Books

Fear and Loathing in Pittsburgh (or, "These Things Don't 'Just Happen'"): Dr. Hunter S. Thompson 193

Jason Thompson

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.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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