Monday, February 21, 2005

Farewell Hunter S. Thompson

The news of Hunter Thompson’s suicide was stunning in the worst way, though I honestly can’t say I’m surprised. He was a notorious madman, drug user, drunk, and gun collector. In 2000 he accidentally shot his personal assistant while driving bears off his property. A mishap or something more deliberate involving a firearm seems pretty consistent with how the man lived his life. However, the news is no less shocking and saddening for that. Shit, if he had planned to shoot himself, I wish he had taken some notable miscreant from public life with him.

I’m sure we’ll soon learn HST was diagnosed with cancer or the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

In this age that’s so lacking in authenticity, it’s disheartening to hear of a true renegade like HST doing himself in.

It may be cliché as hell to say, but no less true, that HST achieved a mythic stature in our culture, particularly among writers—and especially among young writers. He was Mount Rushmore with a drink in his hand and his cigarette holder clamped in his teeth. Much as his freak show celebrity has intrigued me, I never harbored a hope or desire to meet the man. He seemed so entrenched in his own mythos, I couldn’t imagine him having the patience or the stomach to suffer the stuttering awe of starblind fans. There could only be one reply on his part to the question, “Are you Hunter Thompson?”—a bonk over the fan’s head with a liquor bottle.

A few years back I read a heart-rending account by Thompson’s younger brother who was struggling not only with telling Hunter that he, the younger brother, was gay, but dying of AIDS. The description of the last time he saw Hunter was terrible—Hunter coming off as an utterly insensitive ego-maniac, eating up the attention of his hangers-on, acting the part of the Alpha Male Asshole by forcing his uncoordinated younger brother to join in a volleyball game.

Maybe I hated that remembrance so much because it reminded me of how I’ve acted with my younger brother.

But Thompson was a hell of a writer. As I told my wife this morning that I wasn’t much of a Hunter S. Thompson fan, my eye tracked over to the ten HST on my bookshelf. I don’t own ten copies of anyone else’s work.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was a masterpiece. The Proud Highway came out while I was living in Ireland dying the death-of-a-thousand cuts trying to hammer myself into something resembling a writer. It was an enormously inspiring, encouraging book. However, I’ve had little use for Hell’s Angels, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, Generation of Swine, Songs of the Doomed, and The Rum Diary. It was a painful realization for me to find that HST’s fiction stank.

But Hunter S. Thompson was very much like the rock group The Doors—when he was bad, he was dire, but when he was good, there was no one better. As when he wrote “The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat,” his homage to attorney Oscar Zeta Acosta. It’s by turns libelous, hilarious, heart-felt, and simply brilliant prose.

There is little doubt that what first drew me to Hunter S. Thompson’s work will ultimately be his legacy—the fact that he lived by no one’s rules but his own; that he did not seek out an easy life, but an interesting life; and that his work and life provoked people.

I never knew Hunter S. Thompson, but I will miss him.

1 comment:

Gazetteer said...

Great Post Matt.

Linking you up at my place.

RossK