He was “too weird to live, too rare to die,” but live he undeniably did, and death even he couldn’t escape. Hunter S. Thompson was the drugged-out, sleep-deprived, counter culture icon America needed in its awkward, adolescent and spirited young adult phase. He’s most widely remembered today for his intense originality, unyielding weirdness and humongous appetite for mind-altering substances. But what is so often lost in our retrospective gaze is just how damn fine a writer the man truly was.
Hunter, had he not possessed an almost super-human ability to bend the English language to his whim, would have likely turned out much like Jimi Hendrix had his military discharge been the result of the loss of his left hand rather than a sprained ankle. Whether it was his genius that incited his weirdness, vice versa or some combination of the two, Hunter occupied the role of virtuosic writer first and foremost, and played the twisted up, tweaked out product of the love generation that he’s known for today in whatever space remained. That’s not to say that Hunter Thompson the writer and Hunter Thompson the man were two different people, but derivatives of the same condition which inspired both his brilliance and his incessant urge to seek out novelty. It’s unfair and inaccurate to portray him as a partier who wrote just as it’s unfair and inaccurate to portray van Gogh as an alcoholic with good brush strokes.
Hunter’s intense drive to do, to experience no matter what the personal cost, echoes men like Winston Churchill, who best summed up the personality type in his quote, “I don’t like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through. I like to stand back and, if possible, get a pillar between me and the train. I don’t like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water. A second’s action would end everything. A few drops of desperation.” A few drops of desperation too much were always the cattle prod at Hunter’s back, the sting from which he escaped by experiencing everything that he could, while he could. For Hunter, partying and drug consumption weren’t fun; they were maintenance. “What do you say, for instance, about a generation that has been taught that rain is poison and sex is death? If making love might be fatal and if a cool spring breeze on any summer afternoon can turn a crystal blue lake into a puddle of black poison right in front of your eyes, there is not much left except TV and relentless masturbation. It’s a strange world. Some people get rich and others eat shit and die.” – HST, “The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time.”
What remains of Hunter S. Thompson today? More than a decade after his suicide it’s hard not to look around at the befouled state of the union and bemoan the absence of a voice like Thompson’s. His greatest skill was his ability to insult his opponents with a hilariously convoluted sequence of obscenities on one page, and by the very next page, surmise their motives and reason for being with such an intense sense of empathetic intuition that it makes the reader stop in their tracks. He was one hell of a writer, one hell of a journalist and political commentator, and I’m sure he would have been chomping at the bit to see the demise of the new Nixon if he was alive today. But personally, I wouldn’t wish it on him. I myself am not a religious man, but it gives me comfort to imagine that HST is up on a cloud somewhere trading playful barbs and tripping acid with the rest of the greats.
All that said I leave you with one final Hunter quote, pulled from the obituary he wrote for his greatest enemy, Richard Nixon, in the hope that one day soon a man or woman with a strong enough voice will tell it like it is about the new Nixon, that slippery, conniving weasel by the name of Donald Trump, and finally restore order to the universe.
“If the right people had been in charge of Nixon’s funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin.”