R.I.P.

The last great American died yesterday, by his own hand.

If it were any other man, the masses would be frantic with condolences. A tragedy, they would say. A loss to us all, a shock, a waste. But not our man.

The newspapers pull on their kit gloves; for them, as for the rest of us, a death in the family is disconcerting. They write nervous articles, trite and timid, weak eulogies for their psychotic and felonious uncle, the one they’d never invite to family barbecues but who always showed up anyway, the one they told their kids to stay away from. Their sighs are not so much of sadness, but of relief.

Out in the big dark, there are those like me. Rabid fans and disciples, drinking hard and trying to untangle the words to do Our Hero justice. Typing away with beers in hand, trying to explain to the blank-faced morons why the deceased was so much better than they are or can ever hope to be, at everything. Seems like worshipping HST is a mandatory requirement for self-righteous internet writers, that green, greasy scum at the bottom of the literary barrel. You can’t really blame us though, what else can we do. Our idol is fallen.

I remember, when I was younger, wondering how so many hearts could be broken when a famous person died. Yeah, I liked Nirvana. Princess Diana, she seemed like an alright gal, even though I never knew her. For me that was the point; I never knew them. How can someone who you’ve never so much as shaken hands with ever truly influence your life? Perhaps now I begin to understand.

To read a good writer, not just a writer with talent or originality or marketability, is an almost unparalleled form of intimacy. You read Robert Ludlum and you get to know caricatures, puppets dancing on a stage, you enjoy yourself, and then you go home to your boring job and your plain wife and your bullshit life, and so does the author. You read HST, you get to know a person, a living, breathing, reckless, remorseless, all-powerful human being who backs up his every impossibility and boast with reality. At least you did until yesterday. Now, now all you get to know is a memory. That’s better than nothing, I suppose. Better a memory than a myth. That’ll be the truly dark day, when people stop believing that a creature so audacious and so dangerous could ever have existed in the wild.

I don’t have any anecdotes, any stories to share, though I wish I did. I envy those whose quiet night at a bar turned into a legendary encounter. Lord knows how many smoke-filled, shadowy dives across the Midwest were graced with that snarling, profane presence. How many copy-cranking hacks are telling their friends about that one heart-pounding, split-second meeting at a press conference in Phoenix in 1985, bragging in hushed tones. You fuckers. Now they can turn their fear safely into admiration. His breed is extinct, and now we can all rest easier in our own dim, pathetic ways, since he’s not around to make us look bad. Those of you with the brilliant luck to have met him… what can I say. Jealousy is too small a word.

Badmouthing those too gun-shy or too small-minded to revere Thompson like they should is just the start of it. I understand; loving HST and his writing is a strange and dangerous thing to do, like juggling ninja stars. It’s not for everyone. I’ve gotten a lot of weird looks myself, from people who respected me and thought they had a handle on things, people who smile and nod when I tell them my favorite authors. Right up until the last one on the list, the best one, the Man Himself. You ever want an argument worth winning, kids, tell your English teacher that Hunter Thompson is the most important writer in American history. Raise your hand, tell her (or him) Emily Dickinson was a crazy bitch and Mark Twain was a racist and The Scarlet Letter is more effective than prescription pills for curing insomnia. Tell her that Amy Tan is a spineless whiner, that Thoreau deserved every second of his jail time, and that Song of Myself is the shittiest, most masturbatory poem in any language ever. Roll up your sleeve and show her your Gonzo tat, give her the finger, steal her car, and drive south at 120 mph till you hit Honduras. Why?

Motherfucker it’s the right thing to do.

At times, though, it’s worse to meet someone who likes him. There’s some movie, some teen piece of shit set in the 70’s, where the characters talk about Fear and Loathing in one scene. I can’t remember what movie it is, Providence something, whatever. Anyway, I’m watching this movie, and I see the character whip the book out. It’s me, so of course I start screaming and clapping like a chimp with a twinkie up its ass. My noise dies down eventually and I realize the thing that these two fuckmooks like about the book is the drugs. The book is cool because it has drugs.

I hate you
so much.

The next pothead that walks into my room and gives me that droopy-eyed grin when they see my F&L poster is losing teeth. I might not weigh much, but me and a firepoker could do wonderful and terrible things to that junkie fuck.

It’s not about the drugs.

Hunter Stockton Thompson was and is my hero, above all others. Hero is a word that gets whored around so much it’s lost almost all of its meaning; I trust you’ll look past its worn exterior, and see into the beating, red heart of the concept.

Why, you ask. Why indeed.

People talk about living to the fullest. Find me a man who has lived a fuller life. People talk about taking risks. Find me a man who has taken more. People talk about fighting for what you believe in. Find me a man who defeated more enemies for his causes. I’ve never known a man so absolutely fearless about everything. The kind of honesty required for a life like that, to never let anyone or anything stand in your way… He was the most honest liar I’ve ever encountered. If I had a dustspeck of HST’s courage I’d be long the fuck gone, doing better things than grinding away a rainy monday mourning a hero, dreading my exams, and drinking keystones.

A teacher once told me she hated Thompson’s books because she could never support an evil protagonist. How can you not. Fear and Loathing taught me to root for the villain, because sometimes villainy is righteous. On the Campaign Trail taught me that ruthlessness in prose and in action is as admirable a trait as kindness. The Great Shark Hunt, The Rum Diary, all the rest… They taught me what it means to be a person of substance, not just of morality. Rooting for the villain… person of substance… fuck. That’s not even what I mean. It takes a better writer than I am to explain it, I suppose. It’s… his characters, and himself (the line that separates them is thin at best), are like monuments to a greater way of life than you or I know of. When your every action and your every written word are scathing insults to the mundane masses, to the mediocre hordes…

Think of it this way. Let’s invent a believable American 67 year old, and compare. Our invention is named Mark… or Hugh. I like Hugh better. Hugh lives in Kentucky, where he was born. He was good at writing, at sports, and did alright in school. He got a few speeding tickets in his twenties, but has never been arrested. He served a few years in the Navy, and became a certified accountant on the G.I. bill after his tour ended. He married a woman named Joan, an assistant manager at a Motel 6, and they had a couple of kids. Hugh pays his taxes, he doesn’t smoke, and has a good life insurance policy. He’s 5’10” and drives a 1996 Chevy S10 he bought from the dealership his nephew works for. He got a pretty good deal. He spends his weekends fixing up the house he and Joan bought after the kids moved out; it’s small and the floorboards creak, but it’s just right for them. He’ll paint it, probably yellow, and fix the fence when spring comes around. He likes the Colts. He’s never been to another country, although he went to Los Angeles once, just after he got out of the Navy. He’s got a bad left knee, and his wife talks too loud. Accounting, well, accounting pays the bills, and he’ll retire soon. Then he can go fishing more often. Hugh votes in every election, and wishes Joan would let them get another dog. Hugh died yesterday.

How can you tell which of these men lived a better life? Honestly, with so many criteria and variables and values at stake, how can you even begin to compare one man’s life to another? Who is to say that one of these paths is better than the other?

I am. Hunter Thompson wins, without question. Compared to Hugh, and compared to your sorry ass. To travel the world, writing a sports page in a ragtag Puerto Rican newspaper, getting beat up by the Hell’s Angels, devastating Nixon’s devious ass with your political commentary and insight, smoking and drinking and shooting things and never, ever, ever being afraid of anything, be it man, woman, beast, or authority figure. That is the better life; that is the fucking high road. Those of you who hold contentment and ease above idealism, who see nothing but mischief and trouble where there’s defiance and glory… Enjoy your lives, you meek and defeated bastards. I’d rather go full tilt. I’d rather emulate the man whose words cut to the heart of our rotted, gluttonous politics. Not like the mumbling, apologetic soundbites you see on TV, I’m talking about writing that rips those corrupt demons to shreds, like fuckin Wolverine versus a piñata. Better to live on a compound filled with peacocks, automatic weapons, and typewriters deep in the mountains than a tract house filled with snack foods, cable TV, and broken dreams. Better to take your own life to punctuate it than wither away, gray and regretful and lost.

I really would’ve liked to have met him. Why couldn’t you have held out just a little longer, you old bastard.

Perhaps the only real tragedy out of the whole mess is this:

The only man on Earth qualified to write a eulogy for Hunter S. Thompson died yesterday.

Goodbye, and thanks for everything.

-T.

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