With the passing of my favorite writer Jim Harrison on March 27, I can honestly say that I was moved to tears. I’ve never been affected by any writer, actor or musician like I have by Jim Harrison. The Michigan native wrote about my home state and other areas of the country that have always captivated me including the Great Plains and the Florida Keys. His novels, novellas, and columns always included healthy doses of food, drink, hunting, fishing, sex, and the dynamic of Northern and Southern Michigan folks interacting in ways that were very reminiscent of my times as a middle class college kid working on a luxury yacht that made it’s way around the coasts of Michigan. Our stops in towns and provided me with scenarios that were right out of a Jim Harrison novella. In fact, I often fantasized about presenting him with my journals from those summers and let him have at it.
Food was an essential part of his writing and he could describe a cheeseburger in Nebraska bar in the same glorious manner he would a multi course meal in a high-end French restaurant. His book, The Raw & The Cooked, a compilation of his columns for Esquire, Outside, Men’s Journal and others, is the perfect place for those of you unfamiliar with his writing to start. You will find that in many cases his description of food is a metaphor for life. His column on chicken thighs entitled “What have we done with all the thighs” is one of my favorite pieces of culinary writing ever.
I was trying to figure out a way to pay tribute to this man who led such a big life in a manner that was not a typical obituary. The day Harrison died, I sent a text to a group of friends I refer to as the major dudes. These are guys and one woman who I have become tight with over the years and consider solid friends who I can talk with for hours with and whose friendships I hold dearly. I had a revelation on that Sunday that all of the major dudes, in addition to all their great qualities, had elements of Jim Harrison and his characters in them, which is what drew me to these folks. I decided that was a perfect way to pay homage to my literary idol. With that, I present the major dudes and some of my favorite Harrison books and novellas.
Scott Ouellette is a longtime major dude and Michigan friend and classmate of my older brother Gerry who I’ve shared many adventures and amazing meals with. His job as an Arborist embodies the outdoor lifestyle that Harrison embraced. Harrison was known to imbibe in serious eating on a regular basis but always followed it by a long walk in the woods. And while I don’t always have woods handy, I’ve taken to long walks after serious meals and it’s very therapeutic. True North includes accounts of the timber barons of Michigan and works very well with Scott and his knowledge of trees.
Scottville, Michigan native and college roommate Harvey Wilson grew up in a rural town near Lake Michigan that was very similar to many in Harrison’s books that were set in that area. Harvey was one of my first friends that would explore what we would call at the time “fancy restaurants” and share multi-course meals. I would associate the novel The English Major with Harvey as it spans the country on an epic road trip complete with indulgent meals.
Mike Legue was another college roommate and rabid Jim Harrison fan who embodied the wild characters found in his books. His free spirit associates perfectly with one of Harrison’s early works entitled Wolf that was made into a movie starring Jack Nicholson.
I grew up next door to major dude Jim Klemmer in Royal Oak, Michigan and our food adventures skewed towards the lowbrow. Our early obsession with reubens, pizza subs and sliders in Michigan segued into a borderline unhealthy obsession with Juanita’s and her delectable temptations in Encinitas. I’d liken the novel Warlock and its title character’s propensity to whip up simple yet delicious grub to many similar meals with Jimi.
John Grimshaw was one of the first major dudes I met when I relocated to Encinitas. We became fast friends and have shared many good times together since. John is an Ashland, Oregon native and has Cherokee Indian blood. The plight of Native Americans is a common theme in Jim Harrison books, along with characters like One Stab from his most famous book Legends of the Fall.
I’ll wrap this up with dear friend Wendy Hudson, the female representative of the major dudes. Wendy is all woman though and one of the best cooks I know. She is passionate about food, is a voracious reader, and shares my love of all things Jim Harrison. His book Dalva is written in a female voice and is a beautifully crafted novel that Wendy represents perfectly.
Jim Harrison led a big, rich life and food played a huge role in both his life and his writing. He was writing until the very end having just released a book of novellas called The Ancient Minstrel that was released on March 1, 2016.
RIP Jim Harrison.