Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
In some way, you had to know it would end like that. You knew that even in a world where karma is denied and poetry withers on the vine of circumstance, you knew that there was no way in hell that Hunter S. Thompson was going to die quietly in bed, surrounded by sad, resolute loved ones, exchanging platitudes about the nature of mortality as his organs sputtered and shut down, one by one.
You knew his life would end instead at the business end of a firearm. Although you didn’t know if it would be an accidental shooting at his own hand–cursing long-forgotten gods and blood-loss hallucinations as he slipped into oblivion. Or at the hands of somebody dangerous who had once crossed his many winding paths. Or, perhaps, even like this. Even deliberate suicide, a final cocktail of desperation and surrender coursing through his system and then erupting into the world in a spasm of fire and disappointment.
He was a man famous for his eccentricities, for his unabashed indulgence in mind alteration, for the caustic, hazardous drive of his personality, a runaway cattle car filled with madmen and hobgoblins smoking illegal cigars and placing ridiculous bets on exhibition football games. He was a journalist in the last decaying definitions of that faltering job title, a man whose writing and insight into the deathly labyrinth of social strata and political machination were capable of both pinpoint surgery and savage butchery.
On the surface, Dr. Thompson was little more than a drug-addled, borderline sociopathic miscreant who could write. He was a man who tossed racist epithets around without apology; who confessed, either truthfully or untruthfully, of his criminal dealings and let loose great belly laughs at the misfortune of his victims. Contrary to the clinical, precise work of Watergate reporters Woodward and Bernstein, when Thompson finally set his sights on Nixon and his corrupt White House, it was with an unbridled sadistic glee that occasionally made you feel sorry for Tricky Dick–that is, until Thompson very convincingly reminded you why none of the heads going up on the pikes deserved your sympathy.
Ultimately, Thompson was a testament to the wild crucible of America, which could produce such works of absurdist theater as the city of Las Vegas and the Kentucky Derby, and therefore needed to produce an equally absurd narrator to describe it all. If he needed to fill his body with psychotropics to do so, then that was simply the fact of humanity–to Thompson, at least, one could not view the world without first clouding one’s perception thereof. He brought this same sensibility to bear on every locale and in every situation he wrote of, from the everyday drug operations of South America to the brutal microcosm of the Hell’s Angels, and through this prism the journalism was true without necessarily being accurate: like any story told, it brings a piece of the storyteller with it. Thompson simply seemed more aware of that than other journalists.
At this writing, there are no details as to why Thompson ultimately made the decision to be the arbiter of his own demise. There have been no reports of a suicide note, which is a statistical possibility–very few suicides actually come with a note–but seems improbable to me. The idea that Thompson, at the end, would not have wanted a final word of some kind, seems alien and unreal. Then again, he was an unstable S.O.B., and I would not put it past him to have let fly his middle finger at the world as he shuffled off it–Fuck you, World. You figure it out. I’ve babied you long enough.
It may have been selfish. It may be a monumental letdown to lose him now, when his voice is especially needed among those who are attempting to speak truth to power (or, more appropriately, truth to those currently under power). I have no idea if he had been diagnosed with something debilitating and fatal and simply decided to handle his death on his own terms. I don’t know if his spirit was broken along with those of so many others last November, and if he simply couldn’t heal enough of it to linger on…that perhaps the gunpowder he packed into his passion couldn’t tolerate being so dampened, that it so upset his balance to have made his final, failed assault1 on the festering values of the American government that he couldn’t find it in himself to rise from the canvas.
I don’t know why he did it, I know only that now he is gone. I’d say Rest in Peace, Dr. Gonzo, but that seems almost a fate worse than death for one such as him. And I have a feeling he might have greater appreciated the farewell Burn in Hell, you Old Bastard, with the following spoken as the glass is raised: May you plague the Devil below as you plagued the Devils above.
Goodbye, Dr. Thompson.
1 Dr. Thompson wrote a brilliant essay on President Bush and his administration that appeared in Rolling Stone in the last few weeks before the election. It was vintage: a brash, unforgiving portrait of American leadership and the country that deserved it. In the past, his ability to predict the national political temperament had been near-unerring. I don’t think he could have recovered completely from so dramatically misinterpreting what he, and many of us, thought we saw in our fellow citizens.