Sunday, February 20, 2011

Too weird to live, too rare to die

Note: This is my annual tribute to Hunter S. Thompson's life and work, modified slightly from last year's.

One of my favorite writers died six years ago: Hunter S. Thompson. After a lifetime spent about as close to "The Edge" as was humanly possible, he crossed over to the other side - leaving a considerable legacy as a journalist and storyteller. Like a lot of creative people, there was an apparent madness that possessed him. With that madness, there was a method. And of course there is no doubt that when that cat was on, he was right on.

HST's writing was a merging of the profane and the profound, the trivial and the prophetic. His fans all have their favorite HST quotations memorized by heart. I too have mine:
"...The Edge...There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others -- the living -- are those who pushed their control as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to choose between Now and Later.

"But the edge is still Out there. Or maybe it's In..."

--- Hunter S. Thompson (1967) , from "Hell's Angels"

"People who claim to know jackrabbits will tell you they are primarily motivated by Fear, Stupidity, and Craziness. But I have spent enough time in jackrabbit country to know that most of them lead pretty dull lives; they are bored with their daily routines: eat, fuck, sleep, hop around a bush now and then... No wonder some of them drift over the line into cheap thrills once in a while; there has to be a powerful adrenalin rush in crouching by the side of a road, waiting for the next set of headlights to come along, then streaking out of the bushes with split-second timing and making it across to the other side just inches in front of the speeding front tires."

-- Hunter S. Thompson
Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72
As I noted in February, 2005:
Deep down, that cat was a street-level existentialist who knew all too well the fragility and absurdity of life. No wonder many of us drift over as close to the edge as possible. As I think about it, we're all damaged goods - some of us more damaged than others. More often than not, existence is filled with long stretches of tedium that maybe - maybe if one is lucky gets broken with some success or excitement. If only the buzz of success would linger a while longer. But like all good buzzes, eventually the sensation wears off, and it's back to the usual mind-numbing tedium and the sensation of being kicked when we're down.
As poet and rapper Gylan Kain (one of the founding members of The Last Poets) put it in a tune called "Look Out for the Blue Guerrilla":
You know life ain’t nothin’ but a river
Just moving through an empty hand
I said life ain’t nothin’ but a river
Moving through an empty hand
You can hold on if you wanna
But Lord when the truth hits the fan
HST knew all about the truth hitting the fan, offering up visions of what was about to go down. Take this quote, written just after September 11, 2001:
The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now--with somebody--and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives.
[snip]
It will be a Religious War, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It will be guerilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy.
[snip]
We are going to punish somebody for this attack, but just who or what will be blown to smithereens for it is hard to say. Maybe Afghanistan, maybe Pakistan or Iraq, or possibly all three at once.
[snip]
This is going to be a very expensive war, and Victory is not guaranteed--for anyone, and certainly not for anyone as baffled as George W. Bush. All he knows is that his father started the war a long time ago, and that he, the goofy child-President, has been chosen by Fate and the global Oil industry to finish it Now. He will declare a National Security Emergency and clamp down Hard on Everybody, no matter where they live or why. If the guilty won't hold up their hands and confess, he and the Generals will ferret them out by force.
In July 2003 (see the column "Welcome to the Big Darkness" reprinted in Hey Rube), he wrote, "Big Darkness, soon come. Take my word for it." Big Darkness is here my friends. In the years since his Sept. 12, 2001 column, what he said has come to pass. The US is in the midst of fighting Bu$hCo's (and now Obama's) Never-ending Holy War on two fronts (Afghanistan and Iraq), with a third front always one manufactured crisis away (Iran). The Constitution has become in Junior Caligula's words, "just another Goddamn piece of paper" to be shredded along with whatever other documents the White House chooses to keep secret. Bu$hCo spied on us, and barely a peep from Congress ensued - and as we have seen it the Pope of Hope is not about to voluntarily relinquish that particular power. The draconian Patriot Act has become a permanent fixture, with minimal protest from our presumably elected Congress critters. Hell, those very Congress critters are outdoing themselves each year, with increasingly repressive laws that will harm everyone but the real terrorists who occupy luxury office space along Wall Street, as well as those terrorizing the planet from inside the White House bunker. Hell, those Wall Street terrorists are looting the temple as we speak, with a wink and a nod from the Capitol Building in DC, and statehouses across the nation. Habeas Corpus is now a mere historical artifact. Maybe having seen the worst of the Abu Ghraib pictures was enough to put the fear of God into those cats in Congress - that they too could meet the same fate if they rock the boat too much. Let's just say the accommodations aren't quite up to the Club Med standards that are more to their liking; and besides, any serious investigation would open up all manner of nasty skeletons in the old Congressional closet. Ho Ho! We can't have that, now can we! Yes, if we were to sum up the state of the union in late February 2011, it would be much along the lines of what HST said back in 2002: you were freer during the Age of Nixon than you are now.

Said it once and I'll say it again: Big Darkness has come. Whether it is a passing storm, or a more prolonged winter in America only time will tell. I'm betting on the latter, and in the meantime I'm taking Gylan Kain's advice to "look out for the Blue Guerrilla!"

I'd be remiss if I did not mention that there are still folks keeping Gonzo alive, including, of course, HST's widow, Anita, who also has a blog, Owl Farm; and Ron Mexico who runs Totally Gonzo.

Mahalo.