Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter S. Thompson killed himself. Fuck. All the drugs, all the booze, all the beat downs by Hell's Angels, all the bar brawls could not do what he did himself in a quiet kitchen in Colorado last Sunday. Hunter S. Thompson killed himself. He was 67.
The papers and the internet were abuzz with speculation as to why. Was it the pain from the bad back, leg and hip? Was it the genes; the new wife; the years of drug use? Was it the infatuation with his idol Ernest Hemingway? Was it the despair he felt after Bush's election in November (his lawyer denies this) and the fear and loathing he experienced in witnessing the birth of an alien and conservative nation? Had he felt his time had passed? Was there no more hope -- for him, for his country, for us? We'll probably never really know -- reports are there was no note.
how could he not leave a note? Because for all the booze and the guns and the drugs, it was really the writing that mattered. There have been plenty of brawling, angry, give-you-a-piece-of-my-mind American originals. The Bowerys and the Potter's Fields and all those other kinds of places which no longer exist or which have been rendered quaint by our brand-spanking-new corporate world are filled with the bones of those boozing, lip smacking pugs. We don't know them, but we know Hunter because on top of all that fight he was a writer, and what a page he painted. The bluster and the bar fights and the shootings were nothing compared to the battle he could wage with pen and paper. He spoke a truth, the truth. A defiant finger in the eye to power, authority, smugness, privilege, sanctimony. An elegant, plain spoken “fuck you” truth -- so where is the note?
hunter Stockton Thompson was born on July 18, 1937 in Louisville, Kentucky to Scottish stock. He often commented that his first battle was escaping the insanity of that old Bluegrass/Ozark kind of deep dark stock that had left Scotland and sat powder keg ready for hundreds of years in poor rural America -- although a different region, that "Deliverance" kind of stock. He joined the Air Force after high school and was introduced to journalism when he covered sports for the Air Force newspaper in Florida. Sports, along with booze, drugs and guns, was another great love for Hunter. Seeming anti-types to the transgressive, left thinking, counter-cultural force that made him an original. He would not concede that macho he-man ground to the Right. He battled with Nixon, Reagan and both Bushes on the page and left the impression that if push came to shove, he'd kick all their asses if he happened to come upon them in a bar. He mocked W. as a prep-school cheerleader who knew nothing of sports. Some on the Left have found it odd that this counter-cultural icon was a card-carrying member of the NRA and loved to shoot it up. He was a civil libertarian throughout and to him that included a vigorous defense of the Second Amendment, but the love did not extend to hunting per se. He held a deep affinity for the underdog and the "lesser beast," and he was arrested and spent time in jail in Brazil for beating up a guy who had kicked a dog in a bar.
he first came to the attention of the counter-culture with a piece he did for Scanlan's Monthly, a respected journal, in which he covered the Kentucky Derby. Along for that drunken, disjointed and honest ride was Ralph Steadman, who would later team with Thompson again by providing the strange spider-web illustrations for Thompson's “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” arguably Thompson's best-known work. The film version would see Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke (Thompson' alter ego) and would bring attention to Thompson from a whole new generation of seekers.
Thompson's first book was “Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga,” published in 1967. Thompson introduced this misunderstood and mysterious band of brothers to a wider audience and suffered for his sins as he was savagely beaten by some of the bikers. The book was angry and exciting and yet somehow sentimental. Thompson, along with Gay Talese and Tom Wolf, are credited with creating the "New Journalism" of the ‘60s, and in Thompson's case Gonzo Journalism, which has been characterized as a Truth not subjugated to the facts. Thompson has also been considered the Father of the Blog -- the blending of fact, anecdote and opinion.
he went on to write for Rolling Stone magazine and, along with Lester Bangs and Ben Fong-Torres, became hero to the anti-authoritarian, anti-Vietnam War generation some called hippies. Thompson was no hippie, but he was a brother if that meant a distrust and dislike for the Man. He was the political beat at Rolling Stone and he made war with Nixon, calling him "that dark, venal and incurably violent side of the American character." Nixon returned the favor in kind by having Gonzo "investigated." In recent years, Thompson had come to miss Nixon, arguing that things had become much worse under W., whom he called a "butt boy for the rich." At least Nixon liked football, Thompson joked.
Thompson's long, strange journalistic journey came to an end writing as a Page 2 columnist for ESPN.com, and it seems that the editors were embarrassed by Thompson's gift for outrage. There was barely a mention of the suicide on the main page, and his columns were usually buried a few links deep, but that was the beauty of the Duke -- it was just these sorts of sports-loving, beer-guzzling jock readers who needed the rile most. Thompson could talk and bet sports with the best of them, but he would go on to make them uncomfortable with the knowledge that outside of their suburban, comfortable middle class lives all was not always well. In a recent ESPN posting, he began with the usual football commentary, and then moved on to the ramifications of W's re-election -- "Big darkness come soon," he wrote.
The ‘60s are gone; the drunken, drugged out youthful hope seems all too scattered now. Hunter always survived, but now he too is gone, just when we needed him the most. He recently wrote in “Kingdom of Fear,” "We have become a Nazi monster in the eyes of the whole world -- a nation of bullies and bastards who would rather kill than live peacefully. We are not just Whores for power and oil, but killer whores with hate and fear in our hearts. We are human scum, and that is how history will judge us…. No redeeming social value. Just whores. Get out of our way, or we'll kill you."
We need that angry, drunken, joyous, cigarette holding finger in the pompous eye now more than ever. What do we do now, Hunter? You knew there was always more to it than the paycheck, the settling down, the suburbs, the playing by the rules, the getting ahead, the big business government bilge and the corporate media pabulum. We need the Truth and you left no note. I hope there are some out there in Bluegrass, Kentucky; Hell's Kitchen, New York; Duluth, Minnesota; Santa Monica, California who were inspired by your example and will find the courage, the temerity, the balls to speak to us. And soon.
Good Doctor, I never much cared for your Wild Turkey, but I'll think of you when next I tip back a Kettle One screwdriver splash of soda -- know that there is a smile and a big Fuck You below the tear.