be the ones splashed by the contents of chamber pots when dumped out of windows. Sure, I'll take it!
I believe the world would be a better place if more people read Robbins' books. That being said, it was wonderful to meet the mind behind the stories. Here is my intro to our epic discussion, which touched on everything from his writing process to the importance of the vulva:
Tom Robbins said I’d know his house when I saw it. Indeed I did. Villa de Jungle Girl, the name he coined for his La Conner, Washington, home, stands out among its subtler neighbors in the sleepy fishing-cum-tourist town. The façade’s five different colors range from middle-of-a-deep-pond blue to creamy-matcha green, while a palm tree made of steel sprouts from his front yard. The Beatles song “Hey Jude” was cranked up so loud that it took five sets of knocks before the 81-year-old novelist — famed for such irreverent and original works as Still Life with Woodpecker, Jitterbug Perfume, and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues — finally opened the door. He wore his signature sunglasses along with light-wash denim jeans, a maroon pullover with brown suede elbow patches, and kelly green sneakers with socks so bright that planets may have been orbiting them. His dog, Blini Tomato Titanium, who is no bigger than the collective mass of three baked potatoes, was tucked under his arm. His wife of 27 years, Alexa, a part-time tarot reader, was away that afternoon at a training session to become a Pilates instructor.
Robbins showed me around with the focus and generosity of a docent at the Met. Everyday objects such as flyers function as art as much as pieces from celebrated artists like Man Ray. A painting of a winged human on mesh was lit by a pink fluorescent bulb, a work he calls the Pepto-Bismol Angel. Three original Warhol Campbell’s Soup Can images hung on the wall near the kitchen, reminiscent of a ’50s soda shop with its red-and-white checkered tile. One room is completely dedicated to peach cans — “I have the largest peach can collection in the world” — and images of babies riding koi fish, including a neon-sign version he commissioned.
Robbins is known for creating larger-than-life characters but has a chill vibe — amiable, low-key, and humble. Yet he gave glimmers of a deep-down wild side, like when I asked to see his tattoo. He happily stood up, lifted his shirt above his head, and revealed a palm tree etched onto the left side of his chest with the phrase “Where’s the tree?” inscribed below. (“It’s a metaphysical question,” he told me.) Later, we would walk by a gift shop filled with corny knickknacks and he would nonchalantly say, “I want to napalm that place.”
We met on a Sunday in mid-February, the day before he turned in his final edits for Tibetan Peach Pie — his first full-length book in a decade and the first attempt at chronicling his own life on paper. Although he hasn’t lived in the South for more than 40 years, Robbins still has a sliver of his Southern drawl, speaking in a voice that he identifies as having “been strained through Davy Crockett’s underwear.” I captured him during a pensive moment, both concerned and excited to reveal his personal history to the world.
Over the course of our seven-hour interview, we would hang out in his writing room, retreat to La Conner Pub & Eatery for salmon burgers (extra tartar sauce) and Rainier beers, and finally end up in his den, where two canvas circus banners hang — they’re so large they practically wallpaper the room — Tibetan rugs grace the floor, and furniture from New Guinea bumps up against a jungle-inspired-print couch. Among other things, we would talk about his psychedelic journeys, his hatred of creative-writing programs, and why he refuses to call his new book a memoir. We also talked a fair amount about mayonnaise.
This is a picture of Robbins in his writing room with his dog Blini Tomato Titanium and the proof pages of his new book, Tibetan Peach Pie.
If you're interested in learning about the contents of a one-of-a-kind mind, check out the interview: Tom Robbins: the Kindle Singles Interview.