Saturday, September 26, 2015

My Take on Hunter Thompson

I've been trying to figure out why people have a fascination with Hunter Thompson for a couple of years now. I used to work with another nurse who idolized Hunter. He even looked like Hunter and his idea of a "flight of wine" was to get three 750 ml bottles of wine and drink them in quick succession. Spending a night with this nurse friend, or once, a drunken expedition into San Francisco, was like spending time with the real Doctor. He even mumbled, when drunk, like the his idol.

I just finished a couple of biographies of the real Hunter Thompson. And I also got around to reading "Hey Rube" which is a collection of his sports pieces from ESPN. Hey Rube is worth it solely for his often quoted sage-like musings the day after 9/11.

Thompson wrote:

The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now — with somebody — and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives.
It will be a Religious War, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It will be guerilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy.

We are going to punish somebody for this attack, but just who or what will be blown to smithereens for it is hard to say. Maybe Afghanistan, maybe Pakistan or Iraq, or possibly all three at once. Who knows? Not even the Generals in what remains of the Pentagon or the New York papers calling for WAR seem to know who did it or where to look for them.

This is going to be a very expensive war, and Victory is not guaranteed — for anyone, and certainly not for anyone as baffled as George W. Bush. All he knows is that his father started the war a long time ago, and that he, the goofy child-President, has been chosen by Fate and the global Oil industry to finish it Now. He will declare a National Security Emergency and clamp down Hard on Everybody, no matter where they live or why. If the guilty won’t hold up their hands and confess, he and the Generals will ferret them out by force.

So why the fascination with Hunter? Because he helped to create a genre'. For Hunter the story was found in getting the story. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is the classic exaggerated high point of the genre' and also the best example of this literary device. Every writer in every alternative weekly (including this free-lancer) owes him a bit of thanks for creating his gutsy GONZO style when Thompson took up shop with Rolling Stone. Hunter is every journalist's ID, as in the Freudian term. And his opinion of most everyone, except those he saw as being pure (McGovern and Carter are on that list)---are that we are just sex starved, power hungry degenerates who long for that next drink, orgasm, or line of coke. We are all fiends in Thompson's view.

His celebrity got him connections. He was kind of like the journalistic version of Paris Hilton. Once a following is created, he could publish most anything and make it sell. His behavior on the expense accounts of magazines is legendary. And real.

Thompson wrote the way many journalists wish they could. No holds barred. Just bear down and write whatever comes to mind. Let your imagination fly----helped along by a whole shitload of pharmaceuticals. I'm sure many straight news writers, bored to tears by keeping themselves out of the story, using whatever connections they have to quote, responsibly, and with no malice or bias, BOTH sides of a story---wish they could just once, do a line and type what they really think. Journalism suffers from this silly idea of neutral, sterile balance. There are always just two sides of a story. Never three, four, five or sixteen sides of a story. Always just two.  Balance, they call it. Boring. It's the ying/yang of news. A dialectic borrowed from Hegel and all those other emotionless, stoic German Rationalists.

Along comes Hunter playing the role of the independent free-lancer. And succeeding at it. The rest of us need day jobs, usually teaching English or Journalism. Some stoop to becoming an editor---a chore that destroys any love of the English language. Editors are good people; it's just hard to edit and then go home and write something decent after following all the rules from the Hegelian paragraph above.

I do think Hunter Thompson was a bit of a psychopath. He was nearly arrested for vandalism by the FBI as a young child. He almost went to jail once after some youthful burglary but was told to go into the military instead. If not a psychopath, he was, at the very least, unscrupulous with other people's money (witness Fear and Loathing), with his fascination with things that blow up, and with his penchant for young women (a trait shared with Edward Abbey).

The women of Thompson's life? Always the 24 year old assistant leggy female journalism student hired to research, read and edit his stuff. The relationships always ended acrimoniously (with the exception of his first marriage). The 24 year old wouldn't be able to keep up with the lifestyle and the partying and would move on only to have her (and it was always a her) job filled by another 24 year old, female journalism student.

Yes, Hunter was an original. He became part of the journalism's upper tiered tribe. Lucky SOB. A great drinking buddy for the 60 Minutes set. And the Hollywood Elites (their roles are more and more mingled: just witness the guest list of the annual Journalist's Washington Dinner).

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail from the 72 race is every Lefty/Liberal political junkies favorite campaign book. Or at least it should be. He could be wildly inaccurate and sometimes dabbled in downright kookdom, such as his friendly words he wrote about George Wallace or at the end of his life when he dabbled a bit in what was to become the 9/11 Truth Movement. The kind words for George can be traced to his working class, white kid Kentucky Roots; his 9/11 conspiracy thinking must be nothing more than drug paranoia.

Reading through every letter and exchange that is published out there by Hunter is like wading through a garden of clovers looking for one with four leaves. It takes awhile, but you will find one eventually.

What a lucky guy. He arose in the afternoon to peruse all the major newspapers. That's followed by conversations with pundits and connections. All while drinking and carrying on from his holdout in the Rocky Mountains. He'd start writing around midnight and would continue writing, and calling friends, until dawn.

And the suicide? A natural conclusion to a life filled with substance abuse and guns.