Tuesday, February 22, 2005


"Well, shit on that dumbness. George W. Bush does not speak for me or my son or my mother or my friends or the people I respect in this world. We didn't vote for these cheap, greedy little killers who speak for America today -- and we will not vote for them again in 2002. Or 2004. Or ever. " - Hunter S. Thompson
This is sad day. I for one am generally loathe to shed a tear when a “celebrity” dies. So many of those we regard as celebrities have little or no intrinsic value outside of their fame, and as a result I have a hard time getting upset about their loss (outside of the general sadness that a member of the family of man has left us, but nothing deeper than that). Hunter S. Thompson was a celebrity, but his fame was not the year 2001 variety in which one’s notoriety is created out of whole cloth and based on little more than sex-appeal and the ability to move merchandise. Thompson was a great writer. Not just good, but truly great. His talent was (at least for me) awe inspiring. He was a polymath with a genuine distaste for authority in all its poisonous guises, and his ability to translate this distaste (and zeal for the correction thereof) into cohesive, brilliant sentences, paragraphs, chapters and whole books boggled the mind. His writing, often referred to as “gonzo journalism” was a unique combination of roman a clef, seemingly wild flights of fantasy (more often than not carefully disguised satire) and steely, razor sharp analysis of the cancers that were (and still are) eating away at the American dream. He was in love with speed, violence, voluntary alteration of consciousness and honesty. He despised liars, phonies, ward-heelers, psychic vampires, bible thumpers and career politicians. When dynamic public figures die before their time (though in HST’s case his profligacy and often monumental self-abuse call that analysis into question) the old cliches about lives lived like roman candles, hurtling into the sky, exploding and then dissolving into the night sky get trotted out. In Thompson’s case, the cliché carries in it a large grain of truth. As roman candles go - his initial explosion lasted from the early 60’s to the mid 70’s and his gradual dissipation continued up until the time of his suicide – his was visible for a long time. His best work, ‘Hells Angels’, ‘Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas’ and ‘Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 1972’ was truly groundbreaking stuff, possessed of a manic, righteous energy – the work of a writer at the top of his game. His later work, much of it anthologized newspaper columns, old correspondence and initially (and justifiably) unpublished novels carried some of the spark of his best stuff, but in reality betrayed Thompson, revealing a kind of decay. By the 1980’s, Hunter S. Thompson, the corporeal being was beginning to be swallowed by Raoul Duke, the fictional representation of his unbridled Id crafted by Garry Trudeau (though that creation would have been impossible without Thompson’s own, factual and unruly life). The role in Thompson’s life for the absolutely brilliant writer was being reduced to make way for the swaggering, bourbon swilling, gun and dynamite toting, mescaline gobbling Colorado hermit/crank that had become so beloved by college creative writing students, amateur literary gadflies and bong rattlers the world over. It was as if the unquestionably lucid scribe of ‘Hells Angels’ had met and fallen in love with Doctor Gonzo, gutted him (burying the body in the pasture of Owl Farm) and assumed his identity. I remember the first time I saw Thompson and heard him speak (probably an early 80’s David Letterman episode), and the dysphasia I felt when I tried to reconcile the rambling, incoherent cartoon in front of me with the books that had changed my life and made me want to write in the first place. That transfiguration made me sad. His suicide was merely shocking, unexpected and another calamity indicative of the end-times of the American brain. Selah…


Blogger Chris Kringle said...

Thanks for the great piece on Thompson! You are a wonderful writer yourself.

6/20/2005 11:51:00 AM  
Blogger Larry Grogan said...

Thanks Chris! I'm glad you liked the piece.

6/20/2005 12:11:00 PM  

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