Shaugnhessy Bishop-Stall talks to Malcolm Jolley about Hangover and hangovers.
It’s a shame that the late great author, journalist, essayist and champion drinker Christopher Hitchens isn’t around to write a review of Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall’s masterpiece of a book Hungover: The Morning After and One Man’s Quest for a Cure. My guess is he would have loved it, and he would have had great fun reading it. As a reviewer, I imagine, he would have beat its drum with a particular enthusiasm that would have been fun to read. Not because Hangover is a particularly cheerleading work on the sort of behaviour that results in hangovers – far from it – but because Mr. Bishop-Stall is particularly good at describing the ravages of what he calls the ‘vicious disease’: both its absurdity and its, following Kinglsey Amis, metaphysical malaise.
Well, I am no Hitchens, but I am enthusiastic about this book too, and believe anyone with a thirst, whose paid for it the next day, will be interested in Bishop-Stall’s book. It took him ten years to write, and cost him, physically and metaphysically, much. The story is interesting enough but, by Dionysus, the man can write. The hangovers he chronicles, that he’s trying to cure, resonate. There are, too, of course, adventures.
I sat down and had a drink with Shaugnhessy Bishop-Stall recently to have the conversation that makes up the interview below.
This interview has been edited for length, clarity and style.
Good Food Revolution: Let’s talk about this book that you’ve just whipped out in no time at all.
Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall: That I just whipped it out in a decade? [Laughs.] The decade flew by like that.
Good Food Revolution: Seriously, though. It’s an epic story about a subject on which not that much written, and I will confess to having a particular interest in. I mean I’m familiar with the genre, at least about drinking: Kingsley Amis, Pete Hamill, Barbara Holland, Hitchens…
Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall: The list is short of people who have written seriously about hangovers.
Good Food Revolution: Hangovers is basically zero, I was just thinking about alcohol.
Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall: Yeah, well as you can see I go to Kingsley Amis and Barbara Holland quite a bit in the book. I go to the well. There aren’t the many great writers on hangovers, let alone alcohol.
Good Food Revolution: That aren’t cautionary tales, although I’m not saying yours isn’t…
Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall: That aren’t preachy.
Good Food Revolution: Right. But Hangover goes pretty deep into Amis Sr.’s ‘Metaphysical Hangover’. You can feel it; it gets dark.
Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall: There was a lot more darkness in other drafts of the book. I think it ends at 399 pages, but there was a draft that was about 50% more and a lot darker than this. I was asked to cut out some things that got too dark. There was a whole part that took place in Croatia where bad things happened, and that might end up in a different book.
Good Food Revolution: In Hangover, you write about coming back from Croatia to Austria and Germany, so I guess we got a hint.
Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall: The most drastic, personal darkness ended up on the cutting room floor, but I think the echoes are still there.
Good Food Revolution: Absolutely. If, like me, you come from an Anglo-Celtic drinking culture, where having a drink is not unusual, then you’re likely going to be familiar with the consequences of having too many.
Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall: Part of the hangover is a dark phenomenon. It is the come down and it is the repercussion that has as much to do with your soul than it does your body, right?
Good Food Revolution: Forgive me for jumping to the end of the book, but at the end of your ten year quest, you do end-up with a kind of hangover cure – or a ‘treatment’ not a cure, as you say…
Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall: What I am supposed to say, according to the lawyers, is that it’s a cure that works for me. It’s my cure, not a cure.
Good Food Revolution: But it doesn’t solve the problems of your life.
Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall: No. In fact, one of the themes of the book is, the more I became able to salve my hangover, the more difficult my life became because drinking without physical repercussion leaves the metaphysical repercussion to grow. It becomes unbridled. So, you can solve all of the symptoms of a hangover, but the more symptoms you solve, the more dangerous it is for yourself. All you’re doing is eliminating warning signs until your liver explodes, and your life evaporates.
Good Food Revolution: What about the adrenaline cure? Are you still jumping off tall buildings or plunging into freezing waters?
Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall: Well, there’s a metaphor there. But I definitely think there’s something about adrenaline. I certainly don’t recommend this to anyone, but an EpiPen (epinephrine) jolted into your heart would, I do believe, the job, in a drastic situation.
Good Food Revolution: This means there were things you didn’t try?
Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall: There were two things I didn’t try: kidney dialysis, and epinephrine to the heart.
Good Food Revolution: Jesus!
Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall: Let’s say you had to cure your hangover to save humanity at that moment, then kidney dialysis or a massive jolt of epinephrine directly into the heart would solve the hangover like that. Now, the next day, for either, you would feel even worse.
Good Food Revolution: So, not really worth it.
Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall: Yeah, I had a whole thing signed up where I was going to be paying a whole lot of money for kidney dialysis, but my editor, Jenn Lambert, talked me out of it because I had already been through a lot in those ten years and it distressed her so much. She, and my agent both were exhibiting so much concern that I didn’t do it.
Good Food Revolution: I guess you are now a kind of connoisseur of hangovers.
Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall: Very much so. In the book there’s a listing of the kinds of hangovers from a time when I was sort of collecting hangovers, and storing them, and putting some of them on display. Dissecting others: that’s what you do as writer. You find your subject and then collect it.
Good Food Revolution: Can I put you on the spot and ask you to name and describe a few?
Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall: OK, let’s see… there’s The Creeper, that’s the one where you wake up and you feel suspiciously OK…
Good Food Revolution: Because you’re still drunk.
Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall: [Laughs.] Right, and it’s the one throughout the day grows and grows and grows until it takes hold late in the day and you’re not ready for it. There is also s The Blistering Barnacle…
Good Food Revolution: Named for the indomitable and very grumpy Captain Haddock!
Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall: It’s the hangover that just won’t let go and it festers. It becomes a sort of part of your structure.
Good Food Revolution: What about the Hitchens hangover? I was intrigued by that one, where the subject actually gets energy from being hungover.
Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall: That’s The Shining. It’s the one that affected Hitchens, Hemingway and Dorothy Parker: these brilliant people who would wake in the morning hungover and get their best work done. It’s not that they’re still drunk, it’s that they’ve got this perfectly tempered hangover. It’s a low level buzzing acuity. It’s the hangover that lets your inhibitions go, as drunkenness does but not with the sloppiness. There’s a sharpness that comes with it, an openness to creativity. It’s the one where it works. I think I called it a divining rod.
Good Food Revolution: I think that’s happened once or twice with me, but not reliably.
Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall: I learned how to access it.
Good Food Revolution: Through your cures or through exercise?
Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall: I learned how much to drink to get that perfect hangover, rather than all the other awful ones.
Good Food Revolution: And the other ones are all awful?
Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall: No, another positive one is The Johnny Fever Fever. It’s the Keith Richards or Churchill one where you are just going to be drunk and hungover for the rest of your life and you’ve embraced it with your body, mind and soul and it works for you.
Good Food Revolution: We cover a lot wine stories at GFR, let’s talk about wine hangovers. Are there better or worse ones? You have an interesting theory about red wine headaches.
Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall: I think it’s worth talking about the elephant in the room when it comes to red wine hangovers: the extreme migraine reactions that a lot of people are getting. It’s a huge issue and I have had more arguments about it with vintners and wine connoisseurs than anything.
Good Food Revolution: And your explanation for them is chemicals: the pesticides and herbicides that are sprayed on non-organic wine. I think you might be right.
Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall: So do I. And the thing is that there is so much riding on me being wrong, with whole countries basing their GDP’s on the wine industry. Where would Chile be without full-bodied red wine?
Good Food Revolution: So, you’re saying that if you spray neurotoxins on your grapes, and it doesn’t rain before harvest, you’re not likely to give them a shower before you crush them.
Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall: Exactly. And if there’s a 100 grapes in my glass of wine, are you going to tell me that there aren’t going to be pesticides going right in my system? And still, the line is that it’s sulphites. Or it’s tannins. It’s bullshit. There is no time where you all willingly ingest more toxins than having a glass of full bodied red wine, that’s not organic.
Good Food Revolution: It’s a compelling theory that ought to be tested.
Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall: Well, last week I was talking to a co-worker who hadn’t had a glass of red wine for two years because of the headaches she would get. She was going to a party or something over the weekend. So, I told her please, for me, try a glass of organic red wine. I said I would take the blame, I would cover her at work, and I would lie prostrate and beg forgiveness if she got a headache. So, she got hammered on organic red wine and was fine. Fit as a fiddle.
Good Food Revolution: I’m going in circles a bit, but I’d like to get back to Kingsley Amis and his concept of the metaphysical hangover. The psychological, or depressive element, the regrets. It’s the metaphysical hangover that the worst, right?
Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall: Sure, absolutely. That’s the one you’ll never have a solution for. I think that’s the point of the book. Do you really want to cure this thing called a hangover? Because one of the things that the vicious illness does is cover up the metaphysical illness. You have to deal with the physical hangover first, always. But the quicker you solve the physical, the faster the metaphysical is going to rush in.
Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall’s excellent book, Hangover, is available where good books are sold.