My irregular musings on city life, politics, baseball, roller derby, and whatever happens to be getting my goat today.

Monday, February 21, 2005

"Anything I write is going to be about the death of the American Dream"

Hunter S Thompson killed himself last night. He shot himself with a handgun in the kitchen of his Woody Creek, Colorado home.

"I wouldn't recommend sex, drugs, or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me."
Thompson was a pioneer of what was known as the New Journalism, or "gonzo journalism" as he called it, in which the journalist actively involves himself in the story. In other words he was a proto-blogger. Part of his schtick was reporting, or claiming to report, while taking large amounts of hallucinogenic drugs.
"There is no way to grasp what a shallow, contemptible and hopelessly dishonest
old hack Hubert Humphrey is until you've followed him around for a while."
He told a lot of truths about the worlds of politics, journalism and sports, and those establishments defended themselves the best way they could - by characterizing him as a crackpot. an empty self-promoter, or worst of all as a brilliant writer of fiction. But while his style was unorthodox, who among the orthodox would even mention someting like "structural deprivation in domestic poverty pockets," let alone do it in a sentence that a young person grotesquely misinformed by our public eduacation system would even read and think about. Hell today's young people came up in the era of "personal responsibility," unaware that society has a structure, that it might be corrupt, or that they might be in part culpable for it. But that's not what our Hunter will be remembered for. It's best to let him speak for himself:

Weapons are my business. You name it and I know it: guns, bombs, gas, fire, knives and everytthing else. Dam few people in the world know more about weaponry than I do. i'm an expert on demolition, ballistics, blades, motors, animals--anything capable of causeing damage to man, beast or structure. Thsi is my profession, my bag, my trade, my thing . . . my evil specialty. And for this reason the editors of Scanlan's have asked me to comment on a periodical called The Police Chief.

At first I refused . . but various pressures soon caused me to change my mind. Money was not a factor in my decision. What finally spurred me to action was a sense of duty, even urgency, to make my voice heard. I am, as I said, a pro--and in this foul and desperate hour in our history I think even pros should speak up . . .

Here's a crowd of suck-asses putting out this magazine that says it's the voice of cops. Which is bullshit. All you have to do is look at the goddamnj thing to see what it is. Look at the advertizing; Fag tools! Breathalysers, "paralyzers," gas masks, sirens, funny little car radios with voice scramblers so the scum can't listen in . . but no ATTACK WEAPONS!!! Not one! The last really fuctional weapon that got mentioned in The Police Chief was the "Nutcracker Flail," a combination club and pincers about three feet long that can cripple almost anybody. It works like a huge pair of pliers: the officer first flails the living shit out of anybody he can reach . . . and then, whin a suspect falls, he swiftly applies the "nutcracker" action, gripping the victim's neck, extremities or genitals with the powerful pincers at the "reaching" end of the tool, then squeezing until all resistance ceases.

Believe me, our city streets would be a lot safer if every beat cop in the nation carried a Nutcraker Flair . . .

Another fine source of weapons info--particularly for the private citizen--is a little known book titled, How to Defend Yourself, Your Family, and Your Home--a Complete Guide to Self-Protection. Now here is a book with real class! It explains, in 307 pages of fine detail, how to set booby traps in your home so that "midnight intruders: will destroy themselves upon entry; it tells which type of shotgun is best for rapid-fire work in narrow hallways (a sawed-off double-barreled 12-guage; one barrel loaded with a huge tear gas slug, the other with Double-O buckshot). This book is invaluable to anyone who fears that his home might be invaded, at any moment, but rioters, rapers, looters, dope addicts, niggers, Reds or any other group . . .

But why grapple now with a book of such massive stature? I need time to ponder it and to run tests on the many weapons and devices that appear in the text. No professional would attempt to deal lightly with this book. It is a rare combination of sociology and stone craziness, laced with weapons technology on a level that is rarely encountered.
-writing as "Raoul Duke" in Scanlan's Monthly, June 1970

Hunter S. Thompson ran for Sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado in 1970 on the Freak Power Party ticket and narrowly lost.

"Willard is a great man," said the letter. "He is an artist and a man of taste." As it turned out, he also was a prodigious drinker in the tradition of Brendan Behan, who was said to have had "a thirst so great it would throw a shadow." I was making my own beer at the time and Willard put a great strain on the aging process; I had to lock the stuff up to keep him from getting at it before the appointed moment. . . Willard arrived shortly before I packed up and left for the East; we had a convivial few weeks, and, as a parting gesture, I left him a five-gallon jug of beer that I did not feel qualified to transport across the nation. It still had a week or so to go in the jug, then anohter few weeks of aging in quart bottles, after which it would have had a flavor to rival the nectar of the gods. Willard's only task was to bottle it and leave it alone until it was ready to drink . . .

Unfortunately, his thirst threw a heavy shadow on the schedule. He was living on a hill overlooking the southern section of the city, and among his neighbors were several others of the breed, mad drinkers and men of strange arts. Shortly after my departure he entertained one of these gentlemen, who, like my man Willard, was long on art and energy, but very short of funds.

The question of drink arose, as it will in the world of art, but the presence of poverty cast a bleak light on the scene. There was, however, this five-gallon jug of raw, unaged home brew in the kitchen. Of course, it was a crude drink and might produce beastly and undesired effects, but . . . well . . . The rest is history. After drinking half the jug, the two artists laid hands on several gallons of blue paint and proceeded to refinish the front of the house Willard was living in. The landlord, who lived across the street, witenssed this horror and called the police. They arrived to the front of the house looking like a Jackson Pollack canvas, and the sidewalk rapidly disappearing under a layer of sensual crimson. At this point, something of an argumant ensued, but WIllard is 6 feet 4, and 230 pounds, and he prevailed. For a while.

Some moments later the police came back with reinvorcements, but by this time Willard and his helper had drunk off the rest o the jug and were eager for any kind of action, be it painting or friendly violence. The intrusion of the police had caused several mottos to be painted on the front of the house, and they were not without antisocial connotations. The landlord was weeping and gnashing his teeth, loud music emanated from the interior of the desecrated house, and the atmosphere in general was one of hypertension.

The scene that followed can only be likened to the rounding up of wild beasts escaped from a zoo. Willard says he attempted to flee, but floundered on a picket fence, which collapsed with his weight and that of a pursuing officer . . .

the gentlemen of the press showed up for the usual photos. They tried to coax Willard up to the front of his cell to pose, but the other artist had undertaken to rip the toilet bowl out of the floor and smash it into smjall pieces. For the next hour, the press was held at bay with chunks of porcelain, hurled by the two men in the cell. "We used up the toilet," Willard recalls, "then we got the sink. I don't remember much of it, but I can't understand why the cops didn't shoot us. We were out of our heads."
-National Observer, April 20, 1964

Thompson was a refugee from a time when it was possible for single people to "drop out" - that is, by forgoing lots of material goods they could live cheaply enough to separete themselves from mainstream society and get an external view of it.
In 1958, I drifted north from Kentucky and became a nonstudent at Columbia. I signed up for two courses and am still getting bills for the tuition. My home was a $12-a-week room in an off-campus building full of jazz musicians, shoplifters, mainliners, screaming poets and sex addicts of every description. It was a good life. I used the university facilities and at one point was hired to stand in a booth all day for two days, collecting registration fees. Twice I walked almost the lenght of the campus at night with a big wooden box containing nearly $15,000. It was a wild feeling and I'm still not sure why I took the money to the bursar.

Being a "non" or "nco" student on an urban campus is not only simple but natural for anyone who is young, bright an concvinced that the major he's after is not on the list. Any list. A serious nonstudent is his own guidance counselor. The surprising thing is that so few people beyond the campus know this is going on.
- The Nation, September 27, 1965

His influence on me as a young man was tremendous, both with the power of his watchful cynicism and the paradoxical sense that he could find his own way, live by his own lights and still somehow have an influence. I'm at least a generation behind Thompson, he would have been about my age now when I was born, already accomplished and in the middle of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail.

But even ten or fifteen years ago, there was a sense that you could live outside the mainstream and be free, as long as you avoided going into debt. I lived in a cooperative with artists, radicals, free lovers and druggies as recently as 1996. Ambitious nonconformists from Kentucky don't run off to Haight Street or Greenwich Village to paint thses days - you can hardly be a beatnik when you need to come up with $1000 or more for rent every month. If you can afford that kind of money, you're not an outsider anymore. Sure, you're probably not a plutocrat, but you're certainly effective enough at begging for scraps from their table.

Often I hear it asked why, in these times, there doesn't seem to be a widespread social movement against the war and the Bush Administration in general, considering how many people appear to hate what's happening. There are of course a number of reasons, including the fact that these mass social movements have a decidedly mixed record. But a key factor, I think, is that rich people have us over a barrel. We need to work so much just to pay for housing and health insurance, we don't have the time or means to mount a visible opposition. Official GDP figures show a great deal of economic growth since the 60's and 70's, and a much higher average income. But anyone who has to deal with the cost of living in the real world knows those figures don't tell the whole story. In reality, we have a stagnant or declining standard of living, even with more workers per household, for most people - and a new class of petit plutocrats laughing at us from the great rooms of their exurban mini-mansions.

So the promise that America used to offer even the most cynical, that one could strike out alone and create a new way of living, seems to be vanishing. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is a complicated question. Too many people have internalized individualism as a birthright to such an extent that they no longer feel any responsibility for the well-being of other or of society. This extreme selfishness is the emotional core of todays conservative movement. But without the ability to break free from mainstream society's prescribed behaviors and outlooks, we can never really look at ourselves and see the corruption and hypocrisy which pervate our self-righteous society.

Is that why Thompson killed himself? Or was he struggling with depression? Or did he mean it as some kind of fucked-up artistic statement? Who cares?

Fuck you, Hunter. How could you leave us like this? I miss you already.

1 comment:

Bob said...

This is such a well-structured post that I saw your conclusions coming even before you made them. That's good writing, my captain. The fact that we are all "over a barrel" seems true. Everyone is too tired to seriously motivate against Bush. I'm trying to think through the extension of your argument though. Hollywood is notoriously liberal, but are they too ensconsed in the upper class to be inspiring?