Sunday, February 20, 2005

Reunited With Acosta & Nixon

I'm not looking forward to perusing the popular reaction to the death of Hunter S. Thompson. There's a whole lot of bullshit that's going to be spat out. A bit of background: I remember coming across Thompson initially as a teenager in Hawaii. People in Hawaii, much like the majority of America, do not read. Nobody I knew read for pleasure, save for a few asshole hippies that read self published books of poetry penned by surfers or the musings of local hippie burnout's sold at tourist traps. Occasionally someone that risked being labeled an intellectual by digesting the latest Grisham potboiler, but even that was rare. Since I was personally was held in low esteem by my less enlightened peers, I was left with time on hands. I began reading and forming the musical tastes which continue to confound casual acquaintances to the current day, rather then drinking beer on the beach, bedding my female classmates and all the other typical trappings of American suburban life. I was lonely teenage idiot who was convinced that literature was an exotic animal created solely for my pleasure and certainly not enjoyed by another human being (someone else that read? It just seemed too abstract...). I forgot how, but I came across 'Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas'. I dearly loved it, and I still do. It's easy to see what would attract a teenager who was totally out of sync with his peers: it's a hilarious, intellectual, accessible counterculture tome full of drugs and excess and amphetamine wisdom, paced at leadfoot full tilt boogie rhythm. I was floored. It's just one of those books that perfectly encapsulates a time period, invaluable as artifact or dispatch, the prose utterly relentless. I began digesting Thompson's other works, irregardless of quality or how unrewarding it ended up being, going so far to read the uninformed biographies that were eventually published, when all involved were banking on Thompson's imminent death. I wanted to know more about the man, but little information was available, besides vague accounts of his domicile in Woody Creek and sparesly documented self professed tall tales of behavior as monstrous as he had previously chronicled so beautifully.

I had lost interest when Gillam's horrible cinematic adaptation was released and Thompson's public profile was raised again. Let me say this: the 'Fear And Loathing' movie is an abomination, even by the standards of Hollywood. A humorless effort marred by, amongst other things, Bencio Del Toro's totally unwarranted affectation and mumbling, it's a hollow film without bereft of wit or insight, content to indulge in pointless overwrought visuals and a Cheech And Chong level understanding of drug culture. All of which likely contributed to the shitty film's relative popularity amongst eagerly impressed set. The movie introduced Thompson's seminal work to a new generation, our dumbest one yet. Thompson's resurgence with the American public led to his 'Rum Diaries' getting it's belated release. I had long since thrown in the towel on the man with the aviator shades' work anyway, and have yet to read it. I remember when Thompson made the news when he inflicted minor injuries on his housekeeper with a shotgun, before he sank back into obscurity. I didn't give the man much thought. Then he shot himself, today.

It's one sad fucking story. Thompson's brain had been running on fumes going multiple decades before he put them permanently out to pasture a couple of hours ago. The king of excess had been more or less dead for years now as the result of the constant abuse he loved to brag about. Let's face it, his books, besides 'Fear And Loathing' and 'Hell's Angels' are often flat-out pathetic. Desperate publishers and frazzled editors attempted to cobble together coherent texts out of rambling, incoherent diatribes or outright imitations of most successful work. It didn't really matter much, because Thompson had long since been content to be propped up as a hero by sycophants eager to bask in the glory of someone who had pissed away his talent to settle on being yes, a caricature of his former self. Thompson had a non-conformist streak and often embellished and exaggerated levels of drug and alcohol intake coupled with propensity for crazy behavior (and eagerness to share stories relating it) made him the hero of many too blinded by the man, the myth, the legend, to see just how pitiful of a person he had become. It's telling that he didn't meet his maker with a snout full of cocaine, a belly full of whiskey, intestines full of pills, brain soaked in acid, wrapping a customized sportscar around a pine tree at a hundred and thirty miles an hour while shooting a handgun and screaming foul obscenities about our current administration. Thompson was no longer a drug crazed wildman or the romantic legend of the writer who wrote cold hard truths blended seamlessly in gut laugh machinegun prose or the man who got stomped while crafting an incredibly vivid account of now nearly lost culture or the man who turned journalism upside down or wrote a remarkable book costarring a friend that died that we should all be thankful that the publisher was not too timid to accept; he was a lonely, self delusional old drunk who lived up to his potential too early and road his own coattails into the sunset. Maybe that very realization was what had hit him earlier today.

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