Happy Birthday Hunter

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Today is the birthday of Hunter S. Thompson, who was born in 1939 and died in 2005. The latest documentary on Thompson, Gonzo, provided a marvelous unwinding of his life and motivations. I suggest that anyone even one bit intrigued by the man, who intrigued many generations by himself, rent this film and get a better handle on the life and works of the Great Gonzo. Below is an article I wrote for my undergraduate college–Gustavus Adolphus–which I dug up from the archives.
2/25/05
On Sunday, February 20, Hunter S. Thompson, doctor of “gonzo journalism”–author of numerous articles and some terrific novels — took his own life at his home in Colorado. Many people remember him for his masterpiece, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, yet this is just one of many contributions he made to readers, and more importantly, to the politically-concerned people of the world.

Although suicide is not considered the most acceptable way of ending one’s life, it is better not to concentrate upon the way Thompson departed the world, and is therefore more appropriate to give way for some necessary compliments and theories. It is somewhat incidental for Thompson to have killed himself the day before President’s Day, causing some to point out his unashamed disdain for presidents, including Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. This is definitely a thought that has received much playing time in my head—Could Thompson not stand to see another day where our presidents were celebrated? Whether or not he purposely chose this day, it is an interesting notion to entertain. It is also an idea that allows one to remember how the “Gonzo God” used crazily crafty prose to get his nose into the hidden, though sometimes not well enough, throes of our political world. After all, who else has written with such enormous, but delicious disregard for campaigns, “generations of swine,” and “the downward spiral of dumbness?”

We must remember, though, that we are dealing with the very same man who ran on a “Freak Party platform” for the sheriff position in Pitkin County, Colorado in 1970 and nearly won. The same Hunter S. Thompson who loved guns and used them quite frequently at his home in Colorado. The same man who recently made up the game of “shotgun golf” for himself and Bill Murray to play. With that being said, his low opinion of particular Republican presidents is not to claim that he was a huge liberal, nor did he claim to be a conservative; he was simply an untamed writer who never cared what others thought, especially when composing a textually harassing story while searching for the ‘American Dream.’ In fact, he seemed to revel most in disclosing these unforgettable opinions of the world, while managing to do so with an aura of not quite being there.

It certainly takes guts and stability to waltz into the world of journalism with a belly of rum, a head full of heavy drugs, and a propensity for political diatribes. Yet this is what Thompson did and he did it best. He grappled for and came out on top of every journalistic territory he desired, with open ears to the grotesque, carefully creating an amusing burlesque of politics and always returning with a basket of prosaic goodies.

Many fans of the film version of Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, starring Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke and Benicio Del Toro as Dr. Gonzo, find themselves guffawing in the Gilliamesque scenarios of the film, yet I would urge those who found amusement to tuck their eyes into the book and further digest some of his essays. What is perhaps a bit discomforting about Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, both the novel and the movie, is that they are often direct representations of the type of drug-drenched voyages and dangerously-drunken pilgrimages the author himself made. On the contrary, these are the sorts of elements that cure curiosity about the world and can only be extrapolated in the peak of inebriated wonders, leading us into the gut of the “American Dream,” soiling us with stunning reminders that we are, quite frighteningly, living in a non-fictional world.

Additionally, and even more disconcerting than the actions behind some of his work, is the slowly disintegrating flesh of the “new journalism” he highlighted. His death marks a rather monumental moment in the world of journalism, in that there has not been since, nor does it look promising for there soon to be, another soul willing and capable of reaching into the metaphorical manure in order to pull out such disturbing, but necessary truth-shit. Whether or not Thompson’s suicide had anything to do with Presidents’ Day, it should at least turn some people toward his other works. Like Ernest Hemingway, Thompson was painfully good at telling it how it is, and despite the fact that he committed suicide (the same way as Hemingway did–with gun), his death itself should not be the event that one relies on in evaluating the merits of his art.

For a man who thoroughly treasured getting hit hard by the grit of journalism, who dedicated a novel to Bob Dylan, who once had to be helped onto the stage for Late Night with Conan O’Brien because he was, to say the least, “slam-caked;” for a man who spiraled out of control in order to control what really needed to be (and pin up the American Dream at the same time), I must say: “I will remember you for the whole lovely lot of it, Thompson.” Although there may be many reasons that drove Thompson to the edge, not much fazed his works. He was never once held back from generating a genre of writing and living that many people are proud to have seen, and with a little intoxicated luck, possibly participated in.

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