by J.D. Tuccille
February 22, 2005
Hunter S. Thompson (July 18, 1937 - February 20, 2005)
Hunter S. Thompson almost ruined me as a writer. I was so enamored of him as a young scribbler that I aspired to emulate his achievements as a new journalist -- though I was wise enough to avoid aping his voice (with the exception of one pretty good piece I wrote for a journalism class assignment to copy an established writer's style). More foolishly, I sought to follow Thompson's lifestyle; fun as that was for a few years, it didn't help either the quantity or quality of my literary output through my mid-twenties. My one noticeable success from that period was a piece I did for Penthouse on my experience as an experimental subject in a truly bizarre series of federally funded (of course) experiments on the effects of cocaine and marijuana on human beings. Conclusion: They make you really high.
But I survived the experience and went on to develop my own writing style. Whether that style is worth a damn is an open question, but enough people have paid me for my output over the years that I figure I canŐt be totally incompetent with word processing software.
And I still enjoy reading the best of Hunter S. Thompson's work. Hell's Angels and the Fear and Loathing books are classics -- they capture people and events in living, breathing way that traditional mainstream journalism just can't equal. Future generations will better understand twentieth-century motorcycle gangs and the 1972 presidential election through the Thompson books (though they'll certainly get a wildly personal take) than they ever could through dry just-the-facts accounts that deliberately exclude a subjective "feel" for the events they describe. That's not to say that the front page of your daily newspaper is devoid of value, but traditional journalists don't have the time, energy or space to package stories with their context the way the best of the new journalists do.
That ability to capture the moment is, I think, what made ThompsonŐs early work so good -- and its absence is what made much of his later work so irrelevant. While he always kept his distinctive personal voice, he lost his feel for the world around him. Sometime before 1980 it became clear that Thompson was no longer the voice of (part of) a generation, and had instead become the ambassador from 1968. His coverage of the '80s, '90s and early 2000s was increasingly anachronistic; he seemed to lack connection to any cultural and political developments since the resignation of President Nixon.
Then again, maybe that will matter less in a century's time to readers who can't distinguish between Freak Power and Girl Power the way contemporary Americans canŐt tell much difference between the era of powdered wigs and the age of top hats.
It seems inappropriate to wish a wild spirit like Thompson to "rest in piece," so let's just hope that the afterlife, if there is one, is well stocked with ibogaine and ammunition, and that Thompson is able to spend eternity tormenting the ghost of Richard Nixon.
Ah well, and so much for the power of argument. So back you go to Full Automatic or to my home page.
Copyright (c) 2004 Jerome D. (Il Tooch) Tuccille. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Il Tooch is prohibited. Mess with me and I’ll use your polished skull as a beer mug.