PLAYBOY: So we shouldn’t be teaching safe sex?
SAVAGE: It should be up to parents to tell their kids about sex.
PLAYBOY: Did your parents tell you about sex?
SAVAGE: Never! [laughs] And I didn’t have the sex talk with my children. It would have been very uncomfortable. “Son, daughter, I’m now going to tell you about fucking.” Oh, fuck! They don’t want to hear this.
PLAYBOY: So children should just learn about sex from–—
SAVAGE: Where they always have! The gutter! Trial and error! You meet a girl, you make mistakes, you learn. I’m not teaching my children how to fuck. There’s no need for that. And I don’t want the government teaching my kids how to fuck. Do I want a bunch of whack jobs at school with cucumbers and dolls teaching it to our kids? No fucking way!
PLAYBOY: Is your family ever embarrassed by what you say?
SAVAGE: No, no, no. [pauses] Well, I can’t speak for them. I mean, I suspect there are certain issues we disagree on, but we generally don’t argue politics. They know this is what I do for a living, and we tend not to talk about issues in which we have conflict. We get along better that way.
PLAYBOY: Like what?
SAVAGE: My wife and I disagree on the gay thing. She’s in favor of gay marriage. It’s not as though it’s her life’s mission, but she says it’s good; if they want to get married, fine, and if they have children, it’s better for the children. She’d rather have a gay couple—a nice gay couple—raise children than half of these fucking white trash Cops-type couples.
PLAYBOY: Is it true your son’s company, which makes Rockstar energy drinks, has to make a sizable contribution to gay causes each year to balance out his connection with you?
SAVAGE: I can’t comment on anything my family does.
PLAYBOY: Not even on Rockstar?
SAVAGE: I do drink Rockstar. You have a bad hangover, try Rockstar Zero Carb. Instant cure. And you want to hear an interesting story about that? My dad was not an educated man, but he had an antiques store on the Lower East Side, right near the Bowery, with bums just crapped out in the gutter. Horrible. I’d say, “Dad, why are they in the street? Why are they allowed to be so sick? Why doesn’t the city take care of them?” And he said, “Well, most of them want to be in the streets. They like it. And the shame of it all is,” he said to me, “if those goddamn alcohol manufacturers put in a few cents for B vitamins in the alcohol, most of the bums wouldn’t get so sick.” I told that story to my son when he was a little boy. As a result my son’s interest in vitamins was provoked, and it had a tremendous positive influence on his formulations for Rockstar. You wouldn’t believe it, but vitamins have a profound role in people’s health.
PLAYBOY: The first half of your career—as Michael Weiner, globe-trotting ethnobotanist and author—was devoted to advocating vitamins and healthy living. You were a regular tree hugger. What changed?
SAVAGE: I still like trees. In fact, that’s what gets me so much about these so-called environmentalists. They drive their Priuses and whine about lightbulbs, but do they actually do anything? No! These Obama eco-warriors up here have turned beautiful Marin County into industrial England with all the smoke from their fireplaces at night. But how many of them have been out there and saved a tree or a forest? I spent years documenting the indigenous plants of various island nations and how they’re used in medicine. But I call myself a conservationist rather than an environmentalist, because the word environmentalist is too loaded. Who wants to pollute the land? Who wants to pollute the water? Conservatives are more environmental than liberals in the sense that, who is it that goes hunting? Who is it that goes fishing? Who goes boating? A large group of them are conservative politically. Do they want to poison the earth and the water and the fowl? I don’t think so. They’re the natural Teddy Roosevelt conservation type.
PLAYBOY: Many conservatives also say global warming is a lie.
SAVAGE: Let’s talk about global warming. Did you hear about the computer files leaked out of the University of East Anglia that revealed how so-called climate scientists were cooking the data on climate change? Have you heard about Glaciergate? The chief proponent of this climate scam, Phil Jones, admitted this past February that the climate data are bogus. [Editor’s note: Jones never said his data were bogus, but he did confess to sloppy record keeping. The British government exonerated him in April, saying his research did not contradict scientific studies that show global warming is real.] He admitted there hasn’t been any statistically significant global warming for 15 years. The head of the UN Committee on Glaciers had said glaciers would be gone by the year 2035, even though he admitted he knew the data were inconclusive when he was told about it two years ago. This is one of the greatest scientific frauds of our time. Let’s put common sense out there.
PLAYBOY: So you’re saying nearly 50 major scientific societies, including every national academy of science on earth, are making this stuff up? Why would they?
SAVAGE: Control. Money. You know how many billions of dollars are invested now in green technology? And you know how many hundreds of millions were given to these scientists to prove this shit? And if anyone didn’t go along with it they were cast out of the whole scientific establishment. They were the heretics. No funding, no research, you’re fired.
PLAYBOY: You must be a joy to sit with at dinner parties.
SAVAGE: [laughs] I don’t go to them. Or if I do, I’m miserable. When I was in Florida recently, a conservative woman we know invited Janet and me to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club. The food was good. The people were nice. But when Donald Trump was introduced to us, he was cold to me. I suppose he heard I’d mentioned something once about his hair, which I thought was fake. And I still don’t know what it is. But no, mostly at social gatherings I’m morose. I sometimes crave people, but then I get there and it’s chaotic and unfocused and I want to leave. I get rattled around people. I’ll be frank with you.
PLAYBOY: Do you have any friends?
SAVAGE: Friends? What is that? What does it mean? We all end up alone.
PLAYBOY: Do you have any neighbors you could borrow butter from?
SAVAGE: It would be nice to have friends on the block, but that’s not the case. I’m basically a communal person in my heart, so it’s an interesting question. I was a kid who had hundreds of friends. I was like the neighborhood mascot, the shortstop. Everyone loved me. I never thought I’d wind up isolated and alone in a house on a hill in Marin County. I was joking about it on the radio yesterday. I said I always thought I’d end up owning an inn in New England, like on The Sopranos. You know, where the fat guy who was outed as gay goes before he gets whacked? Henry Miller wrote it best, I think, in Black Spring: “Every morning I awake to a thousand paths to take.” Right? It’s life. What are you going to do? You go down a road and you live with it. And you gotta thank God for what you have, because compared with what our ancestors had, I don’t care who the American is, you don’t have to go back too many generations to realize we’re all living on easy street. As poor as we are, as complicated as things are in America right now, the poorest man is living on easy street compared with what went on two or three generations ago in Europe. So I don’t complain.
PLAYBOY: What made you leave America to go to Fiji as a young man in 1969?
SAVAGE: It made no rational sense at all, but I’ve looked back and self-analyzed it. Part of it was trying to find cures for my brother Jerome, who was born brain damaged. When I was a kid, my mother cried over and over again to me about Jerome. And I’d say, “Ma, if God could come down”—I’d say this to her when I was a little boy—“what would you ask God to do?” “I’d ask him to fix Jerome, make him better.” Now what does a little boy want to do more than please his mother? “I’m going to give Mommy what she wants.” There’s no God in the room, so I’ll help her. I’ll fix Jerome. So I looked for all these cures in the oddest places, because I knew traditional medicine didn’t have answers. That’s what led me outside the normal Jewish medical school thing and on the long journey to Fiji. But what the fuck did I know? I’m living there on these godforsaken islands, working with folk healers. I’ve left a young wife and children behind. I’ve spent most of my money because nobody would fund it. What the fuck was I trying to prove? I’m Schweitzer? I’m a wild man? I wouldn’t do it again today.
PLAYBOY: Do you regret inviting Allen Ginsberg, the famous Beat poet, to visit you there after you and he exchanged a series of letters?
SAVAGE: Who knows? I’ve definitely thought about it. I pretty much know what it was. Young Jewish boy—me—deracinated from his Judaism, didn’t really think rabbis were worth much. Still don’t. Ginsberg comes along and presents himself as a holy man. The beard, the chanting, the poetry. So to a deracinated, searching Jew he looks like a prophet. And I wanted to know this prophet. When I was in New York I even wrote a little piece on him for the World Book Encyclopedia. Do you know about that?
PLAYBOY: That’s interesting.
SAVAGE: Yeah. They paid me 50 bucks or something. I got to interview him. I saw the squalor he lived in. Didn’t matter to me. We kept up a sort of letter-writing thing after I moved out here. I didn’t know him well, though I got a little friendly with Lawrence Ferlinghetti, [angrily] the despicable, horrendous, jealous, phony, communist capitalist that he is. And we all, you know, knew each other, and through that relationship of knowing each other from North Beach in San Francisco, I invited him and Ginsberg to Hawaii, where we were living, and I think on another trip, to Fiji. It’s a blur to me now.
PLAYBOY: What remains is a photograph of you swimming naked with Ginsberg, who was sort of the poster child for gay America at the time.
SAVAGE: [laughs] Now, have you seen the picture?
PLAYBOY: No. Can you show it to us?
SAVAGE: I don’t have it, but I know the picture. There’s me, ethnobotanist, jumping in a cold river. There’s Allen Ginsberg. There’s Lawrence. Now open the frame and there’s about 20 other people with us. All naked. But that’s how people went swimming [in the South Pacific] at that time.
PLAYBOY: But given your stance on gay politics, do you understand why that photograph would be confusing now?
SAVAGE: [Angrily] What does it mean? You hang around with a gay man, you’re gay? I mean, what are they, nuts? Don’t you see the hate that comes out of people when they try to pervert this? Who the fuck would sleep with Ginsberg even if they were gay? He was a horrendous man, horrible. An old, fucking disgusting queen. Communist NAMBLA [North American Man/Boy Love Association] member. There were a lot of reasons to not like the man, and he wasn’t my friend.
PLAYBOY: Were you ever confused about your sexuality?
SAVAGE: No. Hello? Why is this? I mean, I can’t understand this.
PLAYBOY: Well, your vitriol toward them makes us think of something a teacher once said: When we hate others it’s because we recognize something of ourselves in them.
SAVAGE: So in other words I want to be a radical Muslim who blows up people in a schoolyard?
PLAYBOY: Or perhaps you feel like an outsider. Or you were confused.
SAVAGE: Wrong! I hate radical Islam because I hate radical Islam, not because I want to put a bomb in a schoolyard. That’s the logic of what you just said. And again, you’re assuming I hate gays. It goes back to the same misinterpretation. You’re coming at it from the wrong perspective. I’ve said it, I’ll say it again. I hope the interview is about more than this. I really do. This obsession, I don’t understand. You’re a sex magazine, okay, so you want to know about sex. As I said before, I’m a sexual libertarian!
PLAYBOY: When did you lose your virginity?
SAVAGE: Oh, Jesus, how old was I—19, 18? I don’t remember. But I did date a Playboy Bunny when I was 17 or 18.
PLAYBOY: You did?
SAVAGE: Yes. I was in college, and she was the sister of a girl I knew. She was ancient. She was 23. And we were all hanging out once, and everyone wanted this Playboy Bunny. It wasn’t that she was so beautiful. She was pretty enough, but for fuck’s sake, she was a Playboy Bunny! That was the epitome. A living goddess! And she chose me. I spent the time with her that afternoon in the apartment. I don’t know whether we actually completed the circuit. I think we must have. I don’t remember. But I glowed for a week as a result. I was like, Thank you, Hugh Hefner! Although now she probably has a transfusion tree somewhere if she’s still living. Or living with a butcher somewhere in Boca Raton. [laughs]
PLAYBOY: That’s funny. How did you meet your wife?
SAVAGE: We’re married, by the way, 43 years.
PLAYBOY: She must be a saint!
SAVAGE: Watch it! She loves me. She loves my genius, and she loves my passion. She knows I get excited and yell sometimes, and she loves that it’s “what you see is what you get” with me. Anyway, I met her when I was promoting a film festival in the Lower East Side called the Be-In Again Film Festival. It was 1967.
PLAYBOY: You were a hippie!
SAVAGE: Who can remember? But anyway, the Human Be-In had just occurred in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, and I had collected as many 16-millimeter movies of the event as I could through an ad in The Village Voice. Oh, this is a fucking great story! So I put together this verkakte film festival in a back lot between some shit nightclubs, and about 30 people showed up. I remember some Polish lady upstairs yelling, “You fuckin’ hippie bastards!” And she threw water on the projectors. That was the end of the festival. [laughs] No, I swear to you. But in promoting the thing around the Lower East Side, I ran into Janet. She was beautiful and friendly. We started to date, lived together, went to Hawaii together, had children together, and here we are, in a blink of an eye.