Saturday, August 20, 2005

Dr. Hunter S Thompson - In Memoriam


Today in a cannon the height of the Statue of Liberty in Woody Creek, Colorado, Johnny Depp will fire off a blast of the final remains of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. The Doc had become so ill, so dependent on others, he decided to take his own life in February of this year. He will be as explosive in death as in life.

He was a good part among several other influences which led me to write about Politics and America. (They are NOT the same thing.) Of course, being a good Southern-born lad from Kentucky, the words and stories Thompson poured out created an American saga like no other. People feared him, respected him, or just sought his presence, likely because he could tell both the Truth and the Lie so well. Oh, the anecdotes are as common as flies in summer, but the Doc had the words and the questions no one had the guts to speak for generations.

One of my favorites was aimed at American "journalists":
"With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms."

One of the first collections I read many years ago was "The Great Shark Hunt" and laughed so hard and learned so many things, I gained my first understanding about what an American writer could he. His 1974 essay "Fear and Loathing At The Super Bowl" joined us like twin sons thanks to events in my life in 1989. Fate had provided yours truly with a free trip on NBC's tab to the Doral Country Club in Miami to live among the Rolls Royce crowd for days as I covered the Super Bowl. I relished the opportunity to follow in the Doctor's mighty footsteps and stood on my bungalow balcony on that sacred Sunday morning and read aloud from a goofy religious pamphlet, again, which Fate had left on a bathroom floor in a downtown Miami bar the night before just for me, and just as the Doc had discovered outside his hotel room for himself those many years ago. Adorned in a flimsy hotel bathrobe, I extolled the Sunday faithful of Our duty that day in a manner I hoped the Doctor would bless.

Which leads to another of my favorite Thompson quotes:
"A word to the wise is infuriating."

I read more of his books and essays, always laughing, often outraged and usually illustrated by the absurd America as captured by artist Ralph Steadman, who said of the Doctor's passing: "...he was a real American, a pioneer, with a huge and raging mind .... He was a genuine son of the Kentucky pioneers."

In 1999, in an article titled "Hey Rube, I Love You" for Rolling Stone, he says he was a reckless juvenile delinquent who stole cars and "and did a lot of fast driving in places like Nashville ... We needed music on those nights and it usually came on the radio, on the 50,000 watt clear-channel stations like WWL in New Orleans and WLAC in Nashville. That is where I went wrong, I guess -- listening to WLAC and driving all night across Tennessee in a stolen car that wouldn't be reported for three days. That is how I got introduced to Howlin' Wolf. We didn't know him, but we liked him and we knew what he was talking about. ... Music has always been a matter of Energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."

In the last few years, the very ill Doctor could barely move on his own, but his words were as sharp and insightful as ever. -- He saw America becoming a land of mindless Fear:
"We are turning into a nation of whimpering slaves to Fear -- fear of war, fear of poverty, fear or random terrorism, fear of being down-sized or fired because of a plunging economy, fear of getting evicted for bad debts, or suddenly getting locked up in a military detention camp on vague charges..."

The humor in America was fading -- and he saw something else on the horizon that also brought him a measure of despair and some shame, too, I think -
"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."

I want to hope that the tens of thousands of daily web loggers are making voices loud enough to be heard over the idiotic crap called Mass Media, that we will rememeber the Constitution says all power belongs to citizens and not politicians. And we need the ability to laugh at ourselves. I will and I do miss the Doctor, but the work continues.

In the epigraph to "The Great Shark Hunt", he writes a quote he credits to J. Conrad, although my research shows it goes back to Hippocrates, and even Goethe. "Art is long and life is short."
A bit more research showed me another version in the poem "A Psalm of Life" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow - See ya round, Doc.

"Art is long and time is fleeting
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still like muffled drums are beating
Funeral marches to the grave."





2 comments:

Mountain Girl said...

Beautiful post, Joe.

Tennessee Jed said...

I can not think of a better time to use my favorite H.S. Thompson line:

When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.