Monday, February 21, 2005

Hunter S. Thompson is Dead

No attempt at a witty headline for this one. I'll leave the bad puns based on "Hunters" or "Hunting" or "Fear and Loathing" to anyone in the major media who can write them, publish them and not feel even a bit of guilt over turning the loss of a great writer into a badly wrought one-liner.

In keeping with the tradition of Hunter S. Thompson, I will not wait the requisite amount of time to complain about how he died. He shot himself yesterday afternoon. He was 67. He didn't use a shotgun, but, I'm still disturbed that an iconoclast like Thompson would so closely follows Ernest Hemingway's path to the end. I suppose there are only so many ways to do yourself in, and it isn't nice to critique another man's suicide, but, there you go. It was one of my first thoughts on reading the news, no sense in pretending it wasn't.

No paragraph here about how Hunter's Gonzo journalism entertained and inspired so many young writers and journalists and probably provided one of the styles that would be employed by many a blogger, once the technology became available. I'll leave the task of putting him into historical literary context, as part of and apart from the "New Journalism" movement to somebody getting paid by the word.

I really liked reading his stuff, he was important to me during my college years and for a few years after and you always like a writer like that throughout your whole life.

He always seemed like a misanthrope, but really, he believed in individual freedom to an extreme degree and people who believe that tend to have few friends on either the right or left in politics or in public life.

He lived most of his life, and died, in or near Aspen, Colorado. Because of his close proximity to New Mexico he was an often-invoked pop culture celebrity in youth-- my best evidence is that one semi-literary bad girl that I met in college concocted a tawdry tale of being hit on, and abusing substances with, Thompson and his son, Juan. I am sure some other semi-literary bad girl is making the same claim to some other guy at UNM as I type this. It just seems likely. Not that any of the tales are true, but that they would be told. Because, you know, a story like that is just plausible enough, if the audience wants to believe it.

Of his books, I most enjoyed Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and the irst collection of letters from his early years. The one I enjoyed the least was his first, Hell's Angels -- not because it wasn't well done but because, by the time I read it, the Hell's Angels were no longer a meaningful part of American life. But, when you go back to the "Campaign Trail" book, to Thompson's coverage of Nixon's election charge, you see how little things have changed. Nixon led to Ford, a flirtation with Carter and then Reagan/Bush. And now Bush's son, who has built his cabinets out of former Ford people and Iran-Contra figures from the Reagan/Bush years. There's an idealogical lineage at work in Washington that stretches back to Nixon. You can see the roots of it all in Thompson's book.

And, of course, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is just plain fun. And also a good example of Thompson capturing a big moment of change in American culture -- perhaps the moment where motorcycle gangs like the Hell's Angels ceased to be our national demons, to be replaced by suited gangs from Wall Street. It used to be that a thief could make real money by knocking over a bank. No longer. Now, you get in on a stock offering. Or tell two companies to merge even though it will benefit neither one of them and result in the unemployment of innocent bystanders.

Hunter S. Thompson is dead, by his own hand. I like his work a lot. Next time you have a drink, raise a toast to the man.


At 11:00 AM , Blogger Jessie said...

hey wait a minute, i never said that Hunter S. Thomspon hit on me...or was that some other literary bad girl from
the desert? in any event, nice tribute. i admire the honesty and lack of puns.

At 2:08 PM , Blogger The Lone Rangers said...

Great tribute. The man did as he liked during his life and took on death the same way.

At 3:00 PM , Blogger Lisa said...

Well said.

At 10:09 PM , Blogger Ideasculptor said...

I doubt that HST gave much thought to Hemingway when planning his death, unless there are a couple of HST's friends laughing about a joke they once shared with the man. I'm guessing that he was diagnosed with a terminal illness (lung cancer springs to mind) and decided to go out while still on top, physically and (mostly) mentally. Considering his lifelong fascination with firearms, his choice of tool is hardly surprising. I would have been more surprised to learn that he did it any other way.


At 11:58 PM , Blogger E. Worthington, Editor said...

I have no booze at present (too poor), but will lift a glass of scotch to HST at the next available opportunity. I'm glad, for one, that he died on his own terms. Very nice eulogy, Mike, and the man probably would have liked it.


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