I have recently had more than one occasion to quote from the inimitable Hunter S. Thompson, a favorite writer from back in the day who is recently deceased from a lethal overdose of harsh reality.
I was just a sprout when I read Hell’s Angels, Thompson’s first major commercial success. I found the writing extremely entertaining, the author’s skill with language uncanny. I had no idea that he was just getting warmed up for what would become a phenomenal gale of journalistic and literary hyper-excellence the likes of which the world had never seen. By the sheer power of his writing he lifted himself into a whole new category in which he remains the sole member. We’ll not likely see another like him.
The only other important thing to be said about FEAR & LOATHING at this time is that it was fun to write, and that’s rare—for me, at least, because I’ve always considered writing the most hateful kind of work. I suspect it’s a bit like fucking —which is fun only for amateurs. Old whores don’t do much giggling. Nothing is fun when you have to do it—over and over, again and again—or else you’ll be evicted, and that gets old. So it’s a rare goddamn trip for a locked-in, rent-paying writer to get into a gig that, even in retrospect, was a kinghell, highlife fucking from start to finish… and then to actually get paid for writing this kind of manic gibberish seems genuinely weird; like getting paid for kicking Agnew in the balls. So maybe there’s hope. Or maybe I’m going mad…. In a nation ruled by swine, all pigs are upward mobile—and the rest of us are fucked until we can put our acts together: Not necessarily to Win, but mainly to keep from Losing Completely…. The Swine are gearing down for a serious workout this time around…. So much, then, for The Road—and for the last possibilities of running amok in Las Vegas… Well, at least, I’ll know I was there, neck deep in the madness, before the deal went down, and I got so high and wild that I felt like a two-ton Manta ray jumping all the way across the Bay of Bengal.
“Jacket Copy for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” THE GREAT SHARK HUNT (NY: Simon & Schuster 1979), pp 109-110
Though not a stereotypical hippie (or anything else), Hunter shared our outsider point of view and related to our alienation and disgust with society. He found shelter, acceptance and friendship among the hippies and affirmation that he wasn’t the only one who saw the larger culture as hopelessly self-destructive and unsustainable, not to mention batshit insane.
The hippies, who had never really believed they were the wave of the future anyway, saw the election results as brutal confirmation of the futility of fighting the establishment on its own terms. There had to be a whole new scene, they said, and the only way to do it was to make the big move—either figuratively or literally—from Berkeley to the Haight-Ashbury, from pragmatism to mysticism, from politics to dope…. The thrust is no longer for ‘change’ or ‘progress’ or ‘revolution,’ but merely to escape, to live on the far perimeter of a world that might have been.
May 1967, “The Hashbury is the Capital of the Hippies,” from THE GREAT SHARK HUNT (NY: Simon & Schuster 1979), pp 392-394
Hunter was loved, admired and held in awe by the hippie community. He loved us too.
“We were warriors then, and our tribe was strong like a river.”
Hunter S. Thompson
People of my generation speak a lot about the 60s and there are damned good reasons – especially now when they seem so instructive for the current times. Here’s Hunter’s take on it.
It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era—the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run… but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant…. History is hard to know, because of all the hired bull, but even without being sure of ‘history’ it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time—and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened…. There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda…. My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or five or maybe forty nights — or very early mornings — when I left the Fillmore half-crazy and, instead of going home, aimed the big 650 Lightning across the Bay Bridge at a hundred miles an hour… booming through the Treasure Island tunnel at the lights of Oakland and Berkeley and Richmond, not quite sure which turnoff to take when I got to the other end… but being absolutely certain that no matter which way I went I would come to a place where people were just as high and wild as I was: no doubt at all about that. You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning…. And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply PREVAIL. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave…. So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.
“Genius Round the World Stands Hand in Hand….”, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Vintage, 1971), pp 66–68
At a time when I hated both politicians and politics Hunter turned me on to the necessity of paying close attention to the clowns in that arena.
“Politics is the art of controlling your environment.”
Hunter S. Thompson
Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72 (1973)
If the current polls are reliable… Nixon will be re-elected by a huge majority of Americans who feel he is not only more honest and more trustworthy than George McGovern, but also more likely to end the war in Vietnam. The polls also indicate that Nixon will get a comfortable majority of the Youth Vote. And that he might carry all fifty states…. This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it—that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable. The tragedy of all this is that George McGovern, for all his mistakes… understands what a fantastic monument to all the best instincts of the human race this country might have been, if we could have kept it out of the hands of greedy little hustlers like Richard Nixon. McGovern made some stupid mistakes, but in context they seem almost frivolous compared to the things Richard Nixon does every day of his life, on purpose…. Jesus! Where will it end? How low do you have to stoop in this country to be President?
“September,” from FEAR AND LOATHING ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL ’72 (Warner Books, 1973), pp 413–414
Hunter had a way of cutting straight to the heart of any matter and making complicated truths seem simple and plain.
In a nation run by swine, all pigs are upward-mobile and the rest of us are fucked until we can put our acts together: Not necessarily to Win, but mainly to keep from Losing Completely.
Gonzo Papers, Vol. 1: The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time (1979)
For all the stir he caused Hunter was poorly understood by many. He spent a lot of time explaining himself to those who lacked sufficient perspective to grok his genius.
Fiction is based on reality unless you’re a fairy-tale artist, you have to get your knowledge of life from somewhere. You have to know the material you’re writing about before you alter it.
Associated Press interview (2003)
But speaking of rules, you’ve been arrested dozens of times in your life. Specific incidents aside, what’s common to these run-ins? Where do you stand vis-à-vis the law?
“Goddammit. Yeah, I have. First, there’s a huge difference between being arrested and being guilty. Second, see, the law changes and I don’t. How I stand vis-à-vis the law at any given moment depends on the law. The law can change from state to state, from nation to nation, from city to city. I guess I have to go by a higher law. How’s that? Yeah, I consider myself a road man for the lords of karma.”
Salon interview (2003-02-03)
If you’re going to be crazy, you have to get paid for it or else you’re going to be locked up.
BankRate.com Interview (2004-11-01)
Now before I post this next excerpt let me just say that I do not believe that everyone should emulate Doctor Gonzo’s example and go hog wild on drugs. I do believe however that we need to stop the insanity of prohibition and the horrendous and counter-productive ‘war on drugs’ as experience has shown that people have always used drugs and always will of the type and in the quantities that they so see fit and the laws, social admonitions and real-world consequences be damned. Education, harm reduction and compassionate care make sense, none of the rest of it does. It is just hypocrisy. That being said, I do not believe that even Hunter S. Thompson could consume the drugs in the dosages and quantities he speaks of in his writing (though I do know he was legendary in this respect and even witnessed it to some extent). To explain that last parenthetical, I once met the great Hunter S. Thompson and spent the better part of 24 hours with him and another friend known as Doctor John – but that is a book in itself and very much a story for another time.
The fact remains, and should be born in mind, that Hunter, like many good writers, was given to embellishment and hyperbole – though with Hunter it’s hard to know just where to draw that line. And it bears mentioning here that he was, of course, a mutant.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971)
We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive…” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?”
No point mentioning those bats, I thought. The poor bastard will see them soon enough.
The sporting editors had also given me $300 in cash, most of which was already spent on extremely dangerous drugs. The trunk of the car looked like a mobile police narcotics lab. We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls. All this had been rounded up the night before, in a frenzy of high-speed driving all over Los Angeles County — from Topanga to Watts, we picked up everything we could get our hands on. Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug-collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.
The only thing that really worried me was the ether. There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge. And I knew we’d get into that rotten stuff pretty soon.
HST – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
As hilarious as that is, Hunter was at his best when he wrote about American politics. No other subject was better suited to his switchblade wit, laser-vision and extraterrestrial wisdom.
Welcome to the Big Darkness (July, 2003)
When I went into the clinic last April 30, George Bush was about 50 points ahead of his closest Democratic opponent in next year’s Presidential Election. When I finally escaped from the horrible place, less than three weeks late, Bush’s job-approval ratings had been cut in half — and even down into single digits, in some states — and the Republican Party was panicked and on the run. It was a staggering reversal in a very short time, even shorter than it took for his equally crooked father to drop from 93 percent approval, down to as low as 43 percent and even 41 percent in the last doomed days of the first doomed Bush Administration. After that, he was Bill Clinton’s punching bag.
Richard Nixon could tell us a lot about peaking too early. He was a master of it, because it beat him every time. He never learned and neither did Bush the Elder.
But wow! This goofy child president we have on our hands now. He is demonstrably a fool and a failure, and this is only the summer of ’03. By the summer of 2004, he might not even be living in the White House. Gone, gone, like the snows of yesteryear.
The Rumsfield-Cheney axis has self-destructed right in front of our eyes, along with the once-proud Perle-Wolfowitz bund that is turning to wax. They somehow managed to blow it all, like a gang of kids on a looting spree, between January and July, or even less. It is genuinely incredible. The U.S. Treasury is empty, we are losing that stupid, fraudulent chickencrap War in Iraq, and every country in the world except a handful of Corrupt Brits despises us. We are losers, and that is the one unforgiveable sin in America.
HST – Welcome to the Big Darkness
The following quotes are from the last four or five years of Hunter’s life. Many of them address matters that are still very much with us…sad to say.
The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now— with somebody— and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives.
“Kingdom of Fear” (2001-09-12)
It will be guerilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy…. We are going to punish somebody for this attack, but just who or what will be blown to smithereens for it is hard to say. Maybe Afghanistan, maybe Pakistan or Iraq, or possibly all three at once. Who knows?
“Kingdom of Fear” (2001-09-12)
This is going to be a very expensive war, and Victory is not guaranteed—for anyone, and certainly not for anyone as baffled as George W. Bush. All he knows is that his father started the war a long time ago, and that he, the goofy child-President, has been chosen by Fate and the global Oil industry to finish it Now.
“When War Drums Roll” (2001-09-17)
The last half of the 20th century will seem like a wild party for rich kids, compared to what’s coming now. The party’s over, folks. . . [Censorship of the news] is a given in wartime, along with massive campaigns of deliberately-planted “Dis-information”. That is routine behavior in Wartime— for all countries and all combatants— and it makes life difficult for people who value real news.
“When War Drums Roll” (2001-09-17)
This blizzard of mind-warping war propaganda out of Washington is building up steam. Monday is Anthrax, Tuesday is Bankruptcy, Friday is Child-Rape, Thursday is Bomb-scares, etc., etc., etc…. If we believed all the brutal, frat-boy threats coming out of the White House, we would be dead before Sunday. It is pure and savage terrorism reminiscent of Nazi Germany.
“Domestic terrorism at the Super Bowl” (2002-02-11)
We are turning into a nation of whimpering slaves to Fear—fear of war, fear of poverty, fear of random terrorism, fear of getting down-sized or fired because of the plunging economy, fear of getting evicted for bad debts, or suddenly getting locked up in a military detention camp on vague charges of being a Terrorist sympathizer.
“Extreme behavior in Aspen” (2003-02-03)
It is hard to ignore the prima facie dumbness that got us bogged down in this nasty war in the first place. This is not going to be like Daddy’s War, old sport. He actually won, and he still got run out of the White House nine months later.. . The whole thing sucks. It was wrong from the start, and it is getting wronger by the hour.
“Love in a Time of War” (2003-03-31)
Three journalists have died in Baghdad…. American troops are killing journalists in a profoundly foreign country, under cover of a war being fought for savage, greed-crazed reasons that most of them couldn’t explain or even understand.
What the hell is going on here? How could this once-proud nation have changed so much, so drastically, in only a little more than two years. In what seems like the blink of an eye, this George Bush has brought us from a prosperous nation at peace to a broke nation at war.
“A Sad Week in America” (2003-03-10)
Why are we seeing George Bush on TV every two hours for nine or ten days at a time, like some kind of mutated Mr. Rogers clone? Something is dangerously wrong in any country where a monumentally-failed backwoods politician can scare our national TV networks so totally that they will give him anything he wants.
“The Bush League” (2003-09-09)
I have never had much faith in our embattled child President’s decision-making powers…. I know that is not what you want to hear/read at this time, especially if you happen to be serving in the doomsday mess that is currently the U.S. Army.
I take no pleasure in being Right in my dark predictions about the fate of our military intervention in the heart of the Muslim world. It is immensely depressing to me. Nobody likes to be betting against the Home team.
“Fast and Furious” (2003-10-14)
If we get chased out of Iraq with our tail between our legs, that will be the fifth consecutive Third-world country with no hint of a Navy or an Air Force to have whipped us in the past 40 years.
“Am I Turning Into a Pervert?” (2003-11-18)
This is no time for the “leader of the free world” to be falling asleep at massively-popular sporting events. . .Was [Bush] drunk? Does he fear the sight of an uncovered nipple? Was he lying? Does he believe in his heart that there are more evangelical Christians in this country than football fans and sex-crazed yoyos with unstable minds? Is he really as dumb as he looks and acts? These are all unsatisfactory questions at a time like this.
Is it possible that he has already abandoned all hope of getting re-elected? Or does he plan to cancel the Election altogether by declaring a national military emergency with terrorists closing in from all sides, leaving him with no choice but to launch a huge bomb immediately?. . . Desperate men do desperate things, and stupid men do stupid things. We are in for a desperately stupid summer.
“Bush’s Disturbing Sleeping Disorder” (2004-02-18)
The 2004 presidential election will be a matter of life or death for the whole nation. We are sick today, and we will be even sicker tomorrow if this wretched half-bright swine of a president gets re-elected in November.
“The Big Finale Was a Big Disappointment” (2004-04-06)
Not even the foulest atrocities of Adolf Hitler ever shocked me so badly as these Abu Ghraib photographs did.
“Let’s Go to the Olympics!” (2004-05-18)
These horrifying digital snapshots of the American dream in action on foreign soil are worse than anything even I could have expected. I have been in this business a long time and I have seen many staggering things, but this one is over the line. Now I am really ashamed to carry an American passport.
“Let’s Go to the Olympics!” (2004-05-18)
Today, the Panzer-like Bush machine controls all three branches of our federal government, the first time that has happened since Calvin Coolidge was in the White House. And that makes it just about impossible to mount any kind of Congressional investigation of a firmly-entrenched president like George Bush. The time has come to get deeply into football. It is the only thing we have left that ain’t fixed.
“The pain of losing” Hey Rube, HST’s ESPN column (2004-11-09)
And finally some random quotes.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.
Pray to God, but row away from the rocks.
The last train out of any station will not be full of nice guys.
Walk tall, kick ass, learn to speak Arabic, love music and never forget you come from a long line of truth seekers, lovers and warriors.
Myths and legends die hard in America. We love them for the extra dimension they provide, the illusion of near-infinite possibility to erase the narrow confines of most men’s reality. Weird heroes and mould-breaking champions exist as living proof to those who need it that the tyranny of ”the rat race” is not yet final.”
~ Hunter S. Thompson, 1937 – 2005
Any words one adds to his seem pitiful, anemic and undernourished. Suffice it to say we were blessed with a rare genius and he will be missed profoundly by a world no longer good enough, true enough, big enough, or bold enough to contain him.
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.
~ Hunter S. Thompson’s Suicide note, February 20, 2005
Goodbye brother. Rest in peace.
Res Ipsa Loquitur.