Monday, February 21, 2005

Hunter Thompson is dead at 67.

Many obits will focus on his colorful nature, his departed skills, or his substance abuse and depression, but I will state, simply, that Hunter Thompson was a pleasure to read--one of the few writers who ever led me to laugh out loud.

In a culture where there's profound anxiety about what's good for you and what's not--cf. my sermons on the wrongheaded-ness of television-hatred--one may get confused about proffered advice about books, too: all reading is good (just as all television is bad), so there's a bit of performance anxiety involved. As a youth, then, one picks up these "essential" books--say, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance or the Lord of the the Rings--and we're relieved to get through them (when we can).

It was never difficult to "get" him. And, yet, Thompson invited us into foreign parts: the world of outlaws, into the political trenches, on a "savage journey to the heart of the American dream"; after finishing a report from the Rolling Stone National Affairs desk, one was immediately anxious for the next dispatch. I purchased a paperback edition [inset; I still have the worn-out original in a Ziploc bag at my desk] of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as a teenager, at an O'Hare newsstand as a blizzard shut down the airport, on my way to a bus bound for Moline, Illinois, close to where my family was living at the time; I had finished the novel before I arrived in the Quad Cities. His political writing in the 1970s was unlike anything I had ever read; a liberal, he never pulled punches:
There is no way to grasp what a shallow, contemptible and hopelessly dishonest old hack Hubert Humphrey is until you've followed him around for a while.

I went through the two volumes of his letters (Proud Highway and Fear and Loathing in America) last summer and was interested to see how thoughtful and determined he was to succeed; tender letters to his mom and old friends were surprising, too.

Thompson admired Neil Young's work--among other connections, Young scored Where the Buffalo Roam--and HST elected to burn out rather than rust. An inspiration and an original voice, never mind the down-stroke: May he rest in peace.

Postscript: a nice piece on HST by the Chronicle's David Kipen that highlights the writing. [cws::23 Feb]

P.P.S.: another rememberance that has no silliness. [cws::25 Feb]


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