Denver, Colorado 1/8/2016 – I was headed to the Tattered Cover Book Store at a steady clip of about 55 mph around 6 p.m. on Friday – a much slower rate of speed than my likeable preference as I approached the Denver city lights that illuminate the outlines of buildings in the night’s shadow beneath the turning worm – It was a reasonable clip considering mildly hazardous road conditions after a few inches of snow earlier in the day.
I was making good time.
Hunter Thompson’s son, Juan Fitzgerald Thompson was giving a reading from his new book “Stories I tell Myself – Growing up with Hunter S. Thompson” at the Colfax book store. I had a steady hand and good nerves this round and was ready to see what Hunter’s son was going to present.
The preface of the book reads:Father & Son Target Practice
This is a Memoir, not a biography, a highly subjective and unreliable memoir of how my father and I got to know each other over forty-one years until his suicide in 2005. It is filled with exaggerations, misstatements, faulty recollections, obfuscations, omissions, and elisions. It also contains a lot of truth about my father and me, more truth than falsehoods, I think.
If I am deceiving you, though, I am deceiving myself first of all. It’s just that all I have is memory, and memory is a treacherous thing, treacherous, as in unfaithful and perfidious. Double-crossing and underhanded. Memory is not objective. It is not an impartial recorder, but instead a selective, changeable, and unreliable record being constantly revised and edited to suit our needs and desires. Yet our lives and our identities are largely built upon our memories, and we trust them implicitly so we can draw our conclusions about our lives and the people in them. So we do the best we can, knowing we are fooling ourselves a good part of our lives. We go forward in spite of it. I go forward in spite of it.
These are the stories I tell myself.
Hunter was famous, almost worshipped in some circles, unknown in others, brilliant, a grand master of the written word and one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. He was an alcoholic and drug fiend, a wild, angry, passionate, sometimes dangerous, charismatic, unpredictable, irresponsible, idealistic, sensitive man with a powerful and deeply rooted sense of justice. Most important to me though, he was my father and I was his son. And no son can escape the claim of that relationship. Good or bad, weak or strong, alive or dead, close or distant, our fathers are with us.
This is the story of how my father and I went very far away from each other, and over twenty-five years managed to find our way back.
-Juan Fitzgerald Thompson
I arrived around 6:30 just shy of the 7 o’clock reading time and tried to position myself somewhere behind the middle row without drawing too much attention.
Juan read several passages from the book and was asked a few questions by staff at the book store. The floor was then opened up to public speculation. I took a few notes, keeping quiet, feigning any sense of notoriety even at my sleekest. Take off the hat, honor the man and his time with his father for good and ill and all make of the public eye.
Juan detailed going through Hunter’s boxes, hundreds upon hundreds of which he went through cataloging the items.
Journals from the Air Force.
Cocktail Napkins w/scratched out descriptions of people within the bars.
“I felt I could get to know my father better by absorbing all of his stuff,” Juan said.
“When I started the book I wasn’t concerned with being objective. I thought I could knock the whole thing out in a year. I did get a first draft within the year,” said Juan. “Yet, I didn’t look forward to sitting down to write. I think it was mainly me just trying to work through stuff. The grief made it difficult to celebrate him. I wanted to give as honest a portrayal as I could.
It took me 9 years to finish the book however.”
“I didn’t feel the need to present him in a certain way just what I saw as the good and the bad.
“One thing I want the book to portray is I really loved him.
“Working through the memories and writing was a further step in the process of letting go. I took him in through his things and worked best from my own memory of him.
“We are such different people but we enjoyed some of the same things. We enjoyed the cathartic experience of shooting guns. I don’t mean in terms of a violence on other people, but in the sense that shooting guns is a therapeutic experience.”
“What is one of the greatest gifts Hunter ever gave you?” asked a member of the fully seated room. “And what is the greatest gift you ever gave him?”Hunter & The Zeta Medallion
“This medallion I’m wearing was given to Hunter by Oscar Zeta Acosta, the Chicano Lawyer, and Hunter’s close friend.
They were both idealist; men who fought radically for what they believed in, and this medallion is a pure talisman to the idealisms he shared. It isn’t a piece of jewelry I wear. It is to invoke his presence.”
“The greatest gift I gave my father was forgiveness. I let him know I was proud of him as my father and I believe that was a great weight off of him.”
“I think ultimately his gift to me was his idealism…that no matter how ridiculous or out there it seems..there is a right…there is a good and to never give up on that.”
“How do you see fans taking the book?”
“I don’t think they would find something disillusioning in the book. I do think fans that saw Hunter’s wild side, his drinking and drug use as something good, they will be disappointed when they realize what 50 years of this did to him.”Hunter S., Jennifer WInkel and Juan F. Thompson
“What was a favorite prank or gag that Hunter did?”
“This was during the time of the Curse of Lono book—a 5000 roll of red firecracker—red paper shreds after the explosion all over Ralph Steadman’s hotel room. I believe it took Ralph sometime to forgive him for that one.”
© Brandon Lee Petty 2016