Hunter S. Thompson Dead
Damn. The weasels are closing in. Yesterday the big news was that George W. Bush used (gasp) marijuana. Today, the news just came in that Hunter S. Thompson is dead, apparently a suicide.
Perhaps he found what he came here for, but the odds are huge that he didn't. He was an old, sick, and very troubled man, and the illusion of peace and contentment was not enough for him. So finally, and for what he must have thought the best of reasons, he ended it with a shotgun.
Thompson said that about Hemingway in May 1964, and it probably fits today. When Thompson’s friend Oscar Zeta Acosta disappeared, Thompson wrote:
It might even come to pass that he will suddenly appear on my porch in Woody Creek on some moonless night when the peacocks are screeching with lust… Maybe so, and that is one ghost who will always be welcome in this house, even with a head full of acid and a chain of bull maggots around his neck.
Yeah, that's him, folks—my boy, my brother, my partner in too many crimes. Oscar Zeta Acosta. Stand back. He is gone now, but even his memory stirs up winds that will blow heavy cars off the road. He was a monster, a true child of the century—faster than Bo Jackson and crazier than Neal Cassady… When the Brown Buffalo disappeared, we all lost one of those high notes that we will never hear again. Oscar was one of God’s own prototypes-a high-powered mutant of some kind who was never even considered for mass production. He was too weird to live and too rare to die…
Hemingway died by his own hand; who knows what happened to Acosta? The reports are that Thompson killed himself as well. But while it may sometimes seem like an inevitable result of being an insightful writer, it is not. William S. Burroughs died at the age of 83 of a heart attack: old age.
Thompson was the most insightful author of my generation. His satirical works cut to the heart of politics and the American dream. His first book was Hell’s Angels, originally an article for The Nation. It was a riveting look in the dark mirror that the Angels provided for America. On so many levels, Hell’s Angels provided the foundation for Thompson’s later breakdowns of politics and culture.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas came next. Thompson was still acting like a real journalist at the time. He was in Los Angeles covering “The Revolt of the Cockroach People” and activist Hispanic lawyer Oscar Zeta Acosta. Hispanics, long under the boot of the Los Angeles police, were trying to force Los Angeles to rein in an out of control police force. But when police used the riots as an excuse to kill a prominent Hispanic radio announcer, and when the justice system absolved the police of any responsibility, Acosta and Thompson decided to get out of town for a few days. They left for Las Vegas and the Mint 400.
Thompson ended up with “The Best Book on the Dope Decade”, according to the New York Times. “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” took gonzo journalism to the edge. Thompson would no longer ever be a mainstream journalist, nor ever resemble one.
This was the fatal flaw in Tim Leary’s trip. He crashed around America selling “consciousness expansion” without ever giving a thought to the grim meat-hook realities that were lying in wait for all the people who took him too seriously… No doubt they all Got What Was Coming To Them. All those pathetically eager acid freaks who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit. But their loss and failure is ours, too. What Leary took down with him was the central illusion of a whole life-style that he helped to create… a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody—or at least some force—is tending that Light at the end of the tunnel
Fear and Loathing was a powerful drug itself. Many tried to copy gonzo journalism without learning to see, first. It was a hit, and for good reason, because it reached inside and pulled all the guts of the American dream out so that we could see them. If you read only one Thompson book, it should be Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Its “Savage journey to the heart of the American dream” is one of the few pieces of truth in advertising you can find. It cuts no slack and eats no shit, etc.
After this, Thompson began covering politics, and he never really finished. Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 1972 is probably the only truly good book about the 1972 campaigns, or about any campaign. It was made into a bad movie called “Where the Buffalo Roam” that missed the entire point.
Even today, journalists do not report what they see, but what they would like to see and what they feel we, their readers, are ready to see. Thompson’s gonzo went so far beyond that as to mingle fiction with journalism into both a report on what he saw and a statement on what it meant. When Thompson wrote, he made it absolutely clear where he stood. He made it absolutely clear where he thought we were heading. There is nobody today writing as truthfully as Thompson did with fiction and gonzo.
Every era needs an Orwell or a Thompson, and we do not have one today.