Thursday, February 24, 2005

rip Dr. Hunter S. Thompson


I saw a post in Bruce Schneier's blog about Thompson. And that, somehow, made me want to pitch in a thought or two.

First off, I've only read "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," plus his many articles for Rolling Stone magazine, plus the occasional article in other pubs, plus the occasional chapter or two of his other books while loitering in bookstores, plus the zillion excerpts of his books that have appeared in reviews of them. So I'm not the deepest person on Thompson's oeuvre.

But I've enjoyed every single word the man ever wrote (of those that I've read, that is). He wrote with such singular zeal and style that you couldn't not notice. But I wouldn't call him a journalist--most of his stuff was pure rant and invention that stirred the emotions but didn't attempt to present an objective portrait of anything outside of his own obsessions. And this notion that he founded a so-called "gonzo" style of journalism is even more ridiculous--he coined this silly word to refer to precisely one practitioner of whatever it was that he wrote: himself. And, consequently, he's the only referent of this meaningless self-assertive adjective. (Note to self: invent nonsense adjective to refer to own unique blogging style, and convince others to think I'm the vanguard of that new school of blogging--yeah, that's the ticket).

Fundamentally, Thompson was a comedy writer, and quite a funny one, as anybody with even a passing familiarity with his work will attest. Admit it: when you think of Thompson, you think of Duke from Doonesbury, or some other cartoonish stick figure guzzling booze, doing dope, shooting guns, speeding recklessly across America's highways, running away from creditors, and generally shirking responsibilities. He created a purely cartoonish persona--from everything I've read, the actual man was a lot like this. So he was a performance comedian who brilliantly committed his performances to writing.

So Thompson cut quite a distinctive figure in the landscape of American literary culture. Don't buy into all that "gonzo journalism" crap. He was just a clown--not a merry prankster--but an agent provocateur with no agenda other than just being a cussed fool.

It's sad that he took his own life. Clearly, he was possessed by demons (as was the brilliant monologist Spalding Gray, who took his own life last year). I don't know what moral to draw from the Hunter S. Thompson story. He abused his body and brain for 67 years, till, apparently, his spirit just wore out. All the fear and loathing became too much for him.

You can't truly celebrate a life like that. Just observe, numbly. And wish him well on his next madcap adventure.