Fear and Loathing in Pittsburgh (or, "These Things Don't 'Just Happen'"): Dr. Hunter S. Thompson 193
Hunter spoke his mind. He loved peacocks and firearms. He lived out in Woody Creek in Aspen, Colorado, a town where he almost became sheriff in 1970 when he ran under the Freak Party. Can you imagine if the man had been president?
Irony is a funny thing. It always is, and that's the sad beauty of the whole damn thing. This morning at 12 AM on February 21, 2005, yours truly was wrapping up his Sunday night Rock & Roll Station radio show over on Internet station KIBC. I closed the show with Bob Dylan's "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again", a track from the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas soundtrack. A track that got me into Bob Dylan for good that led me to purchase Blonde on Blonde. A track from a movie based on Hunter S. Thompson's greatest work ever.
So the song ends, I sign off and click over to Yahoo!'s front page and see that that old crazy bastard Thompson has apparently killed himself via gunshot wound.
What... the... fuck?
That's all I can still say. I still don't understand it. I'm not going to understand it, and I'm undoubtedly destined and/or doomed to never understand it. Why the hell did this happen? Who would have ever foreseen this? Hunter S. Thompson dead by bullet? Never. Drugs and drink, perhaps, yes, but not like this. And not intentionally. My year is now officially ruined. And what's more, I had just started reading The Great Shark Hunt by Thompson. Goddamn irony and all its intrinsic unintentional hilarity. I spit in its face and raise a glass of a fine beer with too much alcohol content so that you can't see straight after drinking only two bottles of it. Hell, that's what Hunter would have done.
I'm a writer, but I honestly don't read much. Well, let me restate that. I don't read a lot of fiction. I never have and I never will. The stuff doesn't sit in my brain very well, and like a bad sitcom from whatever decade you'd care to choose, I quickly forget those works of fiction I've read after I've closed the back cover on them. Still, I never had a lot of literary heroes. You want the top four? Fine. In order they are Hunter S. Thompson, William Burroughs, James Joyce, and Anais Nin. Four people who put themselves into their works. Unabashedly and calculatedly and without looking back. Real works of art, real writing, real crazy.
So many have tried to emulate these authors and have failed miserably. Perhaps Thompson has been copied the most. But, one must remember that you're either Gonzo or you're not. I had the great pleasure of interviewing Thompson's great friend, artist and illustrator Ralph Steadman, a couple years ago and we discussed the whole Gonzo ethic, and he agreed with me that it's not something you can fake, not even for a second. But then again, reality is a goddamned hard thing to fake, isn't it? That's why none of your current favorite "reality" TV shows are even close to being real. It's a stacked deck, produced for ratings, and thank God that these idiotic things are finally starting to slip in popularity. See, it all comes back to Thompson.
He gave journalism a whole new twist. He might not ever come back with the story he was assigned to do, but he'd give you something ten times better when he felt like it. And let's get one thing straight here. It wasn't the inordinate amounts of drugs and booze that Thompson ingested that made him brilliant. I think too many young writers only latch on to that aspect of Hunter's life and think that's what makes his writing so good. No, the man just had it. Whatever the hell that it was, Thompson had it like crazy. That's just natural, raw talent. Proving once and for all that pot and acid don't make one a creative genius.
Hunter spoke his mind. He loved peacocks and firearms. He lived out in Woody Creek in Aspen, Colorado, a town where he almost became sheriff in 1970 when he ran under the Freak Party. Can you imagine if the man had been president? I can. He was probably the only freak who had an NRA membership whom I admired deeply. Even at his most mundane, Hunter led a life that was seat of the pants excitement.
But something must have been wrong. Obviously, I mean, you don't take your own life because the sun is shining out your ass. The thoughts have crossed my own mind through the years, people, and I don't need to detail how dark a place that is when those ideas come a knocking. As I said, in this case it just makes no sense. The man seemed like his good old self when he was doing interviews for his last book. All crazy and wild and full of drink and joy. But perhaps that was it. Maybe he was crazy. But I think not, and I shall not speculate on what was inside his soul that caused him to snuff it out.
All I do know is that for the first time ever, I feel a distinct void due to a celebrity's death. I stayed awake in bed last night thinking, "What now?" over and over. Thompson was one of my few true inspirations. I was looking forward to perhaps another movie starring Johnny Depp playing the part of Thompson once again like he had in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It's my favorite movie of all time, you know. So really, what now? What on God's green earth do we have left to fill the void?
I wish I had gotten the chance to interview and/or meet Hunter. It was another thing I had a pipe dream about being in this business. Hell, I had talked to Steadman, so why not Thompson? But at the time I had interviewed Ralph, even he had said he hadn't talked to Hunter in about six months and wondered what he was up to. So it would have been a long shot, especially considering his best friends often had a hard time keeping in touch. But still, it was something I had in the back of my mind for a future possibility. Now I can only continue to wonder what that may have been like.
Let's face it, people. The literary and journalistic world has lost a real hero. Whether or not you agreed with Thompson and his ethics and opinions, it's hard to deny what a massive force and influence the man had on many. I'm sure all the sordid details surrounding his death will come to the fore in the coming days or weeks, but I don't even want to know. I want to remember this man as one of the few who inspired me to keep on writing, and most importantly, just be myself in my writing, and damn everything else. Yeah, it might not get my foot into too many doors, and it might not pay the big bucks, but like so much of the rest of the media, the printed word has been turned sour by half-truths and all-out lies. I mean, how many more newspaper writers are going to be found guilty of just making shit up?
At least Thompson let you always know that he wasn't interested in the boring garbage he was covering, and instead would always treat the reader to something far better than the races at the Kentucky Derby or the motorcycles of the Mint 500. Hell, who does want to hear about that minutiae when there's real life out there waiting to be covered? Not me.
So tonight when I'm doing my Monday night show on KIBC, I'm going to have that bottle in hand in observance of this great man's last hurrah. I'm going to play songs for him and discuss this whole fucked up happening, even if no one out there in radio land cares. I have a feeling I'll be the only one of the staff at the station who does care, so someone has to do the dirty work. Someone has to thank Terry Gilliam, Johnny Depp, and Benicio Del Toro for introducing me to this genius. Someone has to keep the whole crazy contraption on the road, even if it's about to spin off into the desert at any moment, never to be seen again.
If I can help with that mission in just the slightest, my life will have truly meant something now. Here's to you, Hunter, you crazy old bastard howling into the bullshit that is Everything. Thanks for all the inspiration you've given me. If I ever get to where you're at now, I'll buy you that drink I always wanted to. Sleep well, old man. You truly made my life better, and I could only dream to inspire some crazy kid someday the way you did me. Amen.