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.
Thompson also taught me how to do politics. Thompson was a journalist in the traditional sense of the craft and, as such, he was entirely unwilling to merely observe the wrongdoings of the political class. He wanted to create a newer, better politics — or, at the very least, to so screw up the current machinery that it would no longer work for the people who he referred to as “these cheap, greedy little killers who speak for America today.”
As the 1970s went on a certain exhaustion was detectable in the powers of invention, and in the purity of the perceptions. Unlike other exponents of New Journalism, notable among them Norman Mailer and Tom Wolfe, Thompson undoubtedly ran out of steam, becoming an object of parody, as he was in Gary Trudeau’s balding Doonesbury cartoon character “Uncle Duke”. But in liberating the journalist from the canons of “objectivity” in the first place, Thompson was able to bring to his reporting all the individual’s sense of bewilderment in a hideous and complex world.
We’re left wondering what happened. He once said: “I hate to advocate weird chemicals, alcohol, violence or insanity to anyone . . . but they’ve always worked for me.” Until maybe he got wondering about the ultimate high being a 1,500-feet-per-second implantation in the neurological system.
Or the paranoia got to him — in paranoia you are your own worst enemy, and that’s a tightening circle that nobody can escape, except, say, by suicide. Or it was pain and depression brought on by reported back surgery, a broken leg and a hip replacement. Or he was playing out the last moves of the Hemingway game — the paranoid, shock-treated Hemingway who ended up with his doctor one day, crying because he said that he couldn’t write anymore, he just couldn’t write. Or America has finally become what he said it was, with lie-awake fears of suitcase nukes, jails full of secret uncharged prisoners with no legal recourse, and quiet applause for the recreational torture of Arabs in Iraq. Or people have stopped reading, and there are no more literary heroes. Or maybe he just killed himself, like a number of other people on any given day. He lived on his terms, he died on his own terms.
He was quoted as saying 9/11 had caused a “nationwide nervous breakdown” and “let the Bush crowd loot the country and savage American democracy”, according to an interview published by salon.com in February 2003.
Thompson, who regarded himself as a patriot, said civil liberties had been compromised for what he called “the illusion of security”.
That, he said was “a disaster of unthinkable proportions” and “part of the downward spiral of dumbness” he believed was plaguing the country.
May the kindly trickster gods collect you, Hunter Thompson, and drive you to where the buffalo roam, where your mind can unspool itself forever and your spirit can go on groping unsuspecting tits and trashing hotel rooms. You have earned it, Golden and Immortal Son of Classic Letters. Rest in Whatever You Would Prefer to Peace. We, the filthy and leaderless children who cherish your legacy, salute you, and will honor you with every bullet fired out of our car windows toward the unmarked desert sky.
William Pitt of truthout.org, from alternet.org
My hero died tonight. He was a flawed man, a maniac, in so many ways the antithesis of what a journalist is supposed to be. Worst of all, he told the truth. There is now one less warrior on this planet filled with Guckert clones, drones who get fed shit and regurgitate it wholesale for the masses because that is what we are trained to eat
The blogcritics roundup – reflecting many points of view on Hunter S ThompsonPowered by Sidelines