Ann Coulter's 19th Nervous Breakdown

I recently found out that Ann Coulter, reactionary author of the liberal-bashing, McCarthy-worshiping tome Treason, is an avid follower of the Grateful Dead. Depending on the source, Ann Coulter is estimated to have attended between thirty-seven and sixty-seven of the group’s legendary performances. Having seen the Dead several times myself, I was fascinated by this unlikely shared affinity. Since what I got out of the Dead experience was pretty much everything than Coulter rails against, I needed to know what it was she enjoyed about it. It was High Time to take a Long, Strange Trip into the psyche of Ann Coulter.

A preliminary search on Google illuminated little; a Washington Journal article told me that Coulter’s favorite song by the group was “Casey Jones,” a nice enough tune if something of an unimaginative choice—she claimed to admire its theme of “Personal responsibility.” She also claimed never to have taken any drugs other than alcohol and “Second-hand” pot smoke at shows—rather a Clintonian position for one for one of his most histrionic critics to take. When I found out that she had attended a private school in Connecticut things started to click and the direction my research had to go in became clear: Ann Coulter, blissed-out and barefoot in a sundress, grooving to Anthem of the Sun, that was inconceivable; Ann Coulter driving from show to show in a Beemer or a Cadillac with a couple of Trustafarian schoolmates was much easier to envision. If I could find one of those kids, I’d have the story. My research lead me to Scott “Skippy” Winthrop Hunt, President of Hunt Industries of Haverford, CT. Hunt claims to have met Ms. Coulter in high school and to have “Toured” with her during the late seventies on into the eighties. He gave me the following candid interview.

Crapshoot: Mr. Hunt, nice to talk to you. You seem rather laid back for a man of your station.

Hunt: Truth be told, dude, I don’t do shit around here. When my old man died in ’86 I took over and tried to take charge. I instructed the board to divest our South African holdings, to sell our shares in G.E and other military related stocks and invest in a small company I believed in. A shareholder revolt followed. The terms of my Dad’s will—you know, I didn’t agree with his politics, but he was a good man who covered his boy’s ass—the will guaranteed my share of ownership, but they found a court to declare me incompetent to make decisions for the company. So, I still make the money from it, but my family appointed Trustee runs the day-to-day business while I watch from the sidelines.

Crapshoot: Bummer.

Crapshoot: Nah, not really. I got the last laugh. You know that small company I was talking about? It was a little concern called Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, had just released a product called Cherry Garcia. Shares could still be had for a song. The stock kept going up over the next few years and those same shareholders were all, ‘What’s the next company we should invest in?’ I told them, ‘Hey, don’t you respect the court system of the United States of America? They have ruled that I’m unfit mentally to give that type of advice, and as a loyal American I have to respect their decision.’ (laughs)

Crapshoot: That’s hilarious. But don’t you think that’s a cop-out? I mean, Hunt Industries—you could do a lot with that money.

Hunt: Hey, I still make the sweet profits, and I do a lot with that money. I use it to fund my causes—medical marijuana, the rainforests, all that stuff.

Crapshoot: Right on. So let’s get down to it. Tell me about your old friend Ann Coulter.

Hunt: That crazy bitch! (laughs) Man, I thought she had some potential back in the day, but, shit, she was always a bit nutty.

Crapshoot: Yeah?

Hunt: Yeah, like this one tour somewhere in ‘80s, a spring tour on the East Coast. It was me, Ann and (name withheld), we were doing, like, seven or eight shows. Hartford and Worcester and three days in Philly. Anyway, dude, I thought it was revealing, you know, we were on the road for a long time and we all had books to read to pass the time. I noticed they were all kind of from the same era, you know? Like, I was reading Dharma Bums, (name withheld) was reading None Dare Call It Treason! (laughs)

Crapshoot: (laughs) NO WAY!

Hunt: Yeah, man! She had a highlighter pen and everything, I mean she’s taking notes. We’re driving from Hartford to Worcester, I’m riding shotgun. Ann’s in the back and we’re listening to a bootleg on the car stereo. I’m zoning, checking out Jerry and every so often Ann’s like ‘Yes!’ I’m thinking it’s the music, and I look back and, nope, it’s the book.

Crapshoot: Her path was clear even then.

Hunt: It’s funny. You know that Stones’ tune “19th Nervous Breakdown?” Where Mick’s hanging with this chick that’s kind of twisted and he thinks he can turn her around?

Crapshoot: Yeah, I know that one. Great tune.

Hunt: Right on. That’s how I saw me and Ann, though was oblivious to all that. You know that line (sings) “On our first trip I tried so hard to rearrange your mind….”

Kane: “...But after awhile I realized you’re disarranging mine?” Yeah, that’s the heart of the tune. But, you know, that songs literally about an LSD trip. I thought Ann was drug-free.

Hunt: (pauses) Well, you know how it is. Ann isn’t exactly lying when she says she never took acid. As far as she or most anyone else knows, she never did. And, really, who’s to say how much, if any, she actually took. Here’s the deal. It was in Philly, me and (name withheld) had snuck off to smoke a bowl--we didn’t dig smoking around Ann. We told her we were going to play Frisbee or something like that, right?

Crapshoot: Yeah?

Hunt: First, I ought to back up a bit. The two of us had this half-gallon bottle of orange juice we used to share, right? Only, you know, it was Electric orange juice. We could dose discretely by drinking this OJ laced with LSD.

Crapshoot: Talk about Orange Sunshine!

Hunt: Yeah, huh? Only, I think it was Gooney Bird on that tour, but same thing. So we get back from our pretend little errand—it was funny, too, because we’d be throwing the Frisbee right there in front of the car and she never took account of the disconnect—but we come back and Ann’s taking a pretty good chug out of our bottle of OJ.

Crapshoot: Oh, shit.

Hunt: Yeah, huh? And I’m flying by then. So I say, ‘Hey, Ann, that’s our juice. I thought you were against Communism.’ You know, trying to keep it light but thinking ‘What the fuck am I going to do when this Young American for Freedom starts losing her ego and shit’ and also kind of thinking, ‘Hmm, maybe this could be cool if I finesse this right.’ So I figure the only thing I can really do is ‘Keep on Keepin’ On’ like Dylan said, and that I’ll just try to monitor the situation with Ann as best as I can, ‘cause she is my friend and her trip is kind of my responsibility on a Karmic level. So, the car next to us is cranking out Aoxomoxoa, a really psychedelic record. You know, “St. Stephen” and “China Cat Sunflower,” all that good stuff. Somewhere in there we get a Frisbee thing going, while Ann’s reading her little Bircher book. Somewhere in the middle of all this she puts the book down and starts watching us. Like, really watching us—intently, like a sporting event. And—I’ll never forget this, like, I’ll be ninety-five years old, won’t know the names of my grandkids, Hell, maybe not even my own name, but I’ll remember this night—Ann says, ‘Weird.’ I think, ‘OK, she’s starting to trip. I’ve got to guide her.’ But I want to sound cool, right? So I say, ‘What’s that, Ann?’ And she says, ‘When you guys throw the Frisbee, I can’t see any trails.’

Crapshoot: Huh? She CAN’T see the trails?

Hunt: Yeah, that’s what I thought. I don’t even know what I told her, dude. I guess I just kind of took note. So, you know, we just ‘Keep On,’ right? Then ‘What’s Become of the Baby’ comes on. Normally Ann hates that tune—well, nobody really likes that one, but Ann really hated it—but she sat there and listened to it. After a couple minutes she goes, you know, ‘Weird’ again. And so I say something about how it’s an experimental tune and that I could ask the guy next to us to put something else on. She just kind of looks at me, almost into me…almost…and she says ‘No, it’s alright. It’s just, usually I can hear exactly what they’re saying here only this time it sounds garbled.’ I explain about, you know, the multi-tracking, but this is where I start to make the connection with Mick Jagger.

Crapshoot: Right. She’s tripping, and her consciousness is actually shrinking.

Hunt: Yeah, there’s actually more to it than that, but that starts to explain it. Anyhow, there wasn’t any further incident until the show. She just kind of hung back most of the day, didn’t say much. To be honest, that was kind of refreshing. Usually she had a lot of negative remarks to make about hippies. One time we passed a Falafel stand and Ann said we should go over there, shave the head of the dude running it and make him sell hotdogs! She was always talking smack and it used to bum me out.

Crapshoot: I would think.

Hunt: So I made a point of sitting right next to her so that I’d be there if anything happened. The Dead opens up with "Promised Land" and we’re dancing with everybody, Then they slow it down a bit, right, and I was never one of those Heads that was going to pretend to dance to some essentially undanceable ballad. So we sit down, you know? And I’m feeling the vibe from the crowd and, for the first time since I’ve known her, I think Ann Coulter is starting to pick up on the cosmic energy of the Grateful Dead. So we’re sitting down, and there’s a tender kind of moment going on—the Dead are playing “Row, Jimmy” and I put my arm around her shoulder, you know?

Kane: I guess; I’d rather pet a bobcat.

Hunt: Yeah, but you don’t know her; maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. I sure thought I did right then.. Um, as a gentleman, I shouldn’t say this, but she’s a public figure and the stink she raised over the whole Lewinsky thing, I think that people should know.

Crapshoot: Go on. I thought she was going to have a coronary, the way she talked about a blow job in the Oval Office, like Monica was Mata Hari or something.

Hunt: Right? Only, she wasn’t always like that. You know, we kind of snuggled up there, and pretty soon we were petting and then, one thing leading to another, she was giving me head right there in the Philadelphia Spectrum.

Crapshoot: NO!

Hunt: Yeah, dude. And, tell you what, it felt good. To this day I can’t hear that song without seeing Ann Coulter’s lips around my cock. (sings) "Row, Jimmy, Row…."

Crapshoot: OK, that's enough. Stop before I get stuck with that image too. Anyway,’d think that would’ve made her more sympathetic to Monica’s, ah, position, no?

Hunt: Well, you don’t gotta be Freud to figure out that it didn’t and how she must’ve internalized it. Anyway, I thought we’d made a connection. She kept snuggled up to me pretty much up until the drums portion of the gig. As she always did at that time, she went to powder her nose, unironically, of course. When she came back, it was the old Ann. She kept her distance for "Space" and the rest of the concert. They closed the set with "Good Lovin’’ and I swear she made a cross with her hands when I looked at her during that one. It was disturbing.
After we left the arena, it just got weirder. She started going on about how the Dead were really conservatives in liberal’s clothing, talking about the money they made….

Crapshoot: They surely made a lot of money.

Hunt: Yeah, fair enough, but they played "Desolation Row" that night, right?

Crapshoot: The Dylan tune. From Highway 61. Hunt: Yup, that’s the one. She started on this tirade about how the lyrics were pro-capital punishment and anti-immigration?

Crapshoot: Come again?

Hunt: Yeah, she deconstructed the first line: "They’re Selling Postcards of the Hanging…."

Crapshoot: "....They’re Painting the Passports Brown.” That’s a pretty literal interpretation.

Hunt: No one has ever accused her of subtlety. And that was the end of the road for me. I figured, I saw her up, I saw her down. I’m out.

Crapshoot: Right, she was disarranging your mind. You led her to the Promised Land and she’s Poor Ophelia on Desolation Road, Already an Old Maid.

Hunt: Yup. We done?

Crapshoot: Yeah, think so, Skip. Thank you for everything.

So there it was. The sexy image of the Dead—of the counter-culture generally—is of the Summer of Love, young kids questioning their values, expanding their minds and having a damn good time—something like “Girls Gone Wild” meets the Tao Te Ching in Wonderland, with a heavy-duty soundtrack. But by the late ‘70s, the scene seemed less pure and more complicated. The first hippies were fairly unified in their revolt against the Vietnam War and Corporate America, but an entire class of kids had emerged by the Reagan era that evidently saw no cognitive dissonance in aligning themselves politically with the forces that brought us the “War on Drugs” while spending their spare time in the experimental laboratory that was the parking lot at a Dead show. Many of these kids indulged in the sacraments and some even went through life-changing experiences of ethnogenesis. Others, perhaps the majority, were Republicans because they didn’t really think about it one way or the other—it worked for their parents and that was good enough for them. Neither of which explains the phenomenon of Ann Coulter—you can arrive at a place in-between the John Birch Society and the Merry Pranksters if you don’t think too hard about either one, but she seems to be straddling both extremes. Enjoying the fruits of the rebellion of the sixties, while rejecting the cultural forces driving it.

Ultimately, the questions are existential. Is music the absolute reflection of the beliefs and intentions of its authors, and, if so, does the act of listening to it constitute acceptance of the creators’ personal lives and beliefs? There is an essential mystery at the heart of music’s appeal to individual souls. Perhaps Ann’s favorite Dead lyric gives us a clue: “Trouble with You/Is the Trouble With Me/Got Two Good Eyes, But We Still Don’t See.” Or this related note from Simon & Garfunklel: “Still a Man, He Sees What He Wants to See and He Disregards the Rest.”