First I removed the jacket so I wouldn’t have to look at Hunter Thompson’s naked ass everytime I picked up the book. The rear cover is adorned with a full body nude shot of the author carrying some kind of pop-gun. Next I turned to the back pages: the Kingdom of Fear Honor Roll. He didn’t include me. Marilyn Chambers and Lyle Lovett made the list. Kesey is there. Nicholson, Steadman, George McGovern and if I remember correctly, even Johnny Depp are there. But the fey, peacock fluffing, liberal weenie left me off – and Trudeau – Gary Trudeau, perhaps Thompson’s most authentic chronicler, didn’t make the godlet of gonzo journalistic excess’s bullshit honor roll either.
Okay, back to the front. Opening the front cover we see: “Weave a circle round him thrice…”. Why do these gonzoid types have a need to invoke Coleridge as if he’s the only wordster ever to have copped a buzz?
I hadn’t even finished the author’s note before I’d dribbled teriyaki sauce on the picture of the man in the sardine shirt. Some of the photos in this book are worth the price of admission. It’s January 7th in Eau Claire, Wisconsin – 50 degrees fahrenheit, about forty above normal I’d say, and I’m sitting in a Red Lobster restaurant shoveling in an appetizer and an entree simultaneously. The appetizer contains artichokes from down around Monterey, California and lobster meat from Maine. The entree has mangos and papayas in a sweet salsa concoction beside the teriyaki fried tilapia. Is this a great country or what? Tilapia seems to be some cod-like creature and the meal is on a par with your typical Norwegian immigrant Lutheran church women’s lutefisk and lefse supper, which is to say not bad if you slather on enough butter. Unfortunately there’s no butter.
But it is 50 degrees outside and this is northern Wisconsin in mid-winter so we do have reason to thank the family Bush and the senex Reagan, and his anglo-slattern accomplice Meg Thatcher without whom global warming would have remained a science fiction concept. They didn’t make the back of the book either.
The red thread running through this tedious tome is “not guilty.” If Thompson’s collection of over wrought yet unfinished anecdotes has a theme, it would have to be “don’t blame me,” or “not guilty your honor.” These are tales of denial. (I wonder if the honor roll comprises his top legal defense donors?) In a way it’s too bad the doctor didn’t spend any serious time inside. A little jail time would have provided more grist for the gonzo mill. How many times must we hear the same tired story about driving fast as a teenager in Louisville, Kentucky? And the fatuous nonsense about how bad a Vincent Black Shadow is to ride? Before she died, my mother-in-law Helen Vincent pointed out that in those days what the world needed was a hundred mile an hour touring bike. Helen was not killed in a motorcycle crash, no matter what Thompson would like you to believe.
There are some startling insights in the book of course… the diffuse sexuality of the sexuagenarian is revealed. How many of us have yearned to suck on the spinal column of a fat young boy? So there are a few new, unique, revelatory bacon bits larding Thompson’s quiche of denial. And there’s nothing wrong with publishing your trunk if you’ve got one and someone is willing to publish it, but… okay. Let’s admit it. The double whammy ironic twist here is that TRUTH is stranger than gonzo journalism. The 20th century Thompson would’ve used anthrax and exploding skyscrapers for effect. Today they’re straight news.
And all that fear has gotten old. Thompson’s an adrenaline junkie always searching for that angry fix. His anger is rooted in fear or vice versa. But here in the 21st century — lucky us… there’s nuthin to be scairt of no more. The truth is hanging out there in plain sight, no need for the revelatory excesses of gonzo anything. In this regard both Thompson and I are old and in the way. I resonate to the truth he tells in a passage like,
“Every time I hear ‘White Rabbit’ I am back on the greasy midnight streets of San Francisco, looking for music, riding a fast red motorcycle downhill into the Presidio, leaning desperately into the curves through the eucalyptus trees, trying to get to the Matrix in time…. [There were no Walkmans, but once] … you heard the music done right, you could pack it into yr. brain & take it anywhere forever.”
Thompson used to fret over deadlines and Jann Wenner’s relentless demands for more copy on the “mojo wire.” That mojo wire was a 300 baud acoustic coupler driving a TTY session. I remember that set-up. And Thompson’s bike was fast, but it wasn’t all that fast. And the Angels were bad but they probably weren’t much badder than the Gypsy Jokers when you got right down to it. And it’s been like 40 fucking years since 1963 so we might ask what’s new Hunter? I’m afraid the answer is that there ain’t that much new these days with the doctor… even the thing with the puffy cheeked little boys is merely a variation on a theme. Thirty years ago, Kesey needed to finish a three book contract with Viking in the worst way, so he did. He published his trunk and called it Garage Sale. Kingdom of Fear reminds me of that effort.
Here’s something Rabindranath Tagore said that Hunter Thompson couldn’t:
Where the mind is without fear
and the head is held high;
Where Knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up
into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches
its arms toward perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost
its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee
into ever widening thought and action –
Into that heaven of freedom…
Let my country awake.
Sadly Kingdom of Fear leaves one feeling that the clear stream of Thompson’s reason has lost it’s way in the dreary desert sand of dead habit. To his credit, he can still write good motor-sickle stories.