Grumblings from the Editor: Time To Take Hunter Seriously

by David Pratt

What the fuck is this shit? It’s after midnight, it’s raining, my publisher and poetry editor are whooping it up in Denver with Hunter’s son, daughter-in-law and grandson, along with Doug Brinkley, DJ Watkins & NIck Storm…and I am stuck here on the bleak and blear October East Coast with a cold wind blowing the low-tide stench through the ruffling curtains…sitting here watching some lame CNN personality pretend to be Hunter S. Thompson interviewing never-before-heard-of presidential candidate Martin O’Malley on the way to Las Vegas.

Chris Moody in your teenage neighbor’s Hunter S. Thompson Halloween get-up, driving a red Chevy convertible, picks up O’Malley hitchhiking on a desert road in an uninspired parody of The Film’s opening sequence, swooping bats, Dr. Johnson quote and all. Pretending to be a journalist.

And of course, he starts the discussion with “drug policy”…isn’t that clever, especially the offer of beer and ether declined by O’Malley.

Listen, it’s no secret Hunter imbibed or that he loved to give the squares over-the-top displays of weirdness and wildness soaked in his sardonic humor. And I have as much of a sense of humor as the next guy, but this repeated representation of Hunter as some kind of crazy coked-out cartoon character is becoming tiresome. From Doonesbury to David Letterman to the films, too often Hunter is passed off as just some amusing, drug-addled eccentric.

Well . . . he was hilarious . . . he was eccentric . . . And he was quite often drug-addled . . . But Hunter S. Thompson was first and foremost an insightful and honest explicator of his times with a mastery at wrestling words into submission. Not only is he one of the greatest writers America has ever produced, he is one of its greatest thinkers . . . and one of its greatest champions of freedom and the power of the human spirit. The One Gonzo Spirit.

And that fact is not trumpeted often or loudly enough. Especially by so-called journalists who should appreciate Thompson’s importance, value and contribution to their craft . . . good lord, man, have you even read his fucking books?

If journalists today want to emulate Hunter Thompson, they’d be better off looking at Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 than they are Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas (not to dis the Vegas book, the depth of which is also overlooked by the undiscerning). Hunter’s analysis of the campaign was spot-on, viciously honest, pulled no punches. And the writing . . . the words . . . the wisdom and the humor. It is arguably the best piece of political writing ever produced and definitely the most entertaining. Frank Mankiwicz famously called it “the least factual, most accurate account” of the election. Hunter didn’t just cover the campaign trail, he uncovered the ridiculous and ruthless charade of politics and tore down the facade fronting the rotten core at the heart of the American system with a style never before seen.

Or check out Hell’s Angels, a journalistic, sociological and literary masterpiece. Dig Strange Rumblings in Aztlan, another example of rarely surpassed writing and reporting. And, yes, F&L in Vegas, which is NOT about two drug crazed lunatics raising hell in Sin City . . . not if you’re paying attention. A perusal of his collected works will leave your head spinning, not in a drug-induced haze but enlightened with the Truth that Hunter nailed down for us. And yet we still hear certain people diminishing this Giant of Literature to the role of “a teenage girl trapped in the body of an elderly dope fiend,” perpetuating the caricature that is Raoul Duke instead of celebrating his amazing literary works.

I come at Thompson as a literary academic drop-out and journalist. Hunter is a writer to me. I found his books first. I learned about all the wild shit later, but even then I could see through it to catch that spark in his eye, that Roadman for the Lords of Karma Wisdom.

Hunter was no teenage girl, he was an Old Soul, a Shaman, an Emissary of the Great Magnet trapped in the body of a Kentucky boy who despite all the horror, or maybe because of it, loved his time here, lived it with honor and passion, and reported it well and truly.