Published Date Written by Curtis RobinsonASPEN — Author's note explaining himself: Hello, and welcome to Part II of my admittedly rambling column in celebration of Hunter S. Thompson's 75th birthday, which is Wednesday, July 18.
I am filing the story live from the prequel to a Rocky Mountain birthday bash for Dr. Thompson, complete with a cannon firing tomorrow morning in the middle of Aspen and increasingly tight security around Owl Farm, his famously fortified compound north of town.
Given the dryness of this landscape, I'm told the cannon fires a ham.
Then some of us are gathering in the wee hours to read from "Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas," perhaps his most famous book since Johnny Depp made the movie and played Hunter. Granted, in this circle the wee hours are the crack of noon, but Gonzo Time is what it is.
By way of background: HST was a writer credited with creating "Gonzo Journalism," which resembles the more famous "New Journalism" of Tom Wolfe in one key way: participation. Wolfe wrote about people taking hard drugs. Hunter took hard drugs and wrote about people. Others wrote about politicians; Hunter wrote as a sheriff's candidate on the Freak Power ticket.
I knew Hunter well, worked on various projects over a decade or so, and thus must resist the tendency to write about him — except for sometimes rolling with that urge.
Ah, but enough academics ... we promised some HST quotes, and here are a few of my favorites from the more obscure, complete with the warning that I tend to the political with a side-dish of the Early Years. When we began on the first book of Hunter's letters, my primary query was around his pre-famous run-ins with authority. What were the cops like then, before the high-powered lawyers?
Did the defiance come later, with the power? (Turns out, no, and that's a good way to spend High School graduation in jail the way he did ... but enough of that.)
From that first book of letters, Kingdom of Fear: "Events of the past two years have virtually decreed that I shall wrestle with the literary muse for the rest of my days. And so, having tasted the poverty of one end of the scale, I have no choice but to direct my energies toward the acquisition of fame and fortune. Frankly, I have no taste for either poverty or honest labor, so writing is the only recourse left me."
From a later letters volume, Fear & Loathing in America, as he is discussing a surprising friendship with conservative icon Pat Buchanan, and here's an interesting bit of info: Pat and Hunter were having a drink at the Watergate when the burglars were doing their famous thing upstairs: "We disagree so violently on almost everything that it's a real pleasure to drink with him. If nothing else, he's absolutely honest in his lunacy — and I've found, during my admittedly limited experience in political reporting, that power & honesty very rarely coincide."
From the book, "Better than Sex": "Not everybody is comfortable with the idea that politics is a guilty addiction. But it is. They are addicts, and they are guilty and they do lie and cheat and steal — like all junkies. And when they get in a frenzy, they will sacrifice anything and anybody to feed their cruel and stupid habit, and there is no cure for it. That is addictive thinking. That is politics — especially in presidential campaigns. That is when the addicts seize the high ground. They care about nothing else. They are salmon, and they must spawn. They are addicts."
From "The Great Shark Hunt" book: "Myths and legends die hard in America. We love them for the extra dimension they provide, the illusion of near-infinite possibility to erase the narrow confines of most men's reality. Weird heroes and mould-breaking champions exist as living proof to those who need it that the tyranny of 'the rat race' is not yet final."
And I like this one about the power of music, from Kingdom of Fear, that always reminds me of Portland's own Mark Curdo: "Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of fuel. Sentimental people call it inspiration, but what they really mean is fuel. I have always needed fuel. I am a serious consumer. On some nights I still believe that a car with the gas needle on empty can run about fifty more miles if you have the right music very loud on the radio."
There are, of course, hundreds more. Send in your favorites.
And if you're of a certain mindset, take a moment to recall one of America's originals this week.
(Curtis Robinson is the founding editor of The Portland Daily Sun.)