Eulogy for Dr. Gonzo

Reflections of Hunter Revisited: Last Thoughts on Hunter S Thompson

After a couple of weeks to reflect [and a wickedly funny tribute in this week’s Doonesbury]
to review and reflect on HST. In reviewing that last book, Kingdom of Fear, I still think that the The Doctor’s writing
had been sliding, but it is only in comparison to the strikingly
radical work he did in the 70s. No respectable journalist had ever
inserted themselves as part of the story. A GOOD journalist was
supposed to present the facts as a disinterested observer and let the
reader draw his own conclusions. Hunter not only injected himself,
often violently, into his stories, he often let his biases and opinions
be slathered all over a story like barbecue sauce on a brisket. It’s a
style few have been able to copy, though PJ O’Rourke seems to be able
to pull it off on a less grand scale.

Of course Hunter had free reign at Rolling Stone,
a freedom that allowed him to ramble at great length between making his
points. So of course the 80s and 90s attempts to package Hunter into
bite sized easily digestible [and mainstream] columns were a failure.
It’s akin to having Michelangelo painting postage stamps or engraving coins. Some
people need large canvases for their work and Hunter was one of those.

Remember
that Hunter was a little older than the people he wrote for. When he
was 30 in 67 or 68, he was all ready a seasoned world traveler writing
for the National Observer, The Nation and Scanlan’s and he’d all ready written Hells Angels.
He’s go through Chicago, Nixon’s election and go hide out in Vegas
where that book was born of a depraved and drug addled mind. But
Thompson was able to turn all that warped perspective into a tool. He
was able to come back from mind bending binges and focus the razor
sharp insight and describe it to us. Something as simple as describing
tail lights flashing by at 100 mph at the end of Angels, just a simple
zaaappppp… Brilliant.

Think also of all the changes in media
during his career; from twice daily newspapers and large glossy
magazines to the instant news of the internet and satellite and cable
TV; from manual typewriters to the IBM Selectric to the PC and laptop;
the 18 minutes per page Mojo wire to the fax to instant email… I
don’t think Hunter wanted to see the first cyborgs, humans with instant
communication ports built into them; sit down at your laptop and think
it and it appears on the screen and is published on your web page.

And
make no mistake, Hunter’s impact is HUGE on the Blogger nation. There’s
thousands of us HST wanna bes out here and now we have our forum. The
BLOG has opened up media the way the four track recorder opened up the
music business… who knew there were so many after work Jimmy
Page/Eric Clapton/ Johnny Rotten’s out there? But we are all pale
imitations of the master. Surely his writing was an exaggeration, a
larger than life tall tale from a vivid imagination. He knew Americans
like their heroes BIG, like everything big, loud and bold, so he was.
But one could only maintain that peak, ride that wave for so long, and
it became obvious that the burnout was beginning by the time he covered
Ali/Spinks for Rolling Stone in 1978 [reprinted in The Great Shark Hunt collection].

I
guess my point is this: Hunter S Thompson will be remembered as a radical voice
for a radical time; in other words the right voice at the right time.
But like many of his readers he burned through the nova of the late 60s
and early 70s very brightly then imploded into… the stardustof Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock? The anger
and repulsion of the twin national nightmares of Vietnam and Watergate
took a heavy toll; what was left to do after the war was over and Nixon
dropped out of sight? Thompson seemed to wander aimlessly after the
fall of Saigon piece for Rolling Stone [also in TGSH collection],
occasionally surfacing with something to remind us of how great he
could be [the Roxanne Pulitzer trial coverage, A Dog Took My Place or his last words on Richard Nixon, both in RS], refusing to do another Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, perhaps knowing you can only get away with that once. Mostly he retired to his compound in Colorado where he could only do harm to himself. Mostly.

Like
many of out heroes, it’s hard, sad, almost painful to watch them in
decline. Think of Ali, still dignified but silent and shaking in the
throes of Parkinson’s. We Want to remember Ali as The Champ, the Ali of
the Rumble in the Jungle and the Thrilla In Manila. We want to remember
Elvis as a young vital newly minted rock and roll star, not Fat Vegas
Elvis. We like our heroes young and energetic. Jimi Hendrix, Janis
Joplin, James Dean, Jim Morrison, Marilyn Monroe: all forever frozen at
their peaks. We never suffered through bad albums, horrible movies,
fat, balding, rehab, etc. Jack Kennedy forever enshrined with his youth, enthusiasm and
energy still very much alive. And we wanted Thompson to be the Thompson/Raul Duke of Fear and Loathing forever. Now he will be.

Thompson wrote his own eulogy at the end of Hells Angels:

But
with the throttle screwed on there is only the bareset margin, and no
room at all for mistakes. It has to be done right… and that’s when
the strange music starts, when you stretch your luck so far that fear
becomes and exhilaration and vibrates along your arms. …The Edge…
There’s no honest way to explain it because the only ones who know
where it is have gone over. The others-the living- are those who pushed
their control as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled
back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to
choose between Now and Later.*

So long Hunter.

*from Hells Angels: A Starnge and Terrible Saga – 1966