by Ashley Beth
For through teeth grinding is the way we come in
And with teeth grinding is the way we go out
And if and only if
The only times we truly live
Our teeth are grasping all the air
In us to shout?
I was flying 38,000 feet above the brown, February ground when I discovered once and for all that bourbon is better than whiskey. The devil had three fingers in me, after taking a ceremonious shot of Woodford Reserve just outside security at Louisville’s Standiford Field airport and then a double of the notch up by the gate while my flight was delayed. I like how bourbon picks you up gently, carries ya tenderly and sits you down nicely, unlike the rude, ravaging, death-by-aftertaste of Jack Daniels.
It was official. This 2016 airplane trip from Newark, New Jersey, to Louisville and back would go down in this 29-year-old platinum blonde’s life as the moment that she would fall prey to the swagger of bourbon. Which, frankly, looks like it will serve me better than any man I’ve ever invited to share life with me. After all, bourbon doesn’t discriminate, criticize or make condescending comments indicating incompetence which upon questioning are apparently really never supposed to insult us, we just need to stop being so “damn sensitive.”
Anyways, squirrel. This would also be the trappings of what I hope to be the long love affair I will have with Louisville. In fact, the bourbon was becoming the iconic scent of the lover that Louisville was becoming to me. The Victorian mansions teased me, her Fleur de Lis charmed me and the friendly, laid back whispers of the Highlands intrigued me. This was my third trip to city that I swear has a sister city in New Orleans. They’re just too similar. They have too many similarities to list here but the mutual, Louis XIV “Sun King” settling of the two lands, their dedication to beauty, their commitment to art, their slurry speech as they ask you in an accent dripping with honey, “How ya doin’, darling?” Sigh. I just can’t even. I’m disappointed that this is only my third trip.
Since our introduction at GonzoFest 2015 and the exciting, subsequent events of that Donald Trump broadcasted, mass shootings blasted, catastrophic year of our Lord 2015, Louisville, Kentucky was starting to magnetize me. Like a massive device rigged by Magneto, I could feel it warming up. I could hear the clicking, the clacking, the warming of the tubes. The radio waves blasting, the cobwebs of years past lambasting and the preservers of the Great Gonzo Spirit gripping hands they had not held since they stood in circle round a two-thumbed fisted cannon containing the ashes of the only music-political-sports—counter culture-social commentator-historian journalist in America’s history.
Ever since the first touch from the Thompson’s reaching out to Poetry Chief Ron Whitehead, the parkways and alleyways of Louisville became abuzz with anticipation of what would be happening come April.
As famous as Hunter S Thompson is, as many memes of quotes of his you can find with a Google image search, the honoring of his literary achievements is fueled passionately, honorably and steadily by a shockingly small group of artists. This is not to say it’s exclusive, but rather more reclusive.
The fact of the matter is that the fans of Hunter are all in some ways like the man. That is, we all burn. We burn fiercely, we burn unapologetically and most of all we burn beautifully and all too often self-destructively. We then rise from the ash, scooping a handful of it on our way up to scatter upon the canvas or notebook or video image. But when we run out of fuel, we stop. And there hasn’t been much fuel under the Gonzo fire since Hunter’s death in 2005. Doused by greed, ego and petty arguments, all that remained of the raging bonfire of patriotism that was Gonzo is a smoking pile of timber, with one silent stream of smoke rising straight into the air, beautifully and defiantly like the religious candle at the beginning of Schindler’s List (purposefully the only scene of the black and white film in which Spielberg would feature color.)
Fortunately, the folks of Louisville and the folks of Gonzo Today would mix themselves up to become the kind of 50/50 gasoline/oil ratio of fuel needed to start up a motherfucking chainsaw. Ya know, to make some more wood for that fire…..
As soon as the clanking of metals could be heard echoing in the Louisville Highlands, the magnet started picking up some pretty massive, sonic waves from that city in the sky, Denver, Colorado. It started with the publishing of Daniel J “DJ” Watkins’ book, ‘Freak Power’, a memoir of Hunter’s run for sheriff in Aspen, the opening of the attention to detail, Gonzo Gallery in Aspen (an account of which can be read online by the sexy, sassy, Puck of a journalist, Brandon Lee), the participation of old friends of Hunters such as Aspen sheriff Bob Braudis and historian Doug Brinkley. and of course, the family of Hunter himself, son Juan Thompson, wife Jennifer and son Will.
All of a sudden, a stream of light projected up from each of the two cities. Beaming, reaching and beaconing to each other like Tolkien’s Two Towers, a stream of colorful clouds rotating like a kaleidoscope. Not one beam pushing against the other, but rather reaching for each other. Reaching, balancing, stretching, further and further into a network of support that otherwise wasn’t so much of a rescue line but a tug line through the current of ignorant indifference. A beck and call, like the old, call and return method of Count Basie, one of the earliest disc jockeys who would ignite a domino effect of ‘DJ to crowd’ communication that would spark a dry, tinder borough of NYC named Harlem to permanently set the world ablaze with hip hop. That kind of exciting, escalating conversation was happening. It was a mix of excited outcry to the crowd and a shockingly united response. That. That was happening.
Next thing you know, more people start showing up for yearly Gonzo Fests, of which this year is its sixth, and the festival has been growing steadily over the years. My first introduction to Louisville happened to be Gonzo Fest 2015. I had heard about it through my participation with GonzoToday, a writer’s group looking to honor the literary legacy of Hunter’s Gonzo style journalism. I was glad I found all of this. Because I for one could not accept that the freak power movement was totally over. I couldn’t accept that the hippy movement was over. That free-spirited, spontaneous, American loving and living and shouting out the roof of a fast-moving, convertible car, was over.
I mean, it was close for a second. Fuck, I grew up sheltered and Irish Catholic in the nineties…..what are the odds. But the squaring of the round, innovative peg that was trail-blazing patriotism of Amurrica didn’t start in the nineties. Nah. It just came in the nineties. Where we and any concepts of fixed mortgages just got off to the point of blowing our brains out. I believe it was around then that mac n’ cheese from the box began to be considered cooking…….But America had been jacking off for a while to greed, excess and power before Wall Street desks dusted with cocaine.
Nixon had to come in with his blasted Controlled Substance Act of 1970, promptly ending America’s party. Sending all the fun to the basement, where the illicit acts of human behavior would be less distracting, but also less supervised. It wouldn’t be too long before tunnels started getting dug out from under those basements, creating a major, international crime network which defunds more government budgets than any “ward of the state” or education budget could ever rival.
It is funny how skewed our priorities got during the Nixon, Reagan and Bush-squared presidencies. Like the second coming of McCarthyism, it’s as if all freedom of expression and individualism was deemed irresponsible. As if we were as good as serial killers if we didn’t have a house, a job and 2.5 kids. As if grand slam, super sized servings of genetically modified foods and spending enough to keep up with the Jones’s became the only thrills to live for. And then we all join this rat race to be crippled under the weight of debt and rack up the highest insulin dose once we blow out our pancreas from all that super sized food. American excess. We love it. We’ve even built an entire city in shrine to worship it. In fact…
I was sitting 17 floors up from the Las Vegas strip when I realized that the plight of our country is too close to that of the Roman empire for my comfort. It will start and end with Vegas. Something about Lake Mead, the draining of it by the city and the fact that one day this entire city will look like some apocalyptic movie scene or whatever some bastard was talkin’ at me. And when I say our country is in a state of threat, I think Hunter knew that back then. I think our country’s trail blazing, full speed ahead ideals can be substituted with the term ‘American dream’ that kept getting talked about during Hunter’s trip to Vegas. Except Hunter didn’t really know what the fuck the American dream was. Neither did his attorney, Oscar Zeta Acosta. Neither did anyone they asked on their crazy trip in Vegas. Neither has anyone since.
In the abandoned factory, debt crisis, outsourced phase of our country, I demand to know where our country is going. Because it seems to me that wherever there used to be a town in this country, there is now just a string of chain businesses, usually a gas station, a sandwich shop and a pharmacy, and that’s it. The mom and pop shop are closed. The trains have stopped calling at the local stations. There are beautiful, brick Victorians, mammoth architectures and efficient infrastructures that help people live low-cost, highly active, well supported lives in this country. They’re there. But they are dying. Crumbling. Ravaged into devastation by copper thieves. There was a time when the well-planned, pedestrian-based infrastructure of towns such as Louisville, KY, Lowell, MA, Detroit, MI and Buffalo, NY provided countless resources to their citizens so they may use their resources more freely on learning, exploring the arts, new ideas and physical activity.
Now it’s cheaper and easier for you to buy something made in China than the locally produced products at your local business. WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE? Why is it easier to support the exportation of a nation on the other side of this planet than for us to help the livelihoods of the people who we pass on the sidewalks every day?
It’s no wonder Hunter killed himself. He saw the disparity of our nation ravaged by George Bush, and the ripple effects in the puddle of shame that our country would drip out during his presidency. In many ways, it got worse. But as the Scarecrow said in the ‘Wizard of Oz,’ “It’s sure to get darker before it gets lighter.” And now folks are finally starting to realize that buying microwavable everything inflated by convenience fees is not sustainable. It makes us fat, poor and more likely to get cancer.
Hunter predicted the darkness of the path of America. Hunter predicted he would perish by his own hand. Hunter possessed a high energy, highly intuitive, free-spirited mind that sometimes got too much for even him. The fact that he was a Cancer astrologically made it easier for him to contain his rage than his fellow Water signs such as Scorpios. As a Cancer, his nature is to ultimately, considerately self-destruct much more than he will ever antagonize others. Not that he didn’t do any of that either. But a lot of folks over-exaggerate his drug use as some sort of testimony to irresponsibility rather than the obvious coping mechanism it was to deal with a mind like his that he had to deal with every second of every hour of every day.
One of the last things that Hunter S. Thompson predicted was that there would be an army of writers who would eventually rise up to continue his legacy after his death. He knew that he would not be forgotten. And he isn’t. I’m proud, and grateful to tears (think Uma Thurman at the end of Kill Bill, tears) to call myself one of the writers who is continuing his legacy. Another writer who refuses to swallow what is handed for me, and chooses to walk the path less travelled like Thoreau or to satirize the status quo like Fitzgerald. It feels like an impossible battle. It feels like we will be squashed by the leviathan of the media. This is it. Just like Hunter thought. This is the end. It’s over.
The Gonzo spirit is so revved up, we can’t help ourselves but to trailblaze. And I think there’s some trails been due for some blazin’. And see blazin’ is what we do. And shit…..now I want to be in Wyoming all of a sudden. Damn Western itch……Baggins!!!!!!! Tooks!!! Damn Bagginses……
But seriously. Time is precious to us and we want to blaze strong and outright. Look for some smoke. Look for some fire.
We WILL march.
“For our families
For our freedoms
Shhh. Listen, darlin’
Do you hear that Bangarang battle cry?