February 20th marks eight years since the death of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson (HST). On that date in 2005, HST dropped the hammer on his .357 magnum revolver for the last time, thus ending his life at Owl Farm, his ‘fortified compound’ near Aspen, Colorado.
[NOTE TO READERS: Gonzo journalism can be defined as a journalistic style that does not claim objectivity. Fact and fiction are often blurred, as the reporter becomes part of the story…or that’s what I make of it anyway…]
I was shocked by the news of HST’s death. I had followed his career for many years, my first exposure to gonzo journalism being the pop-culture, balls-to-the-wall saga of the 1972 Presidential campaign: Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, 1972. HST’s alcohol fueled account of this historic campaign was, and still is, the best book about the Nixon/McGovern presidential campaign of 1972 ever written. His interview with George McGovern at the end of the book is priceless, as is the dialog between Hunter and Nixon as they spar on the only common ground they would ever share: professional football.
I went on to read the often emulated, but never equaled, Hells Angels, The Strange And Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. Books about motorcycle gangs abound today, but most are written by law enforcement officers who infiltrate gangs as undercover officers. HST went straight in as a journalist, and captured dialog and feeling for subject that you won’t find in any of the cop’s books. Read today, this classic is also as much a testament to the sixties in San Francisco, as it is to the Angels.
So for me, it was inevitable that I would become a fan of HST, as we had much in common. We both shared a passion for writing, a keen interest in politics and current events, contempt and hatred for Richard M. Nixon and the Vietnam War, distain for the military industrial complex, a healthy distrust of the U.S. Government, and admiration for writer Ernest Hemingway. Also, inexplicably we both shared a somewhat bizarre interest in the inner workings of outlaw motorcycle gangs.
I think it is HST’s interest in Hemingway that is of most interest to me. Hunter was said to be so impressed with Hemingway’s work that back in the 50’s he once typed A Farewell to Arms in its entirety, just to try to capture Hemingway’s style — now that’s some serious stuff.
It is no wonder that HST travelled to Ketchum, Idaho in 1964, three years after Hemingway’s suicide to research a piece that he was writing about the death of the famous author. HST wrote the following about Hemingway:
“He was an old, sick, and very troubled man, and the illusion of peace and contentment was not enough for him – not even when his friends came up from Cuba and played bullfight with him in the Tram. So finally, and for what he must have thought the best of reasons, he ended it with a shotgun.”
Once someone asked me to name my favorite first and last chapters of any book I have ever read. I didn’t have to think about that one. My favorite first chapter would be Chapter 1 of Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms.
My favorite last chapter of any book I have ever read is the last chapter of Hell’s Angels (chapter 22).
Coincidence – I think not…
With that, I close with one of my favorite HST quotes:
“Maybe there is no Heaven. Or maybe this is all pure gibberish—a product of the demented imagination of a lazy drunken hillbilly with a heart full of hate who has found a way to live out where the real winds blow—to sleep late, have fun, get wild, drink whisky, and drive fast on empty streets with nothing in mind except falling in love and not getting arrested . . . Res ipsa loquitur. Let the good times roll.”
—Hunter S. Thompson – Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the 80’s