Not With a Whimper

Imagine my shock to open the paper this morning and discover that one of my heroes blew his brains out yesterday:

Hunter S. Thompson, whose life and writing, vivid and quirky reflections of each other, made him one of the principal symbols of the American counterculture, shot and killed himself yesterday at his home near Aspen.
Thompson, 67, was celebrated as a practitioner of an outraged form of personal journalism, offering off-beat ideas and observations in a style that was wildly and vividly his own and that brought him cult-like status and widespread recognition…
Part of what created his image of outlaw independence and defiance of norms and conventions was his claim to intimate familiarity with a variety of drugs and mind altering chemicals.
“I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence or insanity to anyone… but they’ve always worked for me,” he once wrote.

The thing about the good Doctor Gonzo was that he could write in a voice so personal, so unique, that it jumped off the page and grabbed you by the throat. His signature work, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, remains an American classic — a kind of Polaroid snapshot of flaming ’60s excess, written just as that decade was dying and the “Me Decade” was being born. But Fear and Loathing isn’t for tie-dyed, freeze-dried hippies — it’s as fresh and vibrant today as it was when it exploded on the world in 1971.

To illustrate, here’s one of my favorite passages from that book. Thompson (as “Doctor Raoul Duke”) and his Samoan attorney, after days of insane drugging and boozing up and down the Strip (and after completely blowing their original reason for being in Vegas in the first place, to cover the Mint 400 road race), have been hired by Rolling Stone magazine to cover the National Conference of District Attorneys’ seminar on narcotics and dangerous drugs (!), which is happening across town. So they proceed to get loaded, disguise themselves (as best they can) as D.A.s, and enter into the Belly of the Beast, prepared to fuck with the minds of as many people as possible…

My attorney was downstairs at the bar, talking to a sporty-looking cop about forty whose plastic name-tag said he was the DA from someplace in Georgia. “I’m a whiskey man, myself,” he was saying. “We don’t have much problem with drugs down where I come from.”
“You will,” said my attorney. “One of these nights you’ll wake up and find a junkie tearing your bedroom apart.”
“Naw!” said the Georgia man. “Not down in my parts.”
I joined them and ordered a tall glass of rum, with ice.
“You’re another one of these California boys,” he said. “Your friend here’s been tellin’ me about dope fiends.”
“They’re everywhere,” I said. “Nobody’s safe. And sure as hell not in the South. They like the warm weather.”
“They work in pairs,” said my attorney. “Sometimes in gangs. They’ll climb right into your bedroom and sit on your chest, with big Bowie knives.” He nodded solemnly. “They might even sit on your wife’s chest — put the blade right down on her throat.”
“Jesus God almighty,” said the southerner. “What the hell’s goin’ on in this country?”
“You’d never believe it,” said my attorney. “In L.A. it’s out of control. First it was drugs, now it’s witchcraft.”
“Witchcraft? Shit, you can’t mean it!”
“Read the newspapers,” I said. “Man, you don’t know trouble until you have to face down a bunch of these addicts gone crazy for human sacrifice!”
“Naw!” he said. “That’s science fiction stuff!”
“Not where we operate,” said my attorney. “Hell, in Malibu alone, these goddamn Satan-worshippers kill six or eight people every day.” He paused to sip his drink. “And all they want is the blood,” he continued. “They’ll take people right off the street if they have to.” He nodded. “Hell, yes. Just the other day we had a case where they grabbed a girl right out of a McDonald’s hamburger stand. She was a waitress. About sixteen years old… with a lot of people watching, too!”
“What happened?” said our friend. “What did they do to her?” He seemed very agitated by what he was hearing.
Do?” said my attorney. “Jesus Christ man. They chopped her goddamned head off right there in the parking lot! Then they cut all kinds of holes in her and sucked out the blood!”
“God almighty!” the Georgia man exclaimed… “And nobody did anything?”
“What could they do?” I said. “The guy that took the head was about six-seven and maybe three hundred pounds. He was packing two Lugers, and the others had M-16s. They were all veterans…”
“The big guy used to be a major in the Marines,” said my attorney. “We know where he lives, but we can’t get near the house.”
“Naw!” our friend shouted. “Not a major!”
“He wanted the pineal gland,” I said. “That’s how he got so big. When he quit the Marines he was just a little guy.”
“O my god!” said our friend. “That’s horrible!”
“It happens every day,” said my attorney. “Usually it’s whole families. During the night. Most of them don’t even wake up until they feel their heads going — and then of course, it’s too late.”
The bartender had stopped to listen. I’d been watching him. His expression was not calm.
“Three more rums,” I said. “With plenty of ice, and maybe a handful of lime chunks.”
He nodded, but I could see that his mind was not on his work. He was staring at our name-tags. “Are you guys with the police convention upstairs?” he said finally.
“We sure are, my friend,” said the Georgia man with a big smile.
The bartender shook his head sadly. “I thought so,” he said. “I never heard that kind of talk at this bar before. Jesus Christ! How do you guys stand that kind of work?”
My attorney smiled at him. “We like it,” he said. “It’s groovy.”

Here’s to you, Doctor Gonzo, wherever you are.

Other appreciations:



February 21, 2005
11:19 pm

I think “pulled a Hemmingway” has a better ring to it than “blew his brains out”
uber-writers and guns can be a scary combination…