Sunday, July 20, 2008
Finally, Some Truth About Hunter S. Thompson
I knew this movie was coming out, but I had no idea it would be in Nashville this fast; as it was, I was on my way out of town on Saturday afternoon before I learned, and I knew since it was playing at the local non-profit theatre, I only had a few days. I couldn't find anyone to go with me. People will sell out a theatre to see another Batman movie, but I went to see Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson alone. Not that there weren't people there, mind you, but I wondered how many were there for the right reason.
I'd been really disappointed in the HST movies to date. I'm a big fan of both Bill Murray and to a lesser extent, Johnny Depp, but both Where Buffalo Roam and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas were for the most part pointless exploitations of Thompson's Gonzo image, Raoul Duke come to the big screen. They missed out on the important side of Thompson, the crystal-clear visionary who saw everything, including what comes next for this country and this world, and ultimately decided he'd had enough.
Those ignoramuses who know Thompson only for the darkly comedic side of his work, though not anyone who read Anita Thompson's The Gonzo Way or Thompson's oeuvre, may be surprised by the depth and width of the celebrities who considered themselves his friends. From George McGovern to Nixon speechwriter Pat Bucahanan, from Jimmy Carter to Thompson friend and benefactor George Stranahan (currently of Flying Dog Brewery) who laments that Thompson "never paid the rent, broke up my marriage, and started both my kids smoking dope," the testimonials are many, but mostly on point. And the insights into Thompson's childhood and life, although limited, are invaluable.
Of course, as Jimmy Buffett says, we miss Hunter because we need him now. Its' hard to imagine Hunter Thompson as one of today's cringing, pandering, colaborationist "journalists." We needed Dan Rather, and we need Hunter Thompson. In what may have been Thompson's last published piece, or maybe just one of the last important ones, he laments at the fall of the Twin Towers that all hope for world peace has been lost. Of course, he was right, and I think his vision was clear enough that he knew he'd done all he could do. How can we expect someone who burned so brightly, to burn forever?
I'm not going to urge you to read Thompson any more; if you haven't yet, and you're old enough to remember the sixties and seventies, there's something wrong with you. For those of you who were alive and who cared about your world, I urge you to see this movie and remember. Many of Thompson's pivotal pieces are quoted, particulary his observation that from San Francisco in the late '60's, you could see the great wave that would have changed the world, crest and roll back. Sometime there can be events in one's life that make everything after, just the anticlimax. Especially one who lives in times that he can see getting darker and darker.
Maybe it's just that I see so much of what I'd like to be in Thompson; not only his brilliance, but his absolute courage. And of course, his success. I pretend not to be envious. But there 's no doubt that his example changed my life forever. Of course he was nut, in a way, but so am I, and in lots of the same ways. I just haven't made a living at it yet.
Thompson is not the only writer whose shadow got so big it became hard to live under. Look at Jack Kerouac, who had nowhere near Thompson's talent nor intelligence. Hell, look at Hemingway, or Fitzgerald, the latter whose style Thompson so admired that he typed and re-typed The Great Gatsby just to get the rhythm of the prose.
Sometimes, when I get a little perspective, I see that maybe I'm not really all that sane or normal. But then I look around and see where we are in history, what a disaster human civilization has become, and I realize it's the sane ones, the normal ones, the ones who can live with hypocrisy, the ones who refuse to yell and thrash shoot and point at the imposters, that have put us where we are -- the Good Germans who would allow the whole world to become a mass grave of their unspoken and spineless good intentions. And I'm proud not to be among them, and I'm glad there was a Hunter Thompson, to help me do what I'll have to do, to do what has to be done. And to realize that, warts and all, to be truly human is not to be a peaceful coward, but to be truly alive.