Tonight, a treat…or, well, a blogging disaster in the making…it depends on how you view things and, of course, if you’re high or you’re just super-dooper “special” like Dan and myself…
Yes, a treat I shall proffer, a literary rarity, a prosaic piece of Godiva chocolate for our readers…thank God for humanity there are so few…
Danny, as he will explain below, will tell you he and I fell into the same funk the other night on Hunter S. Thompson and I thought that because Danny and I are such artsy-fartsy bookends, why not attempt to box in the crass literary mystery that once was Dr. Gonzo - a Danny take - a MsBurb take – but anyway you take it, a literary duet or death knell duel…depending…
Read at your leisure but heed my warning that you may go blind if you do…
I suppose that we have entered a new age in journalism. Anyone can be a journalist nowadays. Look at me. I have no training or formal education and I can espouse my thoughts and,...oh, what's the word I'm lookin' for here?...well, whatever. I can then take those words and fire them off with great haste to my great friend, editor and compadre, Ms. B, and she will take those words and fix my horrible syntax and make them as right as rain.
Funny thing,...me and Ms. B did something together that was altogether uncommon and out of character. We watched the same movie during the same week without consulting one another. The movie in question was called "Gonzo". A tribute to one of the world's greatest journalists.
Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.
Being a child of the sixties by my mere entry into them, I am a product of that generation without having to bear the sad memories of said. I lived through it all and have gleaned a great deal from them in hindsight. I still wear my hair long, in hippy fashion, and still have an affinity for tie-dye. Other than that, I can't say that I was affected a whole lot by the Vietnam War, the Manson Murders, Woodstock or any of that. In my estimation, the people who actually "lived" it seem, more often than not, to bear rose-tinted granny glasses in which the era is looked upon with wistful nostalgia instead of glaring reality....that's not to say all people who were there see it that way. Not at all,...but most ex-hippies and yippies tend to see the sixties as their Bruce-verbial glory days.
Thompson, it appears, was the mirror to this twisted era. He wrote the way he saw fit. It needn't be based in fact because, let's face it, most of the sixties, and subsequent decades after them, are not based in reality. I believe that decades to come will not be based in reality either. This shouldn't come as a surprise in the world of journalism. Journalism is not a profession in which truth is held as a revered quality. Nor should it be.
Journalism should never be based in reality because, if it was, we wouldn't read it, would we? It's escapism in it's truest form. We like to get lied to. If we didn't, we would have a docket full of writers who would be rendered ineffective and silent due to the defense of their tortured and depleted beings.
We get lied to by the press.
Noam Chomsky, one of the only greatest truth-tellers to ever walk the face of MIT, put it well when he said that the media "has no responsibility to tell the truth. It's up to us to find it." Let's face it, Daniel Ellsberg would have been a non-issue if his act didn't sell papers. We bought them during that period in more of a spirit to stick it to Nixon rather than be privy to the truth in it's most un-fettered form. I mean, who really read the Pentagon Papers in their entirety? (....save for Ms. B,...who happens to read Bugliosi like he was a Zen prophet or somethin'. She just loves that crap,...just sittin' on the bed steeped in stacks of paper with a lot of tiny words on each sheet,...)
Thompson took his skewed and entertaining view of the world and set it paper. That's all we can ask for in today's world, isn't it? Don't we wish we had that type of reporting everyday, nowadays? Journalism has been lost in a mire of political correctness and pansy-ass hand holding. Just ask the writers at ESPN who just got fired for the Jeremy Lin thingy. Thompson just called it the way he saw it and we,...the those who lived it we,...ate it up. It was a narcotic for the mind. I mean, where else could you read an article that was talking about the McGovern campaign that digresses into animals and gargoyles attacking the writer's being? It was pure lovely madness.
We don't have enough of that these days and, more importantly, even if we did, we don't have the attention span to commit to that kind of writing. Everything must be condensed into ten minutes as we enter this new century. Hell, even Rolling Stone is being written like it is appealing to a ten year old these days.The forum for another Hunter Thompson doesn't exist anymore. It was a time and place that can't be brought to where we are currently headed....and we all know that Thompson couldn't get away with that whole blowing up of cars and shooting mannequins in today's world. He would be considered as being a pathetic, attention-starved eccentric rather than what he was considered to be in his era,...a genius. The only thing that differentiates the two is simply the passage of time. That was then, this is now,...as the Monkees so aptly put it. Hell, even his exit seems like it was contrived bullshit in today's world. I guess there are still a few who see the suicide of a writer as being something of a romantic act rather than a cop-out.
The problem with Thompson, however, is that it was his fame that caused him to eventually un-ravel. He was expected to be this character and not simply a human being in his own "write". The subject for his pieces eventually gave way to the vehicle of them. I suppose that would be a curse in velvet. Like Capote, he was the story more than an observer of it. There is something to be said for the living in the piece, but when it consumes, it becomes a waste of energy and talent and you end up numbering your days far more closely than God ever intends.
And make no mistake, it will eventually consume. Always.
It becomes a wicked descent into the vestiges of pure madness in which reality becomes subjective and malleable. Reality forms into whatever you make it. I think that is what would be referred to as "playing with fire" in the journalistic realm. It consumes. Your mind orchestrates until it inevitably becomes orchestrated. Life passes you by as you begin to live your life in a story.
I mean, It happens to the best of us,...or the worst of us,...like in my case.
The Life span of a Mobster, jailed or dead: 8 years;
It takes 15 years to make an alcoholic;
A great writer, it seems, has only 9 good ones…
Or, such is the life and times of the more infamous than famous Hunter S. Thompson, or Raoul Duke or Dr. Gonzo, take your pick, Hunter never minded.
Yes, B3 has talked before on the precarious lives of Authors in the post, “Watch Out! Literary Perfection Can be Deadly, Man!“ (click pic to read that post)
but Hunter is the true definition of a wordsmith enigma wrapped up in a prosaic riddle, that “itch” that somehow isn’t easily scratched if you fear and loathe the end result of what literary fame can do to a person.
In ‘65 Hunter did what most mainstream journalists would never think to do, to get a story, and that was to literally embed himself with the Hell’s Angles to get their story, the real goings on, the good, the bad and the ugly…and in the end as with so much of what Hunter took on, his idealised, almost naive vision of a thing would morph into so much disenchantment and disillusion…instead of finding the romantic vision in a freakish existence, he would walk away from the reality of that existence terribly battered and bruised.
On October 16, 1965, a gang bang at the Merry Pranksters two day party with the Angels did it for Hunter.
A shot gun blast to Hunter’s head on February 20, 2005 did it to us.
People often called Hunter anti-American or at least counter-culture in terms of how he would approach and handle truisms to which his country held fast and instead of spewing the predictable prose to sugar-coat the reality, he would come face to face with the issue and most likely slash it to pieces, preferring to show the awful guts than the glory. As with his literary hero, F. Scott Fitzgerald, who spent his life looking in the metaphorical windows of the rich, Hunter, instead spent his life breaking those windows.
But in fact, he was a vehement patriot, the last real life action hero who literally fought - his pen his sword - for what America was supposed to stand for and as with so many super heroes fighting for the Right, they get too close to the garrulous sun of Evil and get burned.
He tried to shine a light on the Angles and the Angles instead gave him a shiner when he dared question their own in-house brutality.
He saw hope in the form of John and Bobby, two guns made quick work of that hope.
He let us in on how Good fights against Evil in the ‘72 Presidential Campaign and watched Evil, yet again, triumph through Nixon.
Battered and bruised by reality, Hunter could handle with a gun and a bottle of Wild Turkey, but witnessing the out and out theft of the 2000 election by the Bush dynasty was one too many blows for this idealistic man. Hunter’s only victory came in the form of a peanut farmer from Georgia and in the end hope was dashed yet again when Jimmy Carter was mocked and ridiculed his entire presidency.
Hell, even Hunter managed to screw up on the one assignment that should have been a slam-dunk and that was the Foreman-Ali fight in Zaire where Foreman was the over-whelming favourite. Instead of covering the obvious (and I’m fairly certain Hunter was allergic to the obvious, most good writers are), Hunter gives away his fight-night tickets and goes for a swim in the hotel pool as Ali goes on to win one of the most famous fights of his career.
Maybe there’s a reason why great writers drink and do drugs…maybe they have to…to survive.
He didn’t want any of this, you know, this fame, this infamy. His overriding strength as a embed journalist was in his anonymity, he knew that. After ‘74 if he went in search of a story, he himself became the story. How do you watch and listen, to learn and then to write, if all your time is spent writing autographs instead? You can’t.
Hunter, in my opinion, was the Elvis of the written word. He didn’t see why only musical artists should have all the celeb glory, journalists should have rock star appeal too. Of course, Hunter could have taken steps to stop the Doonesbury “Uncle Duke” cartoon caricature insanity, that Image that then became his albatross, but it’s damn hard not to want the glowing “tan” that comes from basking in unreal limelight.
Hemingway and Capote both fell from fatal blows of Image, why should Hunter be any different…
Shall I consider it just too much of a coincidence that Hunter’s first wife’s last name is Wright, as is the last name of actor-rebel Sean Penn’s ex wife’s? Shall I consider that Sandi Wright was forced to divorce Hunter and leave with their only child as Priscilla was forced to do with Elvis? Shall I remind you that both Elvis and Hunter died from a fatal dose of Image too? No, I think I shall not.
In his hay-day, Hunter was The Voice of the American counter-culture but beyond that singular appeal, his words, so deadly accurate, often hitting and hurting to the core, achieved something other counter-culture artists never managed to do and that was to befriend even the status-quo, white-collared Establishment leaders, his message so pure and so true and, well, so darn funny was he, even the brief-case carrying crowd would chuckle at his prose…behind closed doors, of course. McGovern’s ‘72 Strategist said of Hunter’s coverage of that campaign, “The most accurate and the least factual account of that campaign.” That says it all for every assignment Hunter undertook.
Today, sure, thinking Outside The Box, Pushing The Envelope are de rigeur modes of literary transport, but Back In The Day he was the only embed journalist that would cover an event and never actually write a word on it, never approach it as one would expect. I mean, why do the obvious when the subtle is so much more powerful, right? His take on the 1970 Kentucky Derby for Rolling Stone Magazine, with the help of his graphic artist friend, Ralph Steadman, was glorious in its artistic form and deadly in it’s social repartee but held not a word for the race itself. Too busy were the duo watching the watchers in all their psychedelic hypocritical glory…taking mescaline before the race helped, of course.
Hunter never considered anyone or anything being Off The Record for he knew he was an outsider and knew he had no plans to be anything else. And that would have been great, a perfect way to record America Unplugged if he could have managed to stay unplugged himself. But as all good things become great, the ability to be lost in a crowd gets lost itself and what was your Almighty Power becomes your Almighty Albatross, the 26ers of Wild Turkey and hits of acid not included.
As Hunter went in search of The American Dream in Las Vegas, he too went in search of an Honest Politician in that ‘72 campaign and like the ‘68 Chicago DNC convention riots, he quietly shed a tear in discovering both ideals were long since dead. Corruption and Greed he found was their Cause of Death.
People closest to Hunter said the die was cast for the end of his mortality, basically, after Bush Junior won in 2000, that all hope to have hope died with that singular event. Of course, the booze and drugs and the loss of Sandi and his only child Juan didn’t help either but somewhere after ‘74 the downward spiral began, his inability to put words to paper, his beloved and much maligned IBM Golf ball typewriter mocking him at every turn. (Just as an aside, there still is no better keyboard made if you’re the Jerry Lee Lewis type of hacker – hard and fast - too bad he made them all go extinct with one gunshot wound to the F key…)
Hangers on at Hunter’s Woody Creek, Colorado home made for great parties as he held court and hammed up his Uncle Duke Image to the Nth degree but just because you sit near a typewriter doesn’t mean it will type itself, so the prose died a slow and laborious death, the debauchery and the sexual affairs with hangers-on increased and the man who held the sword of Right for all of us, fought for us no more. Now his attention focused on promoting and publicizing his Image because Hunter knew the real Hunter was long since dead and buried, the days of shooting up his fax machine because he missed another Rolling Stone magazine deadline, were long since over too. In the early days when Hunter would take to his BSA “Lightening” motorbike and ride from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, taunting “The Edge” of existence but never quite going over it were long over as well, replaced by an obsession to know what The Dead know about The Edge when you do cross it. Meetings with funeral directors, blueprint plans of his outrageous funeral rites took on an eerie vigour…everyone who knew Hunter knew his end would be by a gunshot to the head but knowing that and experiencing it are two different things.
One wintry night at Woody Creek, his son Juan hears what he thinks is a book hitting the floor in his Dad’s room…BAM!…one loud and very sharp retort. His son’s immediate response to the death of his Father: three gunshots into the cold, crisp Colorado night air as a salute, the only salute he knew his father would appreciate.
Thereafter, as with Elvis’ voice, the foolscap in Hunter’s IBM typewriter remained blank, silent, forevermore.
The talent, the Gift, the Art, all finite now, appreciated more now that it is, of course. With talented geniuses we assume the gift is ever-flowing, as constant and rich as the fabric of Time and Space…but we are all human, and when our spirit is trapped as if in an Image cage, Hunter like his beloved Edward The Bird became Trapped in Gonzo. Once, Hunter had flown high and wide, but as expected, his spending too much time riding near The Edge and hearing the strange music of The Dead, maybe his heart-throb Grace Slick The Voice, made him flame out far too fast. Eventually to geniuses like Hunter, what one has here on Earth is too little so what one might have elsewhere becomes too tantalizing.
Hunter’s first wife, Sandi, has always been the lone wolf in the Hunter fan-club forest who firmly avows that Hunter’s choice to just Opt Out of Life was a cowardly one and although we always assume super heroes are anything but cowardly, I believe she is right. Does it take more courage to fight when you are Down For The Count, The Fallen, The Battered and The Bruised over fighting when you are the bruiser and the batterer? Me thinks yeah.
I had a love affair with the IBM golf-ball typewriter from as far back as my wee fingers could touch the keys…now, when I see one, which in our tech-toy 21st century existence, is a rare as seeing a Blue Herron in a marshy swamp, I will think of Hunter, not romanticize what he has written but mourn what he was too weak to live thru to yet write.
Wherever he is right now, he has just called me a effing BITCH and has thrown his can of Budweiser at my B3 blog. He hates me now. Wow…what a Seal of Approval! Thanks Uncle Duke.