In Defense of Hunter (by Jeff Spencer)
This piece comes from Jeff Spencer in an e-mail I received from him yesterday:
I have noticed a distinctly sneering, finger waving tone to the big papers’ coverage of the savage termination of HST. Trivialization has been the order of the day. Depiction of him as a fallen “real” journalist who self-indulgently wallowed in solipsism. The final cut was the double-edged description of him as a rock star in a journalist. As we all know, aside from envy for their prodigious opportunities for outrageous sex, there is nothing a snobby, sneering, upwardly mobile journalist finds commendable about a rock star. OK, so the official word is hammered in marble: self-defeating addict blows brains out after a wasted career as pop icon. Well, I say fuck the big papers and the game-playing, bourgeois shits who make careers out of following the political fashion of the day.
This piece comes from Jeff Spencer in an e-mail I received from him yesterday:
I have noticed a distinctly sneering, finger waving tone to the big papers’ coverage of the savage termination of HST. Trivialization has been the order of the day. Depiction of him as a fallen “real” journalist who self-indulgently wallowed in solipsism. The final cut was the double-edged description of him as a rock star in a journalist. As we all know, aside from envy for their prodigious opportunities for outrageous sex, there is nothing a snobby, sneering, upwardly mobile journalist finds commendable about a rock star. OK, so the official word is hammered in marble: self-defeating addict blows brains out after a wasted career as pop icon. Well, I say fuck the big papers and the game-playing, bourgeois shits who make careers out of following the political fashion of the day. Where were they in 1972 when Thompson was lampooning the hell out of Nixon? They were riding in Air Force One digging the proximity to power and writing stories guaranteed to give them “access.” Two years later, when the winds had shifted, they were sneering derisively at the jangled wreck of Richard Nixon as he sank beneath the waves. Those damned prima donna assholes!
By the summer of ‘74 they were all playing “let’s make points on Dick,” in the supercilious taunting style of the egregious Rather. When it really counted, in the crucial election of 1972, the journalistic elite had their heads down while the greatest satirist of the day tore into Nixon and the Republicans with greater gusto and effect than any other Leftist journalist. They’ll never forgive him for ‘72 when he was the absolute spearpoint of the Left giving battle to the Right in swingeing prose which depicted Nixon as a ravening beast lurking in the darkness of the American soul, ready to lunge and tear apart anybody in his path. He went after Nixon with outrageous humor, which was beyond the ken of the “mainstream journalists,” a gaggle of craven bootlicks in the best of times. The mainstream journalist, as Bill Clinton discovered to his extreme discomfort, is a bad dog. One minute fawning and docile, the next tearing your belly open. And, do they pack—for Nixon they were a Handel chorus singing his genius while the wind blew his way, and scavenging wolves piling on interminably ‘til he left the scene after the wind had shifted.
Thompson interjected satire into the political process. He hammered away at Nixon with the most inventive reductive humor American literature had yet produced. Furthermore, he critiqued the Left as well. His violent language and savage fables of America howled, “this is not Wonderland, folks, this is a land at war with itself, there are dangers, YOU CAN GET KILLED!” He called the hippies “dangerously innocent” and ridiculed the bat-brained obsessions of an era that foreshadowed the banality, mindlessness, and voraciousness of the present: a girl who only painted mad-eyed portraits of Barbara Streisand or grown men roaring off to Vegas to tear their brains and psyches apart with every type of intoxicant known to the species and cheerfully fall into degradation and monstrousness in pursuit of the limit beyond which the body and mind must fail. For those who think the sixties and early seventies were some kind of super Woodstock with “the flower children” making love and babies in opposition to the “unenlightened,” Thompson remains a permanent correction. The sixties, especially, was a violent time best emblemized by the cruel, exquisite James Bond and the lush sadistic blare of the GOLDFINGER theme song, not by Woodstock reveries. “Edgework” was the mode of the day from JFK down to the Hell’s Angels. That was what Thompson was all about: how fast could you go on a hog? how close could you get to the most violent motorcycle gang before something terrible happens to you? how far could you go as a polemicist before somebody shuts you down? how many drugs could you take before something breaks? FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS is the paen to edgework by the mythic practitioner of the age. No pretentious rot from Carlos Castenada—this was something every red-blooded American boy or girl could dig: load up on a bellyful of Bud, eat some UC Berkeley chem lab acid, and see what happens. And, keep doing this until something gives. Find the outer edge. Come face to face with Mr id and see who is left standing. RIDE THE WILD TORPEDO!
I remember a particularly pretentious schmuck from this period, who grew up to be a particularly pretentious schmuck adult, declaring to me that he had systematically experimented with acid like you would talk about fine tuning your stereo system. I never experimented with acid, I ate it like a pig ‘til I blew my brains out! It was an internal version of taking a turn at 125 mph in a GTO. LET’S SEE WHAT HAPPENS. Of course this was crude, redneck, de classe, barbaric, anti-intellectual, unhealthy, dangerous, illegal as hell, and damned likely to land you in an institution or jail. Friends thought you were crazy or they joined in—-there was no middle path. As one lamentably deceased expert used to bellow: “YOU ARE EITHER ON THE BUS OR OFF THE BUS, YEAGGGHHHHHH!!!!” That it all ended with coke and Tanqueray, shattered constitutions, and a return to the dictates of Reason (as much as former debauchees can ever be expected to be adherents of the English Augustan via media—their conversion, being forced, always in doubt), or Death, should not be taken as a critique of this gung ho ethic. Some people will always dice with the Grim Reaper—as barnstormers, NASCAR drivers, Special Forces troops in Afghanistan, or presidents of the United States. From JFK on down, the sixties were violent and crazed, and Thompson put it in how-to manuals that everybody from high school dropouts to UC grad students could understand. Hunter Thompson expressed the spirit of the age like no other. LONG MAY HE LIVE!
“He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.” Dr. Johnson
(Thompson’s epigraph for FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS)
Jeff Spencer has his own little corner in the Magazine section.
John Dentino wrote in reply:
apparently, this is a HST quote:
We have become a Nazi monster in the eyes of the
whole world—a nation of bullies and bastards who
would rather kill than live peacefully. We are not
just Whores for power and oil, but killer whores with
hate and fear in our hearts. We are human scum, and
that is how history will judge us…No redeeming
social value. Just whores. Get out of our way, or
we’ll kill you.
Who does vote for these dishonest shitheads? Who
among us can be happy and proud of having this
innocent blood on our hands? Who are these swine?
These flag-sucking half-wits who get fleeced and
fooled by stupid rich kids like George Bush?
They are the same ones who wanted to have Muhammad Ali
locked up for refusing to kill gooks. They speak for
all that is cruel and stupid and vicious in the
American character. They are the racists and hate
mongers among us—they are the Ku Klux Klan. I piss
down the throats of these Nazis.
And I am too old to worry about whether they like it
or not. Fuck them.
-Hunter S. Thompson
Jeff Spencer wrote back:
Time will tell if he’s right. The key is off here. This is just a bitter geezer.
I prefer the lancer of old who characterized Nixon as a beast howling in
the White House. Hey, irony. If those tapes are right GW was a drug-
choffing hellion of the old school. In retrospect, I can’t always agree with
Thompson, but, damn me if I ever allow politics to ever blind me to artistic
genius. Like him or not, he was completely original. When he died he closed
the shop. Thompson’s mastery of the monstrous fable set him apart from
everybody. When he epitomized the American fascist as a drunken crazed cop
at the Circus Circus having his image cast a couple hundred feet tall against
an adjacent building while he howled incoherent animal noises, he did some-
thing so complicated I don’t think our generation will be able to fully under-
stand the ramifications. This isn’t just day-to-day politics with gran guignol
flourish. As good as Al Franken is ever going to get is as good as Thompson
was when he would just stagger out onto a lecture circuit stage and bellow
incoherently at the crowd. When he described the inside of the Circus Circus
as having trapeze artists swinging through the air chased by demented wol-
verines, this was “The Garden of Earthly Delights” comes to America. I don’t
even think the Left can really deal with the legacy of HST because it is so
complicated. He wasn’t at war merely with the thugs, he was also at war with
the “dangerously” innocent. I’m sure there are some on the Left who are satisfied
at the end of Thompson. A gun-loving, gun-toting literate red neck with enough
paranoia and rage to sink a battleship could not have lived with any reasonably
civilized group of the modern American Left. There are those who have quickly
drawn the inevitable superficial parable: violence of thought is violence of deed,
and gun ownership always ends in horror. Thompson was always way down in
the id of America, a place neither the Right nor the Left wants to go (why did the
pilot of the first atomic mission name his bomber after his mother?—-there my
obligatory Thompsonism), and this set him apart. He wasn’t singing about a City
On the Hill, he sang about Las Vegas, which in 1971 was the place where you
went to release your demons or let them eat you (is it any wonder this is where
Hughes ended his days?). Nightmare was his realm, and we were in a nightmare
in the fall of 1971 when F AND L came out. Thompson’s solution? Get fucked out
of your brains. To me it was like Paul on the road to Damascus. Right. Remain
blitzed. Thompson converted his revelation into two masterpieces: F and L, and
F AND L ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL. They spoke to those who were nauseated by
what the ‘sixties had birthed, i.e., the hideous early ‘seventies schizophrenically
twisted between an America trying desperately to pretend it was good, innocent, and
decent, and the grotesque evidence that we were mad, bad, and dangerous to know.
Rarely had the bedroom door accidentally come open, floodlights shone, and the
Francis Baconesque bodies been revealed doing things so vile and unbelievable
our minds were torqued forever. That’s what Thompson wrote about.
Dentino: And then, there is Thompson’s wife. She is a real New Age piece of work. I know the human heart is deeply complex, but I hope he loved her because the kind of aggressive disconnect from reality she displays would drive me to put a gun in my mouth. I remember what it was like around an ex-girlfriend whose parents were German. She would talk about the Nazis and the Jews all having a laugh together in Heaven.
Spencer: The last time I read anything that weird and disconnected from objective reality
was the Lennon’s Christmas message to the L.A. TIMES in Dec. 1978. As Fitzgerald wrote: the rich are different from the rest of us. Only Ken Russell could pull off Nazis and Jews having a laugh together in Heaven,and it would not be heartwarming. Did you ever see his MAHLER? Recall the scene where Mahler sings “I’m not a Jew boy, not a Jew boy” to Wagner’s Ride of the Walkure?
Rock Mountain News article by Jeff Kass.
Wife details family gathering with Thompson dead in chair
Hunter S. Thompson heard the ice clinking. The literary champ was sitting in his command post kitchen chair, a piece of blank paper in his favorite typewriter, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot through the mouth hours earlier.
But a small circle of family and friends gathered around with stories, as he wished, with glasses full of his favored elixir — Chivas Regal on ice.
“It was very loving. It was not a panic, or ugly, or freaky,” Thompson’s wife, Anita Thompson, said Thursday night in her first spoken comments since the icon’s death Sunday. “It was just like Hunter wanted. He was in control here.”
She thought, “I can turn back time. No, no, no. This is not right. This can’t happen.”
But upon seeing Hunter Thompson’s body, she embraced him. “Since he’d done this, I did not want to make it difficult for his spirit,” she said. “I wanted to make it loving.”
Anita Thompson and her husband had a small tiff that afternoon. Hunter Thompson told her to leave the kitchen that was known across the world as his funky and sacred work space. A weird look came across his face. “I don’t know why he wanted me to leave the room,” she said. “It’s all speculation. He’d never asked me to leave the room before.”
But Anita Thompson did not go to the office with Hunter Thompson’s son, as he had requested. Instead, she left the house. “I’m going to get my gym bag. I’m going,” she recalled. “He said, ‘I don’t want you to leave the house.’”
But she went to the gym. At 5:16 p.m., according to her cell-phone display, she called and spoke with Hunter Thompson for 10 minutes and 22 seconds. Hunter Thompson put almost everyone on speakerphone. But he picked up the handset to speak with his wife. “I knew it was odd, first of all, that he picked up with the handset ... I thought, ‘That’s sweet,’” she said. The talk was good. “He said, ‘I want you to come home after you work out. Come home and we’ll work on a column,’” she recalled. The conversation, however, never really ended. Before formal goodbyes, Anita Thompson heard a clicking sound. She thought Hunter Thompson might have put down the handset and was typing. Or maybe it was the television. She waited. Maybe a minute passed.
“He did not say anything about killing himself,” she said.
The official time of death is 5:42 p.m.
But did Hunter Thompson shoot himself while on the phone with his wife?
“I did not hear any bang,” she says, noting that Hunter Thompson’s son, who was in the house at the time, believed that a book had fallen when he heard the shot.
Anita Thompson can imagine what was going through Hunter Thompson’s mind before the fatal shot: My beloved son, grandson and daughter-in-law are here. I’m in my perch. The fireplace has fire.
“I don’t know if it mattered if I was here,” Anita Thompson says. “I just like to think, and believe in my heart, he felt happy in his life.”
Had Hunter Thompson intended for his wife of two years to be in the house?
“I don’t know, and it’s not that important,” Anita Thompson says. “I know he loved me. There’s no question ... I know he did not want me to find him alone. He knew I was opposed to it.”
After wading through the police officers outside, Anita Thompson recalls seeing her husband’s dead body for the first time. “He was sitting in the chair when they brought me in, and I got to hug him and kiss him and rub his legs,” she said.
“All the anger was gone when I saw him.”
Anita Thompson does not know why Hunter Thompson chose the .45 from his vast collection of guns. But he was deft with his death. “He did not destroy his face,” Anita Thompson says. “He did it in his mouth. His face was beautiful. It was quick. It was not grisly or gruesome by any means. That’s probably why he took that gun. He spared us a gruesome scene.”
Yes, Anita Thompson says, the landmark writer is nearby. “Mainly in moments when you’re quiet, you can feel him; it’s a different energy than when he was in his body,” she says. “It’s in the chest. It’s all encompassing, but just for a second. It’s beautiful.”
Hunter Thompson was huge on swimming for his exercise. But he was also known for his love of fine whiskey, and to put it far too mildly, for experimenting with most every intoxicant known to man.
“He loved his body, look what he did to it,” Anita Thompson jokes. She then adds a line that maybe even she fails, on its face, to grasp the significance of: “He gave his body everything it wanted.”
Excerpts Copyright 2005, Rocky Mountain News. All Rights Reserved.
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- 02.23.05 / 12am