Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Book Reviews: From political histories to bad comics, to bad comics of political histories. And the occasional rant about fiction and writing.

Mimsy Review: Songs of the Doomed

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, June 17, 2001

I had a contract to write a book. I got an advance on it. The working title was The Death of the American Dream. I had no idea what it meant. I didn’t care what it meant. I just wanted money from a publisher and I wanted to write something else. I’d tried to sell Random House on a book that Tom Wolfe eventually wrote, on the whole psychedelic thing.

Songs of the Doomed” covers the decline and fall of the Reagan Empire: the eighties. From the strange power politics meeting in Elko, Illinois thru the Pulitzer trial and the Berlin wall.

AuthorHunter S. Thompson
Length384 pages
Book Rating5

The Gonzo papers are coming more quickly now: one in 1977, one in 1989, and this one in 1990.

The subtitle is “More Notes on the Death of the American Dream”. Maybe if it’s dead he can stop loading up on dangerous drugs and going out looking for it, settle down and raise a nice family in Woody Creek? Fat chance, though he certainly has tamed since his Fear and Loathing days. He even ends up explaining himself in understandable terms:

“I’d go mad if I had to live in all the weird shit I write about. A typical Washington dinner party, for instance, is just part of the daily routine for most political writers. They do that five nights a week, and get very insulted when somebody calls it weird. What passes for everyday social reality in Washington strikes me as very peculiar and baroque.”

That’s hard to argue with, and while Thompson may have toned down to only a few outbursts a day, his vision remains clear. This is a companion piece to “A Generation of Swine”, and covers the same time period, but also casts a wider net; from short stories dated 1959, the sixties:

A balcony puts you out in the dark. I was struck by the distance between me and those street freaks; to them, I was just another fat cat, hanging off a balcony over the strip… and it reminded me of James Farmer on TV today, telling “Face the Nation” how he’d maintained his contacts with the Black Community, talking with fat jowls and a nervous hustler style… Hubert Humphrey looking down at Grant Park on Tuesday night, when he still had options… moments later, the flower children hailed a cab and I walked down to the King’s Cellar liquor store where the clerk looked at my Diner’s Club card and said “Aren’t you the guy who did that Hell’s Angels thing?” And I felt redeemed.

And “Reaping the Whirlwind, Riding the Tiger”: the seventies. Freak power; reworked articles that had also been incorporated into “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”.

And back to the nineties for the infamous summit conference in Elko, Illinois. And his love-hate relationship with “Rolling Stone”:

You shouldn’t work for someone who would fire you en route to a War Zone… Rolling Stone was an Outlaw magazine in California. In New York it became an Establishment magazine and I have never worked well with people like that.

Today at Rolling Stone there are rows and rows of white cubicles, each with its own computer. That’s how I began to hate computers. They represented all that was wrong with Rolling Stone.

Saigon, 1975 (the war zone that he was fired while en route to). For the most concise summary of Thompson’s mindset, read “Memo to Jim Silberman on the Death of the American Dream”, 1977.

Palm Beach in the eighties: the Pulitzer divorce. Back to the Dukakis-Bush race. And Welcome to Jail: The Nineties. “This is a political trial, and I am nothing if not a politician. I understand vengeance.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Some things here are duplicates of articles in other books, but this is a return to style of Thompson, and well recommended.

Songs of the Doomed

Hunter S. Thompson

Recommendation: Purchase