I know what some of you are wondering, why now? The anniversary of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson's death was a month ago, Bubba.
True, but it was once said Thompson hadn't met a deadline he couldn't miss, so consider my tardiness an homage to that tradition, if you will. Others might question why a music outlet would let me take up space writing about something other than rock n' roll. Well, Hunter was rock n' roll.
"I've always compared writing to music. That's the way I feel about good paragraphs. When it really works, it's like music." -H. S. T.
Which is true. Depending on the passage, when spoken out loud and with the proper cadence, his style had the same rhythm as a great song. Plus Hunter was one of the first writers that would let you in on what he was listening to. He often name checked or peppered his prose with lyrics from Dylan, Bowie, Lyle Lovett, Kurt Cobain, and John Prine. He was friends with Keith Richards, Warren Zevon, and Jimmy Buffett. And that's his voice you hear on Paul Oakenfold's “Nixon's Spirit.”
My friends at KSPN have told me of late night/early morning phone calls from the Doctor complimenting their music selections or asking them if they could come down to the Aspen Courthouse the next day to cover a rally he had organized against some greed heads who wanted to develop land where the elk roamed.
Most of my friends discovered Hunter in the pages of Rolling Stone. Not me. I was more of a Creem and Crawdaddy kid. The latter were writing about the music I was listening to at the time, and they were much easier to shoplift from Beal's Newsstand & Bookstore than the early tabloid style of Rolling Stone. But as a stroke of luck and fine taste, the Andrew Carnegie public library in my speck of a hometown had a copy of "The Great Shark Hunt: Gonzo Papers Vol. 1, Strange Tales from a Strange Time." It was a collection of his works up to the late '70s. Nixon, napalm, Vegas, Watergate, Carter and cocaine. Six hundred pages long and after the first few lines, I devoured the beast in about six hours. I didn't realize you could live that lifestyle, write those words, and not only get away with it, but actually make a living at it.
After "Shark," I began to work my way back through the Thompson oeuvre. First, "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." I finished that in about a day and immediately reread it three times. Then "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail," "Hell's Angels," and so on. I began to look forward to his books and articles like I would look forward to albums by Dylan, the Stones, and Neil Young.
When you tell someone you're a fan of Thompson, fellow travelers give you the nod of recognition that comes with a shared taste. Other begin to size you up because they've only heard the superficial aspects: the booze, drugs, guns, and outrageous behavior. Sure, there was that, but it was the words that converted me into a life long fan. The words and the phrases. They were calls to action. They indicted and inflamed. They jumped off the page. They caused a reaction. They rewired my brain to a new way of thinking.
"Fear." "Loathing." "Gonzo." "Bats." "Bad Craziness." "Dope Fiend." "King Hell Speed." "Mojo Wire." "The Edge." "The Orgy of the Doomed." "The Downward Spiral of Dumbness." "Small Brains, Thick Wallets." The fat's in the fire." "The hog is out of the tunnel." "Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride." "When the Going Gets Weird, The Weird Turn Pro..."
He called out presidents as crooks, criminals, and jabbering dupes. He referred to an entire generation as swine. He did not suffer fools gladly. Objective journalism was not his bag. It was those rules and dogma he would counter that would allow someone like Nixon to slither into the White House. Even the Chicago Tribune said he should be “recognized for contributing some of the clearest, most bracing and fearless analysis of the possibilities and failures of American democracy in the past century.”
"I am one of the best writers today currently using the English language as a musical instrument and a political weapon." -H. S. T.
There's no writer that I know of that could adroitly reference the Book of Revelation, "Ballad of a Thin Man," or "Death of a Salesman" when rendering final judgments on Bill Clinton, the Super Bowl, or the death of the American Dream.
I had a close encounter and a few missed opportunities, but I never got to meet the man. Fortunately though, one of my greatest moments as a fan was being asked to read a chapter of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" at his 75th birthday celebration. It was held in the library at the Jerome Hotel and broadcast around the world on the web. Afterward, there was a private party held at his fortified compound in Woody Creek, Owl Farm. Revelers were treated to a long buffet of alcohol and food while a local three-piece banged out vintage rhythm and blues.
His red caddy was stationed in the side yard and some of the chosen few were handed a special gonzo chocolate bar wrapped in the famous peyote fist symbol. The word was that they were infused with some psychedelic ingredient...and the number of dilated pupils I ran into as the night progressed, I had no reason to doubt it. For a second I thought about popping it into my mouth and getting wild with the locals, but I kept hearing the voice of my mother and my wife in the back of my head: “you've had a good time today, don't ruin it.”
So after a quick tour of his famous cabin (and taking part in a celebratory shot of Wild Turkey in the kitchen where he held court for so many years), I went back to my condo, set up a chair on the deck, cranked up "Let It Bleed," and replayed the events of the day over and over in my head like a giddy teenage girl.
Thompson is gone now, and I along with all political junkies are poorer for it. I felt as long as he was around, the Judas Goats and Political Pimps would be held accountable. He would look out for us against those who might not have our best interests in mind. You might believe that is a naïve notion and you might be right. Hunter probably would have agreed, saying, “Hey, I pointed the way, it's up to you to stomp mightily on the terra firma...”
But every once in a while, when life is a little dull or I need a shot of inspiration, I crack open "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," "The Kentucky Derby is Depraved and Decadent," or even "Better Than Sex." It has the same effect as hearing "Gimme Shelter" or "Like a Rolling Stone" on the radio. Then, once again, I feel like, it never gets too weird for me.
R.I.P. Hunter S. Thompson