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.”
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.
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.
H.S.T. #1, R.I.P.
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.”