Writers' obituaries by other writers are normally very well-written. Besides chronicling-reminiscing about the deceased, they afford us a chance to appreciate the eulogizer's own writing and life. Occasionally, as illustrated by Jan Herman, obits afford one final chance to drive the knife in, and twist it deeply.
Various excellent obituaries have already been published about Hunter S Thompson's death. The weeklies will have additional, measured pieces once they hit the stands. And we haven't seen a Doonesbury reference yet.
Some fine pieces:
Hunter's life, like his work, was one long barbaric yawp, to use Whitman's term, of the drug-fueled freedom from and mockery of all conventional proprieties that began in the 1960s. In that enterprise Hunter was something entirely new, something unique in our literary history. When I included an excerpt from "The Hell's Angels" in a 1973 anthology called "The New Journalism," he said he wasn't part of anybody's group. He wrote "gonzo." He was sui generis. And that he was.
Yet he was also part of a century-old tradition in American letters, the tradition of Mark Twain, Artemus Ward and Petroleum V. Nasby, comic writers who mined the human comedy of a new chapter in the history of the West, namely, the American story, and wrote in a form that was part journalism and part personal memoir admixed with powers of wild invention, and wilder rhetoric inspired by the bizarre exuberance of a young civilization. No one categorization covers this new form unless it is Hunter Thompson's own word, gonzo. If so, in the 19th century Mark Twain was king of all the gonzo-writers. In the 20th century it was Hunter Thompson, whom I would nominate as the century's greatest comic writer in the English language.
He's fine when hanging out with Warren Zevon, but he appears a bit lost when he's discharging fire extinguishers, or hurling blown-up fuck-dolls around the scenery, as if this sort of thing was expected of him. "He was never one to hang around when it was time to go," a mutual friend e-mailed me on Monday. The realization that this might have occurred to him before it occurred to us is a very melancholy one.