The Lion, the Wrench and the Whitehead: 3 Days in Louisville

“Freedom is something that dies unless it’s used.” Hunter Stockton Thompson

Day One: The Lion

(Lyrics in italics by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Weeknd)

“Gold lion’s gonna tell me where the light is
Gold lion’s gonna tell me where the light is

It’s an interesting idea to consider if the chance meeting of random strangers is at all increased by the signals that ping between the finger to keyboard command prompts that compromise so much of our actions in this post-industrialized, post world-wide-webbed world.

How do shared URL addresses, “Liked” pages on Facebook, username friend requests, personal messages and two revealed mobile phone numbers later become the tentative then actual then realized happenings of what I have come to declare is my random-ass fucking life?

“Take our hands out of control”

But next thing I know I’m standing there re-introducing myself and hugging one of the writers for Gonzo Today.  Grinning awkwardly like you do anytime you meet someone you’ve spoken to but never physically met.

“Take our hands out of control”

He had the tangy, vanilla spicy musk of a laid back yet talented athlete who would probably always have carried a library book, a joint and a flask in his gym bag. His smile had a charm so potent of which he must be self-aware. So he chuckled with an American boy goofiness to get through this whole thing and started giving me this awesomely catered, craft food and beer loving instructional tour of his city that was appreciated but at this point I was pretty much just, “Dude, can we just drive around and smoke for me to get to know you? That’s kinda my jam.” Maybe because I’ve had too many things happen in public….anyways.

Now tell me what you saw”

He was adventurous. He passed my default compatibility test of being cool with me driving while we smoked. There was no freak out. I fucking hate it when a guy freaks out. Because then I know I’ve picked a small man.

I mean, it’s not like I was picking up this guy. Nah. This guy just happened to have what I needed in the place when I would need it next and I remember the times he complimented the words I string together. Most guys don’t do that. I think most guys just jack off to my photos.

Anyways, squirrel. I didn’t know many people in this city which I just ate 973 highway miles to see so I liked the idea of spending time with someone my own age. I couldn’t get into any trouble because I had taken a vow of chastity due to a recently acquired, overall disgust with men. Seriously I was over guys. I had fantasies of women most of the fucking time.

His raspy voice turned me off. It was a lot like a lot of guys I had grown out of. But his genuine realism weighed as much as his dreamy ideals that I saw reflected in his eyes which seemed to constantly be sending out golden light. He had this charming, perpetual, Cheshire-cat grin indicating that the universe is a joke, and that he was totally onto it. And thought it was hilarious.

Truthfully, he kind of stopped my brain’s natural generalization and compartmentalization process. I actually could listen to him. I have a hard time listening to most people. He took me to a great store at which I bought craft beer and we drove around some more. He took me to one of his favorite restaurants, a place where there was wagyu (Japanese cow?), wild boar and kangaroo on the menu. It didn’t help with my indecision but the selections of meat and the dialogue which ensued were hilarious. The experience was also pure American, medium-rare deliciousness. I couldn’t believe this was only one of my first tastes of Louisville. At the time of this happening, there was a sad melancholic pang that this experience with the lion-heart was so good it would be one of the best nights to be had.

“But at least we’ll both be beautiful and stay forever young

This I know, yeah, this I know”

I woke up invigorated. I promptly got up and investigated the modern kitchen amenities. I found with such available supplies I could successfully create fucking awesome coffee and cinnamon apple fucking pancakes. With Aunt Jemima fucking maple syruuup. Because economy sizes, bitchessss. But yeah. I flipped jacks and listened to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs with my entire soul singing with the joy and identity I had found in this new city. I decided I would make a move.

Louisville, the Ville, Looville to me, is like Narnia. And I’ll tell you why.

It’s a place for me where time stops. It’s a place for me where my skills at meeting and sizing up people thrillingly fast is appreciated and rewarded and it reminds me a lot of Burlington, Vermont mixed with New Orleans. Those are two of my favorite cities. I love the dominance of brick mortaring in the older architecture. It’s classy, stubbornly nostalgic and beautiful.

Louisville has a bit of the rust off the Detroit to Buffalo beltway on it. It’s close enough to Nashville to be saying something. And I love the fact that Asheville, NC isn’t an impossible concept, either.  (Point of Parliamentary Nomenclature: Dude, like, what’s with all the villes?)

I find the drive through Ohio is more familiar. Perhaps it’s because it’s easier to journey north and south ways as there are more highways that trade off with more urban area traffic. Traveling east and west ways are a pain in the ass. Much fewer routes. Mostly all tolls traded off with lots of trucks. But I love my country and its Dwight D. Eisenhower interstate system. Growing up, my Dad always told me that General Eisenhower had been inspired to create the interstate system from his observance the German autobahn system during WWII in which he saw large amounts of vehicle traffic and equipment could be transported directly, safely and efficiently.

To New Englanders, Pennsylvania is weird. It’s officially ‘Outside of New England’ and is for most of us beyond that six hour of driving mark where we might never go there. I’ve certainly never spent much time in Pennsylvania. I suppose that I, too, would rather be anywhere than Philadelphia.

West Virginia is even weirder. Too quiet. Too mountainous. Especially since you know all those mountains are alive inside with mines. The very mines that funded major aristocratic families and their industries and towns and universities. I get this very dense feeling every time I drive through what is statistically one of the lowest income, highest obesity and diabetes rated states in the entire country. I couldn’t help but notice there were several Morgantowns out here in these mountainous, Appalachian woods, and several Masontowns…anyways, no one ever follows me when I talk about that.

So it was not surprising to hear Nashville Pussy declare at their show that West Virginia was a gateway to pills before they played their new song “Pill Billy.”

Either way, the sheer distance of the route and the fuzzy nature of the journey through mountains and woods makes the journey to Louisville feel like just stepping into the back of your closet and going to Narnia. It’s as if you search hard enough you’ll find it, after fourteen hours of driving, or driving to an obscure airport. Once again, it’s the edge. The edge of my understanding for frequent, sustainable, long-distance travel. It’s also where my spirit feels closer to some greater spirit. I always leave there with more excitement for life and new ideas. People seem to welcome new folks moving to town. It’s a zeitgeist. Definitely a zeitgeist. And I know it will always be some kind of home to me forevermore.

“life knocked me off my platforms
so i pulled out my first pair of boots
bought on the street at astor place
before new york was run by suits
and i suited up for the long walk
back to myself
closer to the ground now
with sorrow
and stealth” ~Ani DiFranco

Day Two: The Wrench

I couldn’t wait to meet Ron Whitehead at the Monkey Wrench. I couldn’t wait to be back at the place all the Gonzo people were first ever together. That place was the Monkey Wrench on Barret Avenue. By Cherokee park and Cave Hill cemetery, it’s the downtown part of the upper crest of Louisville. The Wrench was the first place the Gonzo Today members were due to meet each other in person for the first time, in Louisville, during Gonzo Fest, in that high-anxiety, #BlackLivesMatter, riotous year of our Lord, 2015. Ron was hosting a large, pre-festival event and wanted to recognize Gonzo Today.  Here it was, our first chance to show accountability as a group.  Naturally, at that, we all of us failed miserably.

We the road weary staying up at the Gonzo House were sleeping off the road burn and introductions and new names and faces and just taking the kind of disco naps we all should have set our snooze alarms for. Anyways, as David Pratt has mentioned, the look on Ron Whitehead’s face when we finally got to the Wrench was one that we would vow to never produce again. And that instantly made us slaves to the Wrench. And I think in the end we all liked that. It’s kind of like the first time your hair gets pulled really hard during, or that sting from something slapping you or…..whatever ya like, I dunno. But it was down home. Full of good liquor and local and otherwise crafted bear with a simple menu featuring daily specials, entertainment space, low maintenance table seating and plenty of meeting and smoking space outdoors. Ahem.

I got to the Wrench in time for meeting up with Ron Whitehead for Gonzo talk and he arrived bearing copies of Louisville’s LEO weekly re-occurring newsletter.

I stayed for the Gonzo Fest meeting. I drank too much because I had to. Heavy, exciting, amazing shit. Amazing. My Spirit is zeitgeisting to orgasm.

I met music editor Jason Ashcraft. He has an old school handsomeness with a Charlie Sheen sort of edge and I like that he had a press pass through Gonzo Today to get him free plus one ticket to see rockabilly legend Reverend Horton Heat, with openers Nashville Pussy. He invited both Chief Clayton and I. Clayton couldn’t go, and I was done with the Wrench for the time being. I couldn’t be surrounded by the wooden threads of barrels any longer, it makes me want to drink too much. So I hopped in Ashcraft’s car and somewhere in that hour I lost my pink glittered notebook. Damn it. But it’s not ADD. I checked.

I got a lot of double takes at the Horton Heat show, I guess platinum blonde hair and blood red lipstick are a rare sort of combination in this place. Anyways, I didn’t even stay long enough to hear the headliner but loved Nashville Pussy. Ashcraft asked a lot of questions, but was more of a gentleman during our Gonzo Today colleague concert attendance than some guys who said they loved me for over six months.

This is mostly due to me walking over and joining him and his tattoo artist buddies down the bah. All around a fine group of gents except for this one pig-headed, alpha, ugly sort of gorilla who turned around, saw me, sized me up in my black tank top and immediately started patting my lil’ Pulp Fiction pot belly and then scoffs at the Gonzo Fist sword tattoo running down the back of my arm. I responded in all the candor of a free spirited gal who’d been drinking since noon basically with “DOOD! Did you LEGIT just criticize my belly AND my tattoos within the same fucking thirty seconds?! Do you have any IDEA how much pulled pork I had to eat to get this belly!?!?!? Hmmm?!?!? Yeah.That’s fucking right!”  After a couple more discrete-yet-direct-yet-condescending caresses later, the ones creeps are known for,  Ashcraft insisted the guy “Stop with the hands” with the “hay ends” pronunciation ringing with that Kentucky twang that denotes slower speech pattern but ultimately more cowboy and badassery.

**A note on the chivalrous gentleness of men below the Mason Dixon line.  No feminist will ever be too bitter to withstand the charm, manners and politesse recurrent in Southern men.  They carry things for you.  They compliment you.  They speak softly, use good language and excuse themselves when they cannot control their bad.  Most Northeastern guys don’t do that.  I think most Northeastern guys are mama’s boys who are just looking for another woman from whom to demand things.

Anyways, by Ashcraft’s gentleman kindness, I was ubered back to the Wrench. The fucking Wrench. Always, with the Wrench. Because the Wrench is where it starts. Because the Wrench is where it ends. The Wrench is where my primary notebook of one year decided to leave me to take up residence (that’s some blood, heavy, personal belongings, man.) I think I’m just gonna have to keep coming back there. The halls echo with memory, potential gravity, all that fantastic syncope of spirit. And whiskey. And to think I promised both grandmas that I’d stay away from whiskey based on said grandmothers’ painful relationship with it and depressants themselves.  Weird.  They died before I even touched the stuff.  It’s like they knew…….. But yeah.  Whiskey. With beer, it’s my favorite. Gin second. Bloody Marys third. I love gin fizzies and various mixed cocktails rarely for exotic reasons. Margaritas when appropriate and tequila only if it’s clear.  Gold makes me exorcist sick. God my psyche is delicate.

Sometimes I think I’m too much like my literary hero/army general for my own good.  Too much manic, professional, Fitzgerald-fueled passion.  All that stimulation is too much for one brain so bring on the depressants to calm us down to a more sociable level. After that, bring on the sympathomimetic stimulants.  After all, my genius music and theatre instructor always told me it’s better to drop down into a high note than to strain up to reach it.  Mmmm amines two carbons away from an aromatic ring bearing hydroxyl groups meta and para to the chiral-beta hydroxy group…….sigh, the catecholamines of the sympathomimetics.  The amphetamines, the caffeines, all the “eens” as it were.  Up and down on the whirlpool journey to the edge we go.  But in the end, depressants are the main game for Hunter, myself and many obsessive, insomniac writers.  We enjoy the come down from the zenith of passion to the gentle striding of the standard deviation.  Until, that is, we start to fall asleep, throw things at people or self-destruct in front of everyone. Phoenix. Anyways. Squirrel.

Day Three: The Whitehead

There will never be enough words written about Ron Whitehead.  This is because he is a man whose spirit is everywhere, and no one can write about everywhere altogether.  He is an artist of many medias, a man of many forms plus he is always reinventing and changing.  The fear of failure has no hold on this man nor is he ever afraid try something new.  Any reader of his short stories about his childhood days and his allegiance towards the Mothers of his youth can see he will always be one of Pan’s Lost Boys.  However, from what I can gather of the man he got onto the Wizard path real soon into his maturity.  He has put his time in.  He has worked hard, scrapped, sacrificed and fallen on his face enough times to gracefully rise above the mundane obstacles between ego and ignorance that get thrown at all healing, magnetic personalities.

It’s tough being a magnetic personality.  Because you’re always going to set a polarization of extreme like or dislike.  One with such a personality is born with the lifetime task of maintaining a balance of their mind, their energy, their behavior more than most as they were given more energy to have to control, and more physical and social consequences for them in their worlds as a result of their behavior.  I know what this feels like. So does Hunter.  So, to some degree, do all those self-enlisted in his army.

Ron Whitehead has made it a lifetime work of his to honor the spirit of Hunter S. Thompson and to return him to glorious standing in his home town of Louisville, Kentucky.  He will be the first to tell you he has not always been successful.  He will be the first to tell you that he may have ruffled some long standing feathers, may have pissed some people off.  But Ron has all the fire-born power of a dragon combined perfectly with the abstracted craziness which Hunter himself observed is as “crazy as nine loons.”

The task in hand to honor the man that is Hunter S. Thompson.  This is because he is a man whose spirit is everywhere and no one can write about everywhere altogether. He is an artist of many medias, a man of many forms plus he is always reinventing and changing.  Whoa……déja vu.  Great spirits carry great weight and sometimes engaging with such a spirit is too heavy.  Too controversial.

Arguments break out.  The kind of arguments that occur when you have several people supporting a heavy load.  Everyone is convinced they are carrying the heaviest part.  That the others do not understand their own personal relationship with this load.  “Nah,” they tell themselves, “they *think* they are carrying a load, they have no idea.  Those poor bastards.  Ignorantly slacking off.  No idea of the weight of Thompson.  The legacy of Gonzo.  The task at hand to keep that flame burning, keep that fist pumping further and further into a sky full of the spirit of truth and enlightenment. People like to tell themselves; “The others have no idea what Hunter’s words really mean.  No idea how important he is to me.  How much I have worshiped at the altar of the words ringing out of his Royal, only me.  Only I have put the time in.”

This is a pattern of thought I’ve been noticing amongst many Gonzo fans that I feel is destructive and divisive in our overall outlook to genuinely honor the legacy of Hunter S. Thompson in the respectful and solemn manner in which we want to.  It is a distraction.  It is scattering.  Together as a whole we form an army stronger than what any of us individuals could ever put together.  The challenge is the importance placed on individuality in Gonzo.  Gonzo is by definition, subjective.  Gonzo is by definition, poor at accomplishing objectives.  This is where evolution comes in.  We need to evolve.  We need to shrink the ego. Basically, we all need to fail some more.  We need to argue some more.  We need to create a few more social media groups that all share the same thirty HST memes and argue more about who has whose email addressed allegiance and for how long.

Surely, slowly, steadily it will come together.  It will come together absolutely. In a dynamic time.  Like a time where a candidate for the Democratic party presidential nominee can journey down a political pathway that starts with sheer media shunning, to grassroots social media group support, to the cover of Rolling Stone, to winning the New Hampshire primary.  Against a Clinton, at that.  Perhaps this is the time.  A time where the digital, iron curtain has become so encompassing and enlarged that we can see its fucking pixels.  Betraying even more secrets about the media that Orwell and Huxley had predicted, and showing us that they’re technological skills are as efficient as their ability to tell the truth.

In a time where the refinanced, “they make this now” of the 90’s is replaced by the register app “I made this in my backyard,” of post-2008 DIY pioneering, I think we as Western Civilians and particularly Americans, are starting to fall in love with the truth. We are embracing our love of Truth, the truth of Beauty and the beauty of Love.  And there’s just no more room for fair and reasonable lies to be cattle-fed to us along with our gluten and high fructose corn syrup.  Nah.  There ain’t no more room for that massive megalomaniac media shit. There might be enough room, though, for some American, hand-crafted, trail-blazed, brick oven grilled revolution.  Perhaps all we need is a Gonzo fist to loosen the cap. Come on, baby.  The bottle of truth has been shaken. The bottle been hit. The bottle’s been dropped.  All ya gotta do is get your hands free.  Put down that remote, give the finger to Big Brother and squeeze that white cap of national security open.  Baby, listen, hear the “fizzzzzzz……..”

It has to start somewhere..
It has to start sometime…
What better place than here?..
What better time than now?…
Gonzo Fest 2016

Dr. Ash Tree Gonzo
About Dr. Ash Tree Gonzo 42 Articles
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