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You may have heard Hunter S. Thompson killed himself this weekend. Or maybe you didnít. His passing seems to have generated only a tiny blip in mainstream media, especially compared to his influence on the lives of most of the degenerates I know, directly or otherwise. So hereís a little something to make up for it, courtesy of degenerate RVI:
In Memoriam, Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter S. Thompson would choose to kill himself the day I have a horrible cold so that the words I might have used to praise him would not come. But he was like that, always doing the most unexpected things at the worst possible moments. And as for my words, he could have cared less - the finest monument to HST is the stack of books and articles he left behind.
But what Hunter S. Thompson meant to me, while it was no concern of his, is important to me. I started reading his books 25 years go and in that span of time, even though I never knew the man, I did know his words, the inspiration they provided and the outright humor. Thompson was a man who knew he was stuck on a Ship of Fools, that this country had betrayed every creative impulse it had in favor of a comfortable mediocrity and a rule by people "with the morals of a used car salesman." He knew it and said so, often and well.
In the course of stepping out of line, Hunter Thompson became part of the counter culture of the 60s and the drug use that was endemic to that scene; the drugs were to become the lens through which he interpreted the world for the rest of his life. It was a practice he neither hid nor apologized for and it featured prominently, if exaggeratedly, in many of his stories, fictional and journalistic. One of the reasons I never felt the need to do much experimentation with drugs past a certain point was Hunter Thompson. He was the explorer into unknown and forbidding, dangerous territory and wrote in his reports back to the rest of us what he saw in the hallucinatory terrain, the flora, the fauna, the wildness, the fear. Thompson had already gone there and done such a thorough job of mapping it, so far as I was concerned, I never needed to.
As a 14 year old reading Thompson for the first time, I didnít know what to make of him. I had inherited a copy of The Great Shark Hunt, ironically enough, from the collection of a man of very interesting reading tastes who decided heíd had enough of this life and shot himself in the head. I could pile word atop word here and never touch what Thompson meant for me, so I will stop with a mere suggestion: first, he taught me, a lonely outcast in a small rural town that had no use for creativity, that being a Freak was a badge of honor, whatever route one had taken that brought one into the Freak Kingdom; second, he was the first writer I read that challenged me to actually try to write better and to write honestly about what I experienced. I donít know that Iíve lived up to the latter challenge to this day, but simply trying has made me a better writer than I would have been otherwise, raised in a community where literacy was held to be as important as learning the Zen tea ceremony and in a school where the most popular English teacher was proud of churning out rooms full of people who could write the cookie cutter 5 paragraph no-thought essay and who thought speed reading the classics was a virtue. A deed best done quick, I suppose.
Thompson didnít write cookie cutter anything, and he didnít live a cookie cutter life. In the past year I had the privilege of rereading nearly all of Thompsonís books, many of which have been my companions through terrible times and have said to me, "What would Horatio Alger do at a time like this?"
But I also read his collections of letters and saw a side of the man you will not see if you only read his Gonzo articles, a side that reveals a more thoughtful, rational, complex person than youíd expect otherwise. He was also a man, one of the finest American writers of all time, whom we discover couldnít keep his bills paid because he couldnít get the magazine and book editors to turn loose of what they owed him in return for writing some of that now famous work. He was not a demigod or an uncaring wildman - he was a writer who wanted to be a damn good writer in a time that had decreasing use for damn good writers, especially those that werenít doing cookie cutter work for an increasingly illiterate and unimaginative readership.
I donít know why now, after his many accomplishments and after living through all the things he did, Hunter S. Thompson decided to shoot himself Sunday night. No one will ever really know why now, so thereís little point in asking. All I can say is that one of my steady literary companions and inspirations decided that this world was no longer worth his time. And maybe it wasn't, the direction itís taken. I just wish he had gone out in the backyard once more and shot at the gongs he had mounted on the mountainsides and then went in and typed out some hell-raising screed about George W. instead of deciding to hang up his spurs with such finality. But Thompson always was like that. He did as he pleased and staked everything on the decision.
"You buy the ticket, you take the ride."
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