NOTE: The following was written under the influence of some fairly toxic Finlandia screwdrivers.
Irony. I'm standing in line at Borders, buying copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas shortly after hearing about the death of its author, Hunter S. Thompson. To be honest, a tad nonplussed. Normally, although statistics uniformly show increased sales for recently deceased authors, I'm not on that bandwagon. It's just that I didn't have a single one of his books in my possession at the time of his death.
See, I have a fairly strict no-return policy when I loan books. That is, I don't really expect books back when I loan them to people. On one hand, the book is important to me and means something, in which case I loaned it out hoping that the recipient would glean something from it and maybe even pass it on.
On the other hand, the book isn't anything to me and you could just have it. In either case, I'm always glad if someone borrows a book and never really expect to see it again.
Dr. Duke's books are definitely in the first category, so despite the fact that I found myself on the bandwagon, I took some solace in the knowledge that my copies were out there doin' something, I don't know, whatever it is they do when they're not in my possession.
(I say Dr. Duke, because that is the good doctor's proper nom de guerre. Everyone has their take, and even though he was the progenitor of Gonzo journalism, his preferred alias was Dr. Raoul Duke. Dr. Gonzo, as it were, was the alias of his crazed 'Samoan' attorney, the real life Mexican activist Oscar Zeta Acosta.)
Wait a second. Did I just say everyone has their take? Maybe the drugs are finally taking effect, but FUCK ALL THAT. What other perspective counts?
What I'm saying to you pigs, and it probably sounds like yelling, which it should, is that I reject every swine journalist's butchery of HST's life that refers to him as Dr. Gonzo because those lizards clearly didn't read him. I mean, Jesus creepin' shit, people, no wonder he shot himself! You didn't even read his work, did you, you fucking bunch of obit hacks?!?
Sorry, but when one finds themself locked into a serious tribute to the father of Gonzo journalism, the tendancy is to push it as far one can.
Be that as it may, and as I was saying, I found myself shocked and a little dejected on the bandwagon line, buying his books. I owed the guy a lot, after all, and not just for making hell-raising, loud-mouthed Mexican jackasses into legendary sidekicks.
Hell, I know I owe him. Some of my better columns on this fine website, where I mix a little personal crassness with the political issue at heart, are derivitive at the least. And I'm not sure I've ever written a fictional piece where the narrator wasn't influenced by him in some way. Perhaps not a direct descendent, but you can bet said narrator had HST on his or her own fictional shelf. It's true, I've never written a single piece of anything in which that goddamned rube from Louisville wasn't winking at me from under his visor, as he sipped a tequila and pulled on a smoke.
I know, it's not like Paris when Hugo died, but still, something passed, and it seems very quickly indeed. If I were a betting man, and I am, I'd wager that more of us than not have been influenced by him, even if we all don't realize it.
If a full metal jacket .44 magnum slug digs a canoe through the cranium of an icon of American cognizance while he or she is sitting in an empty room, does anyone hear the sound of the gun going off?
Could we have seen this coming? I think not. It's true, it got quiet there for awhile, but there was always a sense of something forthcoming. One last yowl, another dirge for humanity lost, a slur against the ever-growing, dehumanizing combine of thought police.
How could this contributor, perhaps not of art, or of any particular literary merit, but of an inimitable voice in the cacaphony of those unafraid to shout about the hypocrisy of the predicament we call existence, properly pass in such a quiet way?
Camus would say not at all, as would others, but the evidense abounds if we examine it. This lunatic soul, prone to alternating fits of hysteria and dread, would not seem to go gently, as another once phrased it. No, as anyone who read him knows, this soul would rage, spittle flying with each word barked out on the page, every ounce of air in the final breath used to form one more piece of the indictment against the absurd human condition. No matter how loud that gun was, it was far too quiet for Doctor Raoul Fuckin' Duke!
Alas, such was the power of Hunter S. Thompson, to have learned readers want for him, not his own death, that of a humble writer, but a death befitting his greatest creations.
Dr. Thompson, I apologize for confusing you with your characters and second-guessing your self-chosen demise. I just wish you wouldn't have decided that your consciousness wasn't worth another day, because that does confront me.
Dr. Gonzo and Dr. Duke, Titans of the Savage American landscape, who can write your proper demise? I imagine that you are not alone on some fortified ranch in Aspen with a large caliber handgun. Nor are you drinking beer and rum on some cool backyard patio in San Juan.
No, of course not, that wouldn't do. You two brutal lunatics are obviously speeding down some primordial, allegorical highway, in a great red shark, with a trunkful of items dangerous and intriguing enough to test the mettle of any American adventurer gutsy enough to stick his or her thumb out.
LIVE ON, YOU CRAZY BASTARDS! PLEASE?
So thank you, Dr. Thompson, for converting funniness into hilarity. Thank you, for enhancing anxiety with dread and extending decadence into the deprave. Thanks most of all for encouraging a fellow misfit rube like me to type his own shit up.
Most of all, thank you for stomping this terra as loud and proud as you did. We appreciate you, brother, there will never be another!
Maybe it's you, maybe it's Dan. Things aren't quite the way they should be. And now it seems Dan's peace of mind has come up for the bidding, and those that he respects and trusts must all have been just kidding. Dan's little world has lost control, but still it keeps on spinnin'...
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3.11.05 @ 8:54a
Why do you think he was so inspirational to an entire generation? Because he didn't have any boundaries?
3.15.05 @ 4:38p
Why do you think he was so inspirational to an entire generation? Because he didn't have any boundaries?
To an extent, I think that was part of it, because I think writers have to push boundaries to be inspirational. And in many ways, he more than others (Kesey, Wolfe) is the truest legate of the Beat Generation, and in a sense people are always on the lookout for the next torch-bearer.
But in the end I think it's really the voice he developed. It almost speaks for the common unconscious of the generation. It echoed all the ambiguities of that time: the naivete of the political idealism versus the disillusioned sense of utter doom. A drug-inspired, embellished sense of hilarity against the abject sense of depravity from coming down from that same high.
In sense, as outlandish and far-fetched as his stories can be, I think for a lot of people, they just ring true as honest renditions of the emotional swings a lot of the people went through. (Perhaps are still going through, vis-a-vis last years election hysteria and such.)
3.16.05 @ 5:14p
So who is the next torch for the new generation?
3.17.05 @ 9:07a
I thought maybe Raymond Carver for awhile, the he pushed the boundaries in terms of form with the short-short, and also his voice, but he passed very quietly.
I don't know. Maybe we're waiting for someone to stand up.
3.21.05 @ 10:25p
I went to the library and got one of his books, Better Than Sex. I have only read a small portion of it thus far, but I like his style and feel that he is a very effective and talented writer. However, killing one's self in such a gruesome fashion with no regard for the effect it will have on your family, the one's who will discover you with your head in a pool of blood, is the sign of a self-serving coward. So many people who are anti-establishment seem to end up this way, making it easy for establishment types to discount the value of their work. Lenin is a good example. I think Hunter S. Thompson, like so many others, is the victim of a self-inflicted internal hypocrisy conflict. You cannot speak out against the devil, and dance with the devil at the same time. He apparently had attained a certain amount of wealth. Money is the root of almost all evil in this world. I wish all Christians could understood this simple fact. They are also dancing with the devil, and they do not even realize it.
3.21.05 @ 11:44p
Great - and inspirational - thoughts as usual, Givvy. You made me think of Nietszche:
Whoever it is that persistently hunts monsters must see to it that they themselves do not become monsters in the process.
To me, ANY individual's suicide presents a philosophical affront to the rest of us, much less the suicide of an influential person. I alluded to it in this tribute, but tried to avoid my usual harsh judgements about it.
I just think that, like him or not, anyone who has reat HST does not feel satisfied with this particular punctuation mark at the end of his last sentence.
3.25.05 @ 11:37a
"Let us hope that the whores of evil no longer loiter on the doorsteps of your path beckoning you into the brothel of despair, and that hereinafter you may present them with the most rigid manifestations of a firm and manly will. Ad astra per aspera." -- Jack Kerouac
Spoken by HST and terribly self-referential.
Young writer with a fire in your soul and a hornet in your ass, read "The Proud Highway" and learn.
3.25.05 @ 12:55p
One of my news mentors always talked of HST as the ultimate writer and a journalistic god, but what I’ve read just never wowed me. HST struck me as a rambling pompous drunk who only occasionally blundered into amusing nuggets.
I work in radio news and *do* love the following HST quote and have it posted above my desk: "The radio business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."
It’s right next to a Dan Rather quote: "We were all over the story like raven on a road kill."
3.25.05 @ 5:29p
HST falls into the category of writers that are more interesting characters in person than anything they are able to create on paper.
3.25.05 @ 11:28p
I second that John,but let's take it one more step. Those of you who have read Fear and Loathing will have to agree that the movie never even touched what was in my mind on film. Not even Depp could capture what was in Hunter's mind. That stuff is just plain wacked!!
3.28.05 @ 10:18a
Well, that's the problem with some of that - persons in the mirror may be larger than they appear.
3.28.05 @ 12:53p
I think that's definitely part of why I feel vaguely unsatisfied by his manner of death, not that it's any of my business.