Friday, February 25, 2005

Fear and Loathing in Kingdom Come

If a man dies west of the Missouri River, his soul won't go to Heaven. And if he dies west of the Cheyenne River, even the coyotes won't eat him. - [Traditional saying, 'round these parts]

I've deliberately avoided reading any eulogies, tributes, or good-goddamn-riddances to Hunter S. Thompson, before writing this one. That's my own homage to the man. This memorial is uncontaminated by mundane facts and nit-picky reality.

Dr. Hunter S. Thompson was the second greatest journalist in American history (after H.L. Mencken), the second greatest drunk in Colorado history (after John Denver), and the third greatest dope fiend in literary history (after Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William S. Burroughs). Some of which is true, and some of which must be said to appease his vengeful spirit.

Thompson was the first journalist to compare Richard Nixon to Adolf Hitler. That proves his massive cultural influence, which has spread like Creeping Jenny to every corner of the globe. Today, journalists compare every US president to Adolf Hitler. Each of them pretends that they thought of it first.

Like Burroughs, Thompson was full of memorable wisdom, however doubtful the utility of it. From Thompson we learn that Atlanta is the best place to recruit porn stars, that it's better to eat twelve hits of acid than carry it through customs, and that the US Postal Service was the major financial supporter of the Haight-Ashbury hippie culture (one or two psychedelics working as mail carriers could earn enough rent money to house a hundred freaks, not to mention keeping the chemical trade routes gushing).

In Thompson, you glimpse something of the self-imposed desperation of the counter-culture. Unlike others, Thompson recognized that, by the end of the Sixties, freakdom was forever dead. Revolutionary aspirations were now limited to doing fetch-and-carry work for hopeless squares like George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton. This did not seem to bother Thompson, who was determined not to fit in, and who had the gall to offer Muhammed Ali a cigarette and a swig of Wild Turkey.

But there is something funny about Thompson, for all his mystique of guns, drugs, and gonzo. The things that I remember most from his writings are the little touches of pathos, not the bizarre adventures and the wild rants against Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace. Thompson described how Eugene McCarthy stood outside of a factory in the cold to shake hands with workers, all of whom ignored him under orders from the union. He describes how an elderly Wallace supporter approached him (outside the hospital where Wallace lay near death from a gunshot wound) and sadly asked him why the media hated Governor Wallace so much.

These little touches show that the crazy, drug-soaked, self-destructive bastard had a heart after all. That made him a true rebel. A social misfit, he was likewise a misfit among the anti-social classes, who are generally self-righteous, puritanical, humorless, and cold-blooded.

The only thing I ever saw that came close to Objective Journalism was a closed-circuit TV setup that watched shoplifters in the General Store at Woody Creek, Colorado.

So much for Objective Journalism. Don’t bother to look for it here — not under any byline of mine; or anyone else I can think of. 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.
Hunter S. Thompson, 1972