Tuesday, July 28, 2009

when the not so weird turn pro

A couple of nights ago I watched Alex Gibney's "Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson" on terrestrial tv. I have not read any Hunter for quite some time, although I have a good several of his key publications from 1965's "Hell's Angels" through to 1979's retrospective, "The Great Shark Hunt".

Benign and savage on the turn of a sixpence - in life and in prose - Hunter Thompson was not so much a man of contradictions as a man, like all of us, on a mission. Through his various assignments, constantly pitched against the deadline, Hunter sought to carve himself a reputation Sam Peckinpah might have been proud of, and a niche in the real world of politics he simultaneously despised and adored. Ultimately, he may even have created his own living nightmare; an elaborately manufactured similacrum of Mary Shelly's "Frankenstein", warts and all - the inescapable shadow of his own unique self. The angry fist of Gonzo f@cking himself right in the ass. With little or no lubrication.

In the final analysis, shrouded perhaps from too much wine, I found myself agreeing pretty much with his first wife, Sandy Conklin Thompson - now Sondi Wright - regarding his suicide. A single, self-inflicted gunshot to the head within earshot of his one son, Juan. Yes. Hunter S. Thompson was not yet done. He may have had enough, but he was not yet done.

From the suicide note subsequently published in Jan wenner's "Rolling Stone", fondly entitled "The Football Season is Over":

""No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax — This won't hurt."

I remember reading about his suicide in "The Times" in 2005 with an unholy mixture of sadness and a far from admirable delight, maybe, in a chapter finally closed. At the time, perhaps, I too felt Hunter was done. Simply because I was done reading him. That is one hell of a confession. The world has moved on, I told myself; no more Vietnams, or crooks or peanut farmers in the White House.

Speak about premature ejaculation.

From Bush's foray into Iraq and Afghanistan, to Barack Obama's election as a black candidate, what is missing in today's theatre of politics and corruption is the unrequited observation from the bleachers of a Hunter S. Thompson.
Cigarette holder or Gonzo fist rammed home or not.

Last night I had a dream. The Chinese had invaded, or maybe the invasion came from deep space. Whatever. Twenty-three to thirty of us were detained by day in a 're-education centre', and allowed home at night to complete an assignment. The Chinese were very efficient. And suave in their Jimmy Chu/Mao Tse-Tung suits and elegant footwear.

I had a crush on a female translator with obsidian eyes and a bull horn.

I did not complete my assignment. I missed the deadline. The very next morning I was surrounded by a smiling host of fellow Caucasians shyly unveiling beautifully executed Cartouches depicting the righteousness of occupation.

"You, who have done, have done well. You have exceeded your birthright by stint of meritocracy. In due course, your contribution shall be rewarded. Ruminate."

All I had managed was a cover note outlining my reservations. Even that appeared half-assed. The girl with the bull horn told us to congratulate ourselves. Our contribution to the revolution was inviolate. The best of us could expect to be summarily re-educated and set to work immediately. Women and men to my left and right threw high fives freely.

Their relief seemed infectious. Like Swine Flu blown in on an exotic breeze.

I could not believe my ill fortune. I had failed. Again, it seemed. I could not make it in the world of squares; I could not make it come the revolution.

I sat their forlornly and stared at my shoes. And waited to be expelled.

, 2005


Anonymous said...

What did Sandy Conklin Thompson say about his suicide?

ib said...

That (to paraphrase) Hunter's act of suicide was far from noble, and that he could have provided invaluable insight on the sad state of affairs which continue to plague the political stage right fucking here and now.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I agree with that. I'm interested in seeing the doc, is it online? Brits have posted about watching it, they made it seem very interesting. I'm well aware of of his conflictions, not surprised to hear they were brought up.

Denier said...

At his best, nobody was better than Thompson at getting to the heart of the political mindfuck. He did some good writing on the Bush crime family toward the end.

Hells Angels stands up to repeat reading. Boys on the Bus captures Hunter with other reporters covering the '72 race, well worth it for a portrait of the Dr.

I always thought Thompson ranked right up there with George Orwell when it came to the political essay. His lifestyle shouldn't detract from what he left on the page.

ib said...

Man, I don't know. All these giants have died. I have met more fitting candidates in their passing on the internet than I could ever hope to find in months of scouring physical publications.

Löst Jimmy said...

Another great post ib, great reading

ib said...

Dean, you can watch the documentary in its entirety here:


ib said...

Cheers, Löst Jimmy.

Anonymous said...

Nice post, ib. The documentary is well worth a watch if a little mournful. I devoured The Great Shark Hunt - I even hunted down original copies of Rolling Stone for the few pieces that weren't included in it. That wasn't such an easy task pre-internet. But I haven't read him in maybe 20 years.
Have returned recently to Kerouac. Though I must admit more writing about him than by him. It's tough not to merge their endings. While Kerouac wasn't a suicide it might as well have been - even it was drawn out over ten years. And Kerouac didn't even reach the 50 years HST wanted or needed.

ib said...

The piece for Rolling Stone on the Kentucky Derby - include in The Great Shark Hunt, I think - with illustrations by Steadman, is among his very best. The narrative in the documentary on him missing the Ali/Foreman fight in its entirety was new to me. Again here, Sondi Wright offered some intriguing opinion on how failing to cover the assignment impacted on Thompson.

Kerouac is Kerouac. As interesting in his symbiotic relationship with Neal Cassady as in his writings. It has become something of a popular pursuit to knock Jack in many quarters, but trivial for all that. Having been given a little window of sorts into Thompson's declining years as presented in the Gibney film, it strikes me that his suicide may have been drawn out as long as Kerouac's, the bullet itself mere punctuation.

A final calling of shots.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, much appreciated! Now I need to find an UK proxy, since the BBC does not allow users outside the UK to watch these shows.

ib said...

Bastards. There is always some degree of chicanery involved, it seems. By law, in the UK, one is compelled to purchase a annual license to even watch tv without the men in suits knocking at one's door.

Currently, said fee is £139.50.

RossK said...

I very much agree about the Derby piece being just about the apogee.

But wasn't that published in Scanlan's?

Regardless....it's important to remember that even Thompson initially figured it was a failure.

Which is interesting because it was the thing that came closest to Kerouac's 'Spontaneous Prose' that was only really possible for both authors when they pushed their powers of real time observation into the stratosphere.

Or some such thing.


ib said...

It may have been, Gazeteer. I did not trouble to check its provenance from the notes in my own battered copy of GWSH. A presumption on my part.

The sole thing of Kerouac's I have returned to after many years abstinence is "Doctor Sax"; and that because it is quite arbitrarily the on paperback I still own. Most of my early reading was through the public library, although I somehow inherited an early press of "On The Road". or just as likely purchased it at some church jumble sale.

"It Never Got Weird Enough" is a fine piece. Thanks for the link. It seems somehow fitting to read that you learned of his death through the ether grapevine and the green radio tendril leaking upstream from San Francisco to Canada in the black of the night. The quote you used from "Hell's Angels" is one which etched itself in my brain too.

A toast to you, then, Gazeteer. I enjoyed this comment immensely.