Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride (Pt. 1)

Posted in R.I.P., HST on August 30th, 2005 by bill
hunter_s_thompson.jpeg So I took a couple of days off to reread Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and I lost all my momentum. It's like Dr. Thompson said to Charles Perry:

I just don't know what happened, I lost the momentum, it was just like a train on greased rails, I've been taking speed to get the momentum back, I haven't slept in three days, I haven't changed my clothes, I think my feet are rotting.

Well, it's sort of like that, except without the speed. I never got into that stuff, thank Jeebus. But I did try to emulate Dr. Thompson in other ways, which was a mistake a lot of us made after reading Fear and Loathing. If ever there were a book that should be emblazoned with the words "Don't try this at home," this is it. (Or maybe The 120 Days of Sodom; but you take my point.) I don't blame the Doctor for making us want to take drugs, abuse rental cars, and skip out on hotel bills. He never encouraged us to try this stuff, although he did make it seem like so much goddamn fun that it was hard to resist. Every Thompson fan, I'm sure, has a story about some crazy thing they never would have done if they weren't under the influence of Fear and Loathing. On the one hand, if he encouraged us to Question Authority a little, so much the better. On the other hand, it was hard to know where to stop. This was true for the Doctor himself as well; when Fear and Loathing became a huge hit, he became a celebrity, but his public image was that of Raoul Duke, his character in the book. And Duke of course was Thompson, but a grotesque and exaggerated version created for literary purposes. People loved this character, this "monster reincarnation of Horatio Alger" who did whatever he wanted and got away with it. And so Dr. Thompson seemed to feel compelled to play this character, at least in public, for the rest of his life. His friends say that in private he was very different, a gentle and thoughtful man, and I believe it — just like all the wildest comedians turn out to be quiet depressives in real life. You can see a little of this split in the recently released documentary Breakfast with Hunter, for instance in a scene where Thompson is on his way to visit Jann Wenner, the publisher of Rolling Stone. Off-camera, Thompson has secured a bouquet of flowers for Wenner, of whom he was apparently quite fond. But once the camera is rolling, he exchanges the flowers for a fire extinguisher and blasts Wenner, who tries to be a good sport but is clearly annoyed. Over time the public Hunter Thompson became a caricature of himself, drunk and mumbling rather than wired and fierce. In Breakfast with Hunter you'd hardly ever know what he's saying if the filmmaker hadn't courteously provided subtitles, and he is never seen without a glass of whiskey in his hand. It makes for an interesting comparison with some footage taken over 30 years ago that appears on the bonus disc of the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas movie. In the older film, the Doctor drawls but is comprehensible and articulate — though the whiskey again is omnipresent. This kind of thing, combined with the Doctor's suicide, provide ample fodder for those who wish to see his life as a tragedy — The Genius Who Pissed Away His Talent on Booze and Dope. And you can certainly make a case for this viewpoint; for a very well-reasoned and well-written treatment, read this story on popmatters.com. But the truth, I think, is more complicated. For one thing, however you want to look at it, Hunter Thompson produced more and better work in his life than the rest of us ever will. Sure, his early stuff was better, but isn't that true of just about every artist — and especially every rock star, which is what Hunter really was? He certainly had enough fun for ten lifetimes. And we have no proof that he killed himself in a moment of alcoholic despair; you can just as well argue that he carefully reasoned out that it was time to go. 67 years is a long time for a guy who never expected to make it to 30. In Breakfast with Hunter there's a scene where he pulls out a polaroid of himself sitting alone in a hotel room, and he looks like the saddest and loneliest man on Earth. On the other hand, we also see him working with a couple of editors on a rewrite of The Rum Diary, and he is completely alert and focused, despite taking frequent breaks to pull on his hash pipe. So I think it's misguided to view Dr. Thompson as either tragic or heroic. He was a complex human being with a light and a dark side, just like everybody. But at the same time, there's no doubt he would have been more productive — and probably happier — had he gotten off the stuff. Apparently he thought about it; in Rolling Stone's HST memorial issue, Timothy Ferris says,

Hunter occasionally talked to me about stopping drinking. He said that he had thought about joining AA but that you had to admit that you had done something wrong to join AA and he didn't feel that he had ever done anything wrong.


Loose talk for someone who claimed to understand karma; but it was his life, his karma, his problem. The ones who really suffered were those who tried to imitate the Doctor's lifestyle and were not blessed with "the constitution of a hammerhead shark." They were the ones who risked damaging themselves beyond repair. Again, I don't feel that Hunter deserves censure for what people did in imitation of him, any more than Al Pacino is responsible for all the idiots who run around thinking they're Tony Montana, or it's Lou Reed's fault if somebody heard "Heroin" and decided to try it. Caveat emptor, for sure. But he himself seemed to feel a sense of responsibility toward his fans. There's another scene in Breakfast with Hunter where he frets openly about the effect the Fear and Loathing movie is going to have on the public:

Laila Nabulsi: It's just a movie. HST: Tell that to the mother of some kid who's stabbed in the back by some dope fiend out of Vegas, and blames it on this book.

And there's an especially telling moment earlier in the film, where an earnest young man comes up to him at a bookstore signing, gushing about what a big fan he is and how much he loves Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Hunter's response is uncharacteristically sober: "Be careful about trying this stuff." That's probably what they should put on the Doctor's tombstone, if there's going to be one: "Be careful about trying this stuff." If Nancy Reagan had half a brain, that would have been her slogan, instead of "Just Say No." For the curious, the adventurous, and the easily bored, "Just Say No" never cut it; better advice would be "Be careful," "Call if you need help," and it never hurts to throw in "I love you." But that's another discussion for another time.

Yesterday’s Weirdness Is Tomorrow’s Reason Why (Part 3)

Posted in R.I.P., HST on August 22nd, 2005 by bill
I was compelled today by Dr. Thompson's ghost to type in this entire chapter from The Curse of Lono. The Doctor has more and more taken over this blog in the last week because honestly, whose words would I rather type, his or mine? No contest. No commentary I could add is going to do justice to this passage, which forms the true conclusion of the book (there's another chapter after it, which could just as well have been left out). Presented in the form of a letter to Ralph Steadman, it wraps up the threads of the Lono business, the City of Refuge, the war club, and all the rest of it with a savage elegance that only Hunter Thompson was capable of. July 1, 1981
City of Refuge (24 hours later)...I must be getting old, Ralph, eight pages is about all I can do in one night; so I took a break and got some sleep. I also felt I should back off and have a long look at this I am Lono business, because I am wary of being fooled by another false dawn.
That was the problem, Ralph. We were blind. The story we wanted was right in front of our eyes from the very start — although we can be excused, I think, for our failure to instantly understand a truth beyond reality. It was not an easy thing for me to accept the fact that I was born 1,700 years ago in an ocean-going canoe somewhere off the Kona Coast of Hawaii, a prince of royal Polynesian blood, and lived my first life as King Lono, ruler of all the islands. According to our missionary/journalist, William Ellis, I "governed Hawaii during what may in its chronology be called the Fabulous Age"...until "(I) became offended with my wife, and murdered her; but afterwards lamented the act so much, as to induce a state of mental derangement. In this state (I) traveled through all the islands, boxing and wrestling with everyone (I) met...(I) subsequently set sail in a singularly shaped 'magic' canoe for Tahiti, or a foreign country. After (my) departure (I) was deified by (my) countrymen, and annual games of boxing and wrestling were instituted in (my) honor." How's that for roots? What? Don't argue with me, Ralph. You come from a race of eccentric degenerates; I was promoting my own fights all over Hawaii fifteen hundred years before your people even learned to take a bath. And besides, this is the story. I don't know music, but I have a good ear for the high white sound...and when this Lono gig flashed in front of my eyes about 33 hours ago, I knew it for what it was. Suddenly the whole thing made sense. It was like seeing The Green Light for the first time. I immediately shed all religious and rational constraints, and embraced a New Truth. It has made my life strange and I was forced to flee the hotel after the realtors hired thugs to finish me off. But they killed a local haole fisherman instead, by mistake. This is true. On the day before I left, thugs beat a local fisherman to death and left him either floating facedown in the harbor, or strangled to death with a brake-cable and left in a jeep on the street in front of the Hotel Manago. News accounts were varied.... That's when I got scared and took off for The City. I came down the hill at ninety miles an hour and drove the car as far as I could out on the rocks, then I ran like a bastard for the Kaleokeawe — over the fence like a big kangaroo, kick down the door, then crawl inside and start screaming "I am Lono" at my pursuers, a gang of hired thugs and realtors, turned back by native Park Rangers. They can't touch me now, Ralph. I am here with a battery-powered typewriter, two blankets from the King Kam, my miner's headlamp, a kitbag full of speed and other vitals, and my fine Samoan war club. Laila brings me food and whiskey twice a day, and the natives send me women. But they won't come into the hut — for the same reason nobody else will — so I have to sneak out at night and fuck them out there on the black rocks. I like it here. It's not a bad life. I can't leave, because they're waiting for me out there by the parking lot, but the natives won't let them come any closer. They killed me once, and they're not about to do it again. Because I am Lono, and as long as I stay in The City those lying swine can't touch me. I want a telephone installed, but Steve won't pay the deposit until Laila gives him $600 more for bad drugs. Which is no problem, Ralph; no problem at all. I've already had several offers for my life story, and every night around sundown I crawl out and collect all the joints, coins and other offerings thrown over the stakefence by natives and others of my own kind. So don't worry about me, Ralph. I've got mine. But I would naturally appreciate a visit, and perhaps a bit of money for the odd expense here and there. It's a queer life, for sure, but right now it's all I have. Last night, around midnight, I heard somebody scratching on the thatch and then a female voice whispered, "You knew it would be like this." "That's right!" I shouted. "I love you!" There was no reply. Only the sound of this vast and bottomless sea, which talks to me every night and makes me smile in my sleep. OK
HST

Yesterday’s Weirdness Is Tomorrow’s Reason Why (Part 2)

Posted in R.I.P., HST on August 21st, 2005 by bill
marlin.jpg Dr. Thompson's image — his well-deserved and long-cultivated image — as the drug-crazed wildman of American letters tended to obscure what a canny writer he was, at least when he was on top of his game. Case in point: The Curse of Lono at first seems to be very loosely organized, filled with odd tangents and sidebars on Hawaiian history that at best could be called background, and at worst filler. So we get the following data on the Hawaiian god Lono, for instance: King Lono, ruler of all the islands in a time long before the Hawaiians had a written language, was not made in the same mold as Jesus, although he seems to have had the same basically decent instincts. He was a wise ruler and his reign is remembered in legend as a time of peace, happiness and great abundance in the kingdom — the Good Old Days, as it were, before the white man came — which may have something to do with his elevation to the status of a god in the wake of his disappearance. Lono was also a chronic brawler with an ungovernable temper, a keen eye for the naked side of life and a taste for strong drink at all times.
And a hysterically funny, but not apparently significant incident where the Doctor acquires an ancient Samoan war club:

"What do you have?" I asked him. "I need something to pulverize an aloe plant." There was a pause, then he was back on the line. "I have a fine cutlery set — seventy-seven pieces, with a beautiful butcher knife." "I can get that from room service," I said. "What else do you have?" There was another long pause. In the background I could hear a woman yelling something about "crazy..." and "chopping our heads off." "You're fired!" he screamed. "I'm tired of your stupid whining. It's none of your business what they buy. Get out of here! I should have fired you a long time ago." There were more sounds of brief scuffling and a babble of angry voices, then he was back. "I think I have what you need," he said smoothly. "It's a carved Samoan war club. Solid ebony, with eight power points. You could pulverize a palm tree with it." "How much does it weigh?" I asked.... "It's very heavy, sir. My scale won't handle it." He chuckled. "Yes sir, this thing is heavy. I'd guess about ten pounds. It swings like a sledgehammer. There's nothing in the world you couldn't kill with it." "What's the price?" I asked. "One-fifty." "One-fifty?" I said. "For a stick?" There was no reply for a moment. "No sir," he said finally. "This thing I have in my hands is not a stick. It's a Samoan war club, perhaps three hundred years old. It's also an extremely brutal weapon," he added. "I could break down your door with it." "Never mind that," I said. "Send it up to the suite immediately."
This is followed by a section on the Honolulu Marathon (see Part 1) and a lengthy description of a vacation on Kona gone horribly wrong, where Thompson's "sunny seaside compound" turns out to be a group of shacks lashed day and night by vicious surf. After that the narrative wanders a bit — OK, a lot — dealing with marijuana smuggling, a flea-ridden dog, and high-speed driving on a mountain road before finally getting to the big finish. Along the way Thompson has befriended a local charter captain, who takes him out to fish for marlin. And they find one...

A terrible blood-lust came on me when I saw him leaping right beside the boat, so close that he almost leaped right into it, and when the captain up on the bridge started screaming "Get the bat! Get the bat! He's gone wild!" I sprang out of the goddamn fighting chair and, instead of grabbing that silly little aluminum baseball bat they normally use to finish off these bastards with ten or fifteen whacks.... That's when I reached into my kitbag and brought out the war club and kicked Steve out of the way and then, with a terrible shriek, I hit the beast with a running shot that dropped it back into the water like a stone and caused about sixty seconds of absolute silence in the cockpit. They weren't ready for it. The last time anybody killed a big marlin in Hawaii with a short-handled Samoan war club was about three hundred years ago.
And this is where it all starts to coalesce...the business with the war club leads the Doctor to a revelation:
I am Lono. Yeah, that's me, Ralph. I am the one they've been waiting for all these years. Captain Cook was just another drunken sailor who got lucky in the South Seas.... The trouble began on the day I caught the fish — or, more specifically, it began when I came into the harbor on the flying bridge of the Humdinger and started bellowing at the crowd on the dock about "filthy drunken sons of missionaries" and "lying scum" and "doomed pig-fuckers" and all those other things I mentioned in my last update letter. What I didn't tell you, old sport, is that I was also screaming, "I am Lono!" in a thundering voice that could be heard by every Kanaka on the whole waterfront, from the Hilton to the King Kam — and that many of these people were deeply disturbed by the spectacle. I don't know what got into me, Ralph — I didn't mean to say it — at least not that loud, with all those natives listening. Because they are superstitious people, as you know, and they take their legends seriously.... The word traveled swiftly up and down the coast, and by nightfall the downtown streets were crowded with people who had come from as far away as South Point and the Waipio Valley to see for themselves if the rumor really was true — that Lono had, in fact, returned in the form of a huge drunken maniac who dragged fish out of the sea with his bare hands and beat them to death on the dock with a short-handled Samoan war club.

God’s Mercy on You Swine

Posted in R.I.P., HST on August 20th, 2005 by bill
coun3.JPG The spirit of Dr. Thompson seems very close at hand tonight, as I sit hunched over this beautiful white machine pushing the buttons and watching letters pop up on the screen. "Sister Morphine" just came on the stereo and the sun has dipped below the trees; a pile of Thompson books, tapes, and clippings sits to my right, topped off by a bottle of Chivas Regal, the Doctor's whiskey of choice. By now the Gonzo Cannon has spoken, and the Doctor's ashes are floating around the air over Woody Creek, but the event seems to have received surprisingly little coverage, at least in this country. The best stories I could find online were from the U.K. paper The Independent and, for some reason, Al-Jazeera. In poking around I discovered that, contrary to what I'd previously believed, HST did actually leave a suicide note, of sorts: In the kitchen where he shot himself was a typewriter, and in that typewriter a sheet of paper where the Doctor had typed, in the middle of the page, the word "Counselor." I read a number of theories as to what this possibly could have meant, but the most provocative was from D.A. Blyler of The Raw Story, who postulates that it is a reference to this passage from the Gospel of John:

And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.

The biblical connection is especially interesting in light of another key Thompson fact that I belatedly learned this week. I had always assumed that he called himself "Doctor" because he was a self-appointed Doctor of Journalism; turns out that he was the proud owner of a mail-order Doctorate of Divinity, not unlike my own from the Universal Life Church. It figures in the following passage, which is the conclusion of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

I was asleep when our plane hit the runway, but the jolt brought me instantly awake. I looked out the window and saw the Rocky Mountains. What the fuck was I doing here? I wondered. It made no sense at all. I decided to call my attorney as soon as possible. Have him wire me some money to buy a huge albino Doberman. Denver is a national clearing house for stolen Dobermans; they come from all parts of the country. Since I was already here, I thought I might as well pick up a vicious dog. But first, something for my nerves. Immediately after the plane landed I rushed up the corridor to the airport drugstore and asked the clerk for a box of amyls. She began to fidget and shake her head. "Oh, no," she said finally. "I can't sell those things except by prescription." "I know," I said. "But you see, I'm a doctor. I don't need a prescription." She was still fidgeting. "Well...you'll have to show me some I.D.," she moaned. "Of course," I jerked out my wallet and let her see the police badge while I flipped through the deck until I located my Ecclesiastical Discount Card - which identifies me as a Doctor of Divinity, a certified Minister of the Church of the New Truth. She inspected it carefully, then handed it back. I sensed a new respect in her manner. Her eyes grew warm. She seemed to want to touch me. "I hope you'll forgive me, Doctor," she said with a fine smile. "But I had to ask. We get some real freaks in this place. All kinds of dangerous addicts. You'd never believe it." "Don't worry," I said. "I understand perfectly. But I have a bad heart and I hope -" "Certainly!" she exclaimed - and within seconds she was back with a dozen amyls. I paid without quibbling about the ecclesiastical discount. Then I opened the box and cracked one under my nose immediately, while she watched. "Just be thankful your heart is young and strong," I said. "If I were you I would never...ah...holy shit!...what? Yes, you'll have to excuse me now; I feel it coming on." I turned away and reeled off in the general direction of the bar. "God's mercy on you swine!" I shouted at two marines coming out of the men's room. They looked at me, but said nothing. By this time I was laughing crazily. But it made no difference. I was just another fucked-up cleric with a bad heart. Shit, they'll love me down at the Brown Palace. I took another big hit off the amyl, and by the time I got to the bar my heart was full of joy. I felt like a monster reincarnation of Horatio Alger...a Man on the Move, and just sick enough to be totally confident.
Yes, Hunter Thompson was definitely a holy man of some sort...or maybe an incarnation of a minor deity, the god of mind-bending and Bad Craziness. More on that later...in the meantime, Saturday night beckons. God's mercy on you swine.

Yesterday’s Weirdness Is Tomorrow’s Reason Why (Part 1)

Posted in R.I.P., HST on August 19th, 2005 by bill
runner.jpg One of Ralph Steadman's illustrations for The Curse of Lono.

Dr. Thompson's most criminally underappreciated book is The Curse of Lono, which was published in 1983 (not, as I said yesterday, in 1980 — though it was almost entirely written in 1980, so I'm not docking myself any points for the error). For my money, this was the Doctor's last substantial work of genius — although, having bypassed some of the later books, I could end up having to revise that opinion at some point in the future. Like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Curse of Lono begins with Thompson accepting a magazine assignment to cover a sporting event, in this case the 1980 Honolulu Marathon. The Marathon ends up as one chapter in the book, albeit a quite interesting and thoughtful one, with the Doctor offering his unique insights into the sport of running: Marathon running, like golf, is a game for players, not winners. That is why Wilson sells golf clubs, and Nike sells running shoes. The Eighties will not be a healthy decade for games designed only for winners — except at the very pinnacle of professional sport; like the Super Bowl, or the Heavyweight Championship of the World. The rest of us will have to adjust to this notion, or go mad from losing. Some people will argue, but not many. The concept of victory through defeat has already taken root, and a lot of people say it makes sense. The Honolulu Marathon was a showcase example of the New Ethic. The main prize in this race was a gray T-shirt for every one of the four thousand "Finishers." That was the test, and the only ones who failed were those who dropped out. There was no special shirt for the winner, who finished so far ahead of the others that only a handful of them ever saw him until the race was long over...and not one of them was ever close enough to [Duncan] McDonald, in those last two miles before the finish, to see how a real winner runs. The other five or six or seven or eight thousand entrants were running for their own reasons...and this is the angle we need, the raison d'etre as it were....Why do these buggers run? Why do they punish themselves so brutally, for no prize at all? What kind of sick instinct would cause eight thousand supposedly smart people to get up at four in the morning and stagger at high speed through the streets of Waikiki for 26 ball-busting miles in a race that less than a dozen of them have the slightest chance of winning? These's no sane reason at all for these runners. Only a fool would try to explain why four thousand Japanese ran at top speed past the USS Arizona, sunken memorial in the middle of Pearl Harbor, along with another four or five thousand certified American liberals cranked up on beer and spaghetti and all taking the whole thing so seriously that only one in two thousand could even smile at the idea of a 26-mile race featuring four thousand Japanese that begins and ends within a stone's throw of Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1980.... Thirty-nine years later. What are these people celebrating? And why on this bloodstained anniversary? It was a weird gig in Honolulu, and it is ever weirder now. We are talking, here, about a thing with more weight than we know. What looked like a paid vacation in Hawaii has turned into a nightmare - and at least one person has suggested that we may be looking at the Last Refuge of the Liberal Mind, or at least the last thing that Works. Run for your life, sport, because that's all you have left. The same people who burned their draft cards in the Sixties and got lost in the Seventies are now into running. When politics failed and personal relationships proved unmanageable; after McGovern went down and Nixon exploded right in front of our eyes...after Ted Kennedy got Stassenized and Jimmy Carter put the fork to everybody who ever believed anything he said about anything at all, and after the nation turned en masse to the atavistic wisdom of Ronald Reagan. Well, these are, after all, the Eighties and the time has finally come to see who has teeth, and who doesn't.... Which may or may not account for the odd spectacle of two generations of political activists and social anarchists finally turning - twenty years later - into runners.

Generation of Swine

Posted in R.I.P., HST on August 18th, 2005 by bill
hunter_s_thompson.jpg The 80s were not a good decade for the Doctor. In 1980 he saw his personally anointed president, Jimmy Carter, soundly thrashed by the hated Ronald Reagan. And not just beaten but roundly denounced as a failure, a weakling, and worst of all, a bummer. America, it seemed, was tired of hearing the bad news, however truthful. People preferred Reagan's fantasy world, where you can cut taxes and increase spending without repercussions. Even so, Carter might well have been reelected had he been able to get the hostages out of Iran; that was what really sealed his fate. Of course we know now that Reagan's campaign made a secret deal with the government of Iran to keep the hostages until after the election, which is technically treason, but that is a topic for another time. The point is, after The Curse of Lono was published in 1980, we didn't hear much from Hunter Thompson for a few years, and he never seemed quite the same afterward. Like most confirmed cynics, Thompson was a romantic at heart, and I think he really allowed himself to believe in Jimmy Carter, or rather what he thought Carter represented for America: honesty, integrity, and willingness to do things the right way, even if it's more difficult. It would be easy to get into a long argument about Carter's effectiveness as president, but there's no question that the country gave up on his way of doing things pretty quickly, and jumped on Reagan's bandwagon with a vengeance. This was hard for a lot of people to swallow, and harder for Hunter Thompson than most. When Thompson reappeared as the author of a weekly San Francisco Examiner column in the late 80s, the sense of hope that had counterbalanced his cynicism was gone, and he became a straight-up prophet of doom and malice who ranted about a "generation of swine." Which was what the times called for, no doubt; but it can't be healthy for you, and neither can staying continuously loaded for 20 years, which is what he was working on at the time. Maybe it was the booze and the drugs; maybe it was because he'd given up hope; or maybe they're two sides of the same coin — for whatever reason, the Doctor's productivity had declined over the years. He went from being a guy who produced a 500-page book on the 1972 election to one who struggled to produce a thousand words once a week (many tales are told of his deadline battles with editors at the Examiner, whom the Doctor put through hell on a weekly basis). But again, the talent was always there, and every so often it would make itself heard, as in this 1988 column (which is collected in the book Generation of Swine). Here the Doctor wields sarcasm like a knife aimed squarely at the heart of George Bush the Elder — though it's every bit as funny, and more relevant, if you picture George W. instead. . . The Other George Bush By Hunter S. Thompson Skinner called from Washington last week and warned me that I was dangerously wrong and ignorant about George Bush. "I know you won't want to hear this," he said, "but George is an utterly different person from the one he appears to be — from the one you've been whipping on, for that matter. I thought you should know...." I put him on hold and said I would call him back after the Kentucky-Maryland game. I had given 5 points, and Kentucky was ahead by 7 with 18 seconds to go.... George Bush meant nothing to me, at that moment. The whole campaign was like the sound of some radio far up the street. But Skinner persisted, for some reason.... He was trying to tell me something. He was saying that Bush was not what he seemed to be — that somewhere inside him were the seeds of a genuine philosopher king. "He is smarter than Thomas Jefferson," Skinner said. "He has the potential to stand taller in history than both of the Roosevelts put together." I was shocked. "You lying swine," I said. "Who paid you to say these things? Why are you calling me?" "It's for your own good," he said. "I'm just trying to help you."...He took a call on one of his other lines, then came back to me in a blaze of disconnected gibberish. "Listen to me," he was saying. "I was with him last night, all alone. We sat in front of his fireplace and burned big logs and listened to music and drank whiskey and he got a little weepy, but I told him not to worry about it, and he said he was the only living voice of Bobby Kennedy in American politics today." "No," I said. "Don't tell me that swill. It's too horrible. I depend on you for more than that." I laughed. It was crazy. Here was Gene Skinner — one of the meanest and most cynical hit men in politics — telling me that he'd spent the last two nights arguing with George Bush about the true meaning of Plato's Republic and the Parable of the Caves, smoking Djarum cigarettes and weeping distractedly while they kept playing and replaying old Leonard Cohen tunes on his old Nakamichi tape machine. "Yeah," Skinner said, "he still carries that 350 with the Halliburton case, the one he's carried for years...He loves music, realy high rock'n'roll. He has tapes of Alice Stuart that he made himself on the Nak." Ye Gods, I thought. They've finally turned him; he's gone belly-up. How did he get my phone number? "You hideous punk! Don't call me any more!" I yelled at him. "I'm moving to Hawaii next week. I know where you've been for the last two years. Stay away from me!" "You fool!" he shouted. "Where were you when we were looking for you in New Orleans last week? We hung around for three days. George wanted to hook up with the Neville Brothers. We were traveling incognito." ...and now he was telling me that Bush — half mad on cheap gin and hubris, with 16 states already locked up on Super Tuesday — showed up at the New Orleans airport on Sunday night with only one bodyguard and a black 928 Porsche with smoked windows and Argentine license plates. It was hard to accept. Skinner was a professional, I knew — and Bush was a former director of the CIA. It was a strange mix; and especially strange, given Skinner's bizarre fix on Bush, which made me very uneasy. "You know why he likes me?" he said. "He likes me because I know poems. He loves poetry. He can do 'Annabel Lee' from top to bottom." At that point his voice got blurry: "It was many and many a year ago, in a kingdom by the sea...." He paused for a minute, then went on in a dreamy voice, which disturbed me. "And this maiden she lived with no other thought than to love and be loved by me.... I was a child and she was a child in this kingdom by the sea. But we loved with a love that was more than love—" "That's enough," I said. "I can't stand it. The idea of George Bush cruising around New Orleans and quoting the works of Edgar Allan Poe is more than I can handle." "That's nothing," Skinner replied. "He can sing every song that Bob Dylan ever wrote. He plays the Dobro. He has the second Dobro ever made — in its original case. Incredible, incredible." I laughed harshly, but he seemed not to notice. "And he loves animals," Skinner said. "Animals are the only thing he loves more than music." "I saw him rescue a dead cat and try to bring it back to life," he said, "right out in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue. He put his head right down on that animal's lips and blew his own breath down its throat.... People hooted and cheered at him and a big crowd gathered, but he kept right on." I felt sick and said nothing. Skinner rambled on, drifted from one demented story to another, like he was talking about the Maharishi. It made no sense at all. None of it did, for that matter. George Bush was a mean crook from Texas. He had no friends and nobody in Washington wanted to be seen with him on the streets at night. There was something queasy about him, they said - a sense of something grown back into itself, like a dead animal.... It was impossible that he could be roaming around Washington or New Orleans at night, jabbering about Dylan Thomas and picking up dead cats. There was something very wrong about it, deeply wrong, even queer.... Yet Skinner seemed to believe these things, and he wanted me to believe them. Why? It was like hearing that Ivan Boesky had written "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," or that Ed Meese wakes up every morning and hurls a $100 bill across the Potomac. I hung up the phone and felt crazy. Then I walked back to the hotel in the rain.

Electricity Wants to Go Home

Posted in Audio transmissions, R.I.P., HST on August 17th, 2005 by bill
301160.jpg I can't say too much about Dr. Thompson's work over the last 15 years, because I stopped buying his books after shelling out $21.95 for Songs of the Doomed — which was awfully pricy for a book back in 1990, especially when you're fresh out of college. I was not too happy to get home and discover that it consisted mostly of retreads from Hell's Angels and The Great Shark Hunt, Examiner columns that hadn't made it into Generation of Swine, and unpublished fiction that would have been better left unpublished. It seemed likely that the Doctor was going through one of his drunker phases, and his editors had thrown the book together from whatever they had at hand. But even there, the real thing, the genius, would pop up once in a while. As in the short piece called "Electricity," which you can hear here in the Doctor's own voice: ELECTRICITY Although given how much he mumbles, you're probably going to want a transcript. Electricity
By Hunter S. Thompson They laughed at Thomas Edison. It has been raining a lot recently. Quick thunderstorms and flash floods...lightning at night and fear in the afternoon. People are worried about electricity. Nobody feels safe. Fires burst out on dry hillsides, raging out of control, while dope fiends dance in the rancid smoke and animals gnaw each other. Foreigners are everywhere, carrying pistols and bags of money. There are rumors about murder and treachery and women with no pulse. Crime is rampant and even children are losing their will to live. The phones go dead and power lines collapse, whole families plunged into darkness with no warning at all. People who used to be in charge walk around wall-eyed, with their hair standing straight up on end looking like they work for Don King, and babbling distractedly about their hearts humming like stun guns and trying to leap out of their bodies like animals trapped in bags. People get very conscious of electricity when it goes sideways and starts to act erratic. . .eerie blackouts, hissing, and strange shocks from the toilet bowl, terrifying power surges that make light bulbs explode and fry computer circuits that are not even plugged in...The air crackles around your head and you take a jolt every time you touch yourself. Your lawyer burns all the hair off his body when he picks up the cordless phone to dial 911. Nobody can handle electricity run amok. It is too powerful...Ben Franklin was never able to lock a door again after the day lightning came down his kite string and fused that key to his thumb. They called it a great discovery and they called him a great scientist; but, in fact, he bawled like a baby for the rest of his life every time he smelled rain in the air. I find myself jerking instinctively into the classic self-defense stance of a professional wire wizard every time I hear rain on the roof. That is an atavistic tic that I picked up many years ago in my all-night advanced intelligence electronics class at Scott AFB, on the outskirts of east St. Louis — where I also learned about pawnshops, oscillators, and full-bore lying as a natural way of life. The stance was the first thing we learned, and we learned it again every day for a long, crazy year. It is as basic to working with serious electricity as holding your breath is to working underwater.... Lock one hand behind your back before you touch anything full of dissatisfied voltage — even a failed light bulb — because you will almost certainly die soon if you don't. Electricity is neutral. It doesn't want to kill you, but it will if you give it a chance. Electricity wants to go home, and to find a quick way to get there — and it will. Electricity is always homesick. It is lonely. But it is also lazy. It is like a hillbilly with a shotgun and a jug of whiskey gone mad for revenge on some enemy — a fatal attraction, for sure - but he won't go much out of his way to chase the bugger down if ambush looks a lot easier. Why prowl around and make a spectacle of yourself when you can lay in wait under some darkened bridge and swill whiskey like a troll full of hate until your victim appears — drunk and careless and right on schedule — so close that you almost feel embarrassed about pulling the trigger. That is how electricity likes to work. It has no feelings except loneliness, laziness, and a hatred of anything that acts like resistance...like a wharf rat with its back to the wall — it won't fight unless it has to, but then it will fight to the death. Electricity is the same way: it will kill anything that gets in its way once it thinks it sees a way to get home quick.... Zaaappp! Right straight up your finger and through your heart and your chest cavity and down the other side. Anything that gives it an escape route. Anything — iron, wire, water, flesh, ganglia — that will take it where it must go, with the efficiency of gravity or the imperative of salmon swimming upriver.... And it wants the shortest route — which is not around a corner and through a muscle mass in the middle of your back, but it will go that way if it has to. Some people had to have their loose hand strapped behind them in a hammerlock with rubber cords, just to keep their hearts from exploding and their neck nerves from being fried like long blond hairs in a meat fire when the voltage went through. But sooner or later they learned. We all did, one way or another. One night — perhaps out of boredom or some restless angst about the fate of Caryl Chessman or maybe Christine Keeler — I connected a 50,000-volt RF transformer to one end of the thin aluminum strap on the Formica workbench that ran around three sides of the big classroom; and then I grounded the strap to a deep-set screw in a wall socket. Severe shocks resulted when the generator jumped its limiter and began cranking out massive jolts and surges of RF voltage. A 50,000-volt shock ran through my stomach, just below my navel, burning a long, thin hole that I can still pull a string of dental floss through on wet nights. It was horrible, and still is, but it was also a massive breakthrough; and I will never forget the warped joy I felt when the first surge of electricity went through them. They squawked at each other and flapped their arms like chickens.... My own pain was nothing compared to the elation of knowing that I had just made an unspeakably powerful new friend — an invisble weapon that could turn warriors and wizards into newts, and cause them to weep. Washington, DC, 1989

Shotgun Golf

Posted in R.I.P., HST on August 16th, 2005 by bill
So far as I'm aware, this last edition of the Doctor's ESPN.com column, "Hey Rube," was his only published writing of 2005. I was just going to post a link here, but since it took me the better part of the day to get the goddamn thing to load successfully, and it was on a horrific yellow background when it finally did, I decided to just rip it off in its entirety and not feel bad about it. Shotgun Golf with Bill Murray
By Hunter S. Thompson The death of professional hockey in America is a nasty omen for people with heavy investments in NHL teams. But to me, it meant little or nothing — and that's why I called Bill Murray with an idea that would change both our lives forever. It was 3:30 on a dark Tuesday morning when I heard the phone ring on his personal line in New Jersey. "Good thinking," I said to myself as I fired up a thin Cohiba. "He's bound to be wide awake and crackling at this time of day, or at least I can leave a very excited message." My eerie hunch was right. The crazy bugger picked up on the fourth ring, and I felt my heart racing. "Hot damn!" I thought. "This is how empires are built." Late? I know not late. Genius round the world stands hand in hand, and one shock of recognition runs the whole circle round. Herman Melville said that in the winter of 1914, and Murray is keenly aware of it. Only a madman would call a legend of Bill Murray's stature at 3:33 a.m. for no good reason at all. It would be a career-ending move, and also profoundly rude. But my reason was better than good... * * * * * BILL: "Hello?" HST: "Hi, Bill, it's Hunter." BILL: "Hi, Hunter." HST: "Are you ready for a powerful idea? I want to ask you about golf in Japan. I understand they're building vertical driving ranges on top of each other." BILL (sounding strangely alert): "Yes, they have them outdoors, under roofs ..." HST: "I've seen pictures. I thought they looked like bowling alleys stacked on top of each other." BILL: (Laughs.) HST: "I'm working on a profoundly goofy story here. It's wonderful. I've invented a new sport. It's called Shotgun Golf. We will rule the world with this thing." BILL: "Mmhmm." HST: "I've called you for some consulting advice on how to launch it. We've actually already launched it. Last spring, the Sheriff and I played a game outside in the yard here. He had my Ping Beryllium 9-iron, and I had his shotgun, and about 100 yards away, we had a linoleum green and a flag set up. He was pitching toward the green. And I was standing about 10 feet away from him, with the alley-sweeper. And my objective was to blow his ball off course, like a clay pigeon." BILL: (Laughs.) HST: "It didn't work at first. The birdshot I was using was too small. But double-aught buck finally worked for sure. And it was fun." BILL: (Chuckles.) HST: "OK, I didn't want to wake you up, but I knew you'd want to be in on the ground floor of this thing." BILL: (Silence.) HST: "Do you want to discuss this tomorrow?" BILL: "Sure." HST: "Excellent." BILL: "I think I might have a queer dream about it now, but ..." (Laughs.) HST: "This sport has a HUGE future. Golf in America will soon come to this." BILL: "It will bring a whole new meaning to the words 'Driving Range'." HST: "Especially when you stack them on top of each other. I've seen it in Japan." BILL: "They definitely have multi-level driving ranges. Yes." HST: (Laughs.) "How does that work? Do they have extremely high ceilings?" BILL: "No. The roof above your tee only projects out about 10 feet, and they have another range right above you. It's like they took the facade off a building. People would be hanging out of their offices." HST: "I see. It's like one of those original Hyatt Regency Hotels. Like an atrium. In the middle of the building you could jump straight down into the lobby?" BILL: "Exactly like that!" HST: "It's like people driving balls from one balcony to the next." BILL: (Laughs.) "Yes, they could." HST: "I could be on the eighth floor and you on the sixth? Or on the fifteenth. And we'd be driving across a lake." BILL: "They have flags out every 150 yards, every 200 yards, every 250 yards. It's just whether you are hitting it at ground level, or from five stories up." HST: "I want to find out more about this. This definitely has a future to it." BILL: "They have one here in the city — down at Chelsea Pier." HST: "You must have played a lot of golf in Japan." BILL: "Not much; I just had one really great day of golf. I worked most of the time. But I did play one beautiful golf course. They have seasonal greens, two different types of grass. It's really beautiful." HST: "Well, I'm writing a column for ESPN.com and I want to know if you like my new golf idea. A two-man team." BILL: "Well, with all safety in mind, yes. Two-man team? Yeah! That sounds great. I think it would create a whole new look. It would create a whole new clothing line." HST: "Absolutely. You'll need a whole new wardrobe for this game." BILL: "Shooting glasses and everything." HST: "We'll obviously have to make a movie. This will mushroom or mutate — either way — into a real craze. And given the mood of this country, being that a lot of people in the mood to play golf are also in the mood to shoot something, I think it would take off like a gigantic fad." BILL: "I think the two-man team idea would be wonderful competition and is something the Ryder Cup would pick up on." HST: "I was talking with the Sheriff about it earlier. But in one-man competition, I'd have to compete against you, say, in both of the arts — the shooting AND the golfing. But if you do the Ryder Cup, you'd have to have the clothing line first. I'm going to write about this for ESPN tonight. I'm naming you and the Sheriff as the founding consultants." BILL: "Sounds good." HST: "OK, I'll call you tomorrow. And by the way, I'll see if I can twist some arms and get you an Oscar. But I want a Nobel Prize in return." BILL: "Well, we can work together on this. This is definitely a team challenge." (Laughing.) HST: "OK. We'll talk tomorrow." BILL: "Good night." So there it is. Shotgun Golf will soon take America by storm. I see it as the first truly violent leisure sport. Millions will crave it. * * * * * Shotgun Golf was invented in the ominous summer of 2004 AD, right here at the Owl Farm in Woody Creek, Colo. The first game was played between me and Sheriff Bob Braudis, on the ancient Bomb & Shooting Range of the Woody Creek Rod & Gun Club. It was witnessed by many members and other invited guests, and filmed for historical purposes by Dr. Thompson on Super-Beta videotape. The game consists of one golfer, one shooter and a field judge. The purpose of the game is to shoot your opponent's high-flying golf ball out of the air with a finely-tuned 12-gauge shotgun, thus preventing him (your opponent) from lofting a 9-iron approach shot onto a distant "green" and making a "hole in one." Points are scored by blasting your opponent's shiny new Titleist out of the air and causing his shot to fail miserably. That earns you two points. But if you miss and your enemy holes out, he (or she) wins two points when his ball hits and stays on the green. And after that, you trade places and equipment, and move on to round 2. My patent is pending, and the train is leaving the station, and Murray is a Founding Consultant, along with the Sheriff, and Keith Richards, etc., etc. Invest now or forever hold your peace. * * * * * As for Bill's triumphant finish at Pebble Beach, I am almost insanely proud of him. He is an elegant athlete in the finest Murray tradition. Bill is a dangerous brute with the fastest reflexes in Hollywood, but he is suave, and that is why I trust him even more than I trust all his brothers. Yes, I say Hallelujah, praise Jesus. Where is Brian? I will need him for this golf project, if only to offset Bill's bitchiness. We will march on a road of bones. OK. Back to business. It was Bill Murray who taught me how to mortify your opponents in any sporting contest, honest or otherwise. He taught me my humiliating PGA fadeaway shot, which has earned me a lot of money ... after that, I taught him how to swim, and then I introduced him to the shooting arts, and now he wins everything he touches. Welcome to the future of America. Welcome to Shotgun Golf. So long and Mahalo. Hunter.

The Last Interview

Posted in R.I.P., HST on August 16th, 2005 by bill
Here are a few excerpts from the Doctor's last published interview, in the May 2005 Playboy. The usual disclaimers apply: the viewpoints expressed herein are not endorsed by etc. etc.
On Freedom: Freedom is a challenge. You decide who you are by what you do. It's like a question, like a fork in the road. An ongoing question you have to keep answering correctly.
On Photography: I took all the Hell's Angels photographs. Those were all mine. But I learned after trying for years that I could not keep the same focus as a photojournalist. The myth of "take your own pictures, write your own story" didn't work for me. As a photographer I had to keep getting longer and longer lenses. I didn't like to get up close. I didn't want to get in people's faces because you couldn't talk to them much after that.
On Gambling: Ed Bradley came out here one day and beat me for about $4000 on a basketball game. I think it started as a hundred-dollar bet. But we kept doubling up. I paid him, of course. After all, I would have looked askance — and mentioned it in public — if he hadn't paid me. That's what makes it fun: the reality of it, having to pay up. It's good for it to hurt.

On Karma: It's extremely bad karma to brag about things you've gotten away with. I'm a great believer in karma in a profound sense: You will get what's coming to you.
On Rejection: I had the fiction editor of Esquire, Rust Hills, as a creative-writing professor at Columbia. I still have a note from him saying, "Never submit anything to Esquire ever again. You're a hateful, stupid bastard. Esquire hates you." It was kind of a shock at that age.


On Free Will: In Orwell's 1984, rigidity is imposed by the will of the state. Whereas with soma, in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, it's the will of the people. I've always operated on that second theory. Nobody is stealing our freedoms. We're dealing them off.
On Drugs: Most drugs have been very good to me. I use drugs, and if I abuse them, well, show me where. What do you mean abuse them, you jackass? What's abuse? Like most anything else, it's about paying attention. It's simple. It's not some exotic school of thought I picked up somewhere; it's paying attention. Concentrating. It's something you have to do your whole life. I watch it and make sure people can handle things. You have to be super aware of who is fucked up, who is angry. Not at you necessarily, but who is dangerous. Who is not the same friendly guy you were talking to yesterday. I don't advocate drugs and whiskey and violence and rock and roll, but they've always been good to me. I've never advised people who can't handle drugs to take them, just as people who can't drive well shouldn't drive 80 miles an hour.
On Being Outnumbered: I was ahead of the game when I realized that if I tried to kill one person the rest would back off. You want to take on a large one. Take on a symbolic leader, the spokesman, the bully. A swift and violent kick to the nuts after a glass of water to the face is always good and I mean a crotch twister, boy. There's a big difference between a sort of snap-kick to the nuts and one with a follow-through, where you go all the way through the crotch with force. Use the leg — hit with a higher part of the foot so there's a narrow point of impact.


On Potential: That old thing about "this kid has a lot of talent" will take you a long way. But eventually it has to pay off. Potential will run out — and it can run out suddenly.
On Survival: Choosing the right friends is a life-or-death matter. But you really see it only in retrospect. I've always considered that possibly my highest talent — recognizing and keeping good friends. And you better pay attention to it, because any failure in that regard can be fatal. You should always be looking around for good friends because they can really dress up your life later on. In the end, it's not so much how to succeed in life as it is how to survive the life you have chosen.
On Perspective: I'm too old to adopt conceits or airs. I have nothing left to prove. It's kind of fun to look at — instead of a personal challenge to the enemy out there, I can finally look at it objectively. Not "Who is this freak over here?" but "Who am I?" I've gotten to that point where it's take it or leave it. Whatever way I've developed seems okay to me on the evidence.

R.I.P., HST (#1)

Posted in R.I.P., HST on August 15th, 2005 by bill
bilde.jpg The "Gonzo Cannon" awaits its moment of truth (thanks, Aspen Times). In fulfillment of his last wishes, Hunter S. Thompson's ashes will be shot out of a cannon in Woody Creek, Colorado this weekend. Originally this was to be a public event, but it has been changed to a private affair, so I will be honoring the Good Doctor here at home instead of hanging out with Bill Murray, Ralph Steadman, Jack Nicholson, Johnny Depp, and God knows who else. Which is just as well — it would have been a circus out there, with every dubious character ever attracted by Thompson's outlaw reputation crawling out of the woodwork, most likely out of their minds on dope and speed. On the whole, I'd much rather be holed up here in the laboratory with HST's works, which represent the man much more than his earthly remains do. While the method and the timing of the Doctor's death — self-inflicted, with a pistol, in the kitchen, back in February — may have been unexpected, the fact of it came as no surprise to those of us who followed his life and times. What was surprising was that a) he had lived so long in the first place, and that b) this man whose whole life was words left no suicide note, no explanation. Although he did write a perfectly good one back in 1977: Author's Note from The Great Shark Hunt by Hunter S. Thompson "Art is long and life is short, and success is very far off." -J. Conrad Well...yes, and here we go again. But before we get to The Work, as it were, I want to make sure I know how to cope with this elegant typewriter — (and yes, it appears I do) — so why not make this quick list of my life's work and then get the hell out of town on the 11:05 to Denver? Indeed. Why not? But just for a moment I'd like to say, for the permanent record, that it is a very strange feeling to be a 40-year-old American writer in this century and sitting alone in this huge building on Fifth Avenue in New York at one o'clock in the morning on the night before Christmas Eve, 2000 miles from home, and compiling a table of contents for a book of my own Collected Works in an office with a tall glass door that leads out to a big terrace looking down on The Plaza Fountain. Very strange. I feel like I might as well be sitting up here carving the words for my own tombstone...and when I finish, the only fitting exit will be right straight off this fucking terrace and into The Fountain, 28 stories below and at least 200 yards out in the air and across Fifth Avenue. Nobody could follow that act. Not even me...and in fact the only way I can deal with this eerie situation at all is to make a conscious decision that I have already lived and finished the life I planned to live — (13 years longer, in fact) — and everything from now on will be A New Life, a different thing, a gig that ends tonight and starts tomorrow morning. So if I decide to leap for The Fountain when I finish this memo, I want to make one thing perfectly clear — I would genuinely love to make that leap, and if I don't I will always consider it a mistake and a failed opportunity, one of the very few serious mistakes of my First Life that is now ending. But what the hell? I probably won't do it (for all the wrong reasons) and I'll probably finish this table of contents and go home for Christmas and then have to live for 100 more years with all this goddamn gibberish I'm lashing together. But, Jesus, it would be a wonderful way to go out...and if I do it you bastards are going to owe me a king-hell salutr (that word is "salute," goddamnit — and I guess I can't work this elegant typewriter as well as I thought I could)... But you know I could, if I had just a little more time. Right? Yes. H.S.T. #1, R.I.P. 12/23/77 Every time I read this I ask myself, well, what if he had done it? It would have been "a wonderful way to go out," for sure, and would have cemented the Thompson legend for all time. Artistically we wouldn't have missed much; although HST had sporadic moments of brilliance in the later part of his career, if you put together an honest anthology of his best work, 90 percent of it would be from 1977 and earlier. And we would have been spared the spectacle of a drunken, infirm King of Gonzo throwing up outside a book signing, or weeping as he's being helped up the steps. Then again, we're talking about 28 years of a man's life, and who is qualified to say they weren't worth living? Not me, Bub. The Doc made his choice to stay around in 77, and in 2005, when he thought it was time to go, he made that choice too. I have a lot of thoughts about the Doctor and his place in my life, but they are complicated and need some time to coagulate. Meanwhile, The Work. Over the next few days I plan to post some choice Thompson bits, working in reverse chronological order since that seemed to work well for the Steve Martin stuff. But first, I'm going to have to find the right music. "Music has always been a matter of Energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they mean is Fuel." -HST, 1999