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James D Evans

Hunter S Thompson is dead. Why? How did this happen? Ah shit, why did he go and do something like that? Despite Hunters fondness for narcotics and liquor, and taking into account the logical mental turbulence consistent with that, I never did have him down as depressed. Depressed about the state of his country maybe but not so depressed about his place in it. Harbinger of strange doom, critique of the phoney masses, a conduit for reason, but above all a perverse player throwing himself to the chaos and the sitting back to see what comes of it all. Suicide just doesn’t seem his style.

Of course later I find the truth: Seems the guy was broken, didn't want to suffer the indignity of growing physically old. Two hip replacements and a broken ankle were getting himd down. He was a private man to boot and probably was't governed by the constraints of ego that may have tempted some people to exit this stage with a little less ambiguity. It's a shame but if this really was what he had always wanted, as has been mooted, then so be it.

My next concern is one for the long term. Will his work be given the kudos it so rudely deserves? In case you haven’t guessed I take him very seriously indeed. A man with a turn of phrase that can hinge with the best of them. For some, his mere subject matter could preclude any serious notion of him being regarded as a great writer, or at least a refusal to elevate Hunter's proclivities to anything other than playful folly. He made no bones about it either. Intoxication was not an intellectual exercise. Born out of boredom, frustration, anger maybe, Thompson’s gargantuan binges came across as the perverse backdrop to an already colourful life style. As if, after passing comment on the American dream gone wrong, he had something more important to do – to get on with the business of being Hunter S Thompson.

The not ungenuine outrage he felt towards the Nazis on Capitol Hill often felt like the footnote to the more important matter at hand - that of amusing himself. There’s an article of his and I can’t recall from which work it features. I think it may have been ‘Kingdom of Fear’ but it could have been one of the rare digressions you find within the more conventional narratives of ‘Hell Angels’. It goes like this. He’s complaining about the fact that his landlord wanted to evict him from some flat he used to live in. Seems the neighbours didn’t take to the weird and wonderful guests he had around on a regular basis. Thompson reasons that he looked after the place and nothing really happened to merit his eviction except maybe for disingenuous noise levels. Something like that, I can’t remember. Anyway, he recalls with straight-faced candour the sonically intense by product of a game they played involving hurling dustbins under the wheels of passing vehicles. As you do.

It’s a good job I discovered Thompson as late in life as I did. He would have given me bad ideas had I found him young, a vibrant fuel for my teenage passion for watching things destruct.

When I was in Asia I found I had a lot of time on my hands. That’s the thing with travelling. You spend a lot of time lying on your bed avoiding the midday heat. For solace I found myself in cafes a lot, drinking coffee and pouring over the Bangkok Post. I read a lot, for me at least, and it was there I read ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ for the first time. It wasn’t my first encounter with the inventor of gonzo journalism. Some years earlier I had read ‘Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail’ and promptly proclaimed it to be the best book I had ever read. Why I waited so long before tackling his other works was probably born out of a stubborn reluctance to indulge in something so risibly cultist as his most famous work. My loss perhaps, but the timing worked out well. I read it in pretty much two sittings whilst waiting for my visa for Laos to come through. A perfect Bangkok read given the licentiousness of my time there. I loved it, had me in tears of laughter, and what’s more I willingly let it inflect the sort of journal I was keeping as a record of my Asian odyssey. He’s easy to pastiche but that’s not to say he’s a lazy writer. His vocabulary is impressive and his sentence construction consistent. He is in fact a very intelligent writer.

But where does he really lie in the grand literary scheme of things? His most obvious legacy will be that of a chronicler of his time. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas records the aftermath of that great democratic revolution that was the 1960’s. This is easy to take for granted now but to reflect so promptly on the missed opportunity the Summer of Love presented, without sounding trite, even today when the iconography of the time has been reduced to something so very cartoon… it’s something very special. The book will occasionally break from the madness to stand back and take stock, but (strangely) never to question whether this grim portent should in anyway effect the way the author lead his life. The hard and fast truth is that Hunter steadfastly adhered to this coda of living dangerously, behaving ‘like a beast to cope with the pain of being a man’. And you got the impression that you were in on the joke, whatever your own take on nihilistic hedonism was. But as you got older and the hangovers got worse and you started to ease your foot off the accelerator of a car called intoxication, there was Hunter, waving a shotgun in one hand and a bottle of bourbon in the over. Throw in some ether for good measure and to hell with the consequences. It’s a miracle that he got away with it all for so long; given that the American authorities usually take a very dim view over such things. I guess he built up a reputation fast enough that he could be tolerated for fear of what he might do if you were to ever try and reel him in. It’s that old problem of preaching to the converted and the people who don’t want to hear what you’ve got to say don’t listen anyway.

And so is this at the crux of what Mr Hunter S Thompson undertook on the 21st February 2005? Had he grown tired of his country’s refusal to listen to his particular brand of common sense? Because it inadvertently came packaged in Thompson’s indigestible brand of acerbic foul-mouthed humour? The tears of a clown all right, but boy did he keep that one under wraps. I look forward to finding out as much as possibly can about his state of mind in the days leading up to his death. It just doesn’t seem his style this whole suicide business. Sometimes you got the feeling he’d spent is whole life limbering up for something very focused, a sort of Ginsberg-esque ‘Howl’ for the logo generation. Hey, maybe there will be a twist? A posthumous work to vindicate his disciples? Whatever, the tragedy is that America has lost one of the most astute social commentators of it’s time but I’m guessing the majority won’t even care.
© James Evans Feb 24th 2005

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