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February 21, 2005

Shades of Hemingway?

Let me preface this by saying that I know next to nothing about Hunter S. Thompson, but after hearing about his suicide, my first thought was "what a Hemingway wannabe". The drinking, smoking and hard-living self-absorption right up until the end...I just can't respect that. But like I said, I knew nothing of the man.

Posted by Kehaar at February 21, 2005 09:28 AM | TrackBack
Postscript:
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Comments

Bro, HST was one of my favorite writers. He was a bit like Mark McGwire or Sosa in their prime - you knew that every fourth at bat would be a strikeout, he'd walk once, hit a popup, and then put one out of the park. Stylistically, he was the godfather of every good modern author who can tackle a serious subject, lapse into hilarity for a moment, tackle the serious again. P.J. O'Rourke and Mark Steyn wouldn't exist if it wasn't for HST.

HST's recent stuff was pretty mediocre. I hope he got a bulk rate from USPS, to handle the load of all the stuff he was just mailing in. But occasionally you saw a glimmer of the old HST. He wrote some motorcycle reviews for one of the bike mags a couple years ago, Motorcyclist or Cycle, that were golden.

And if you want to get at the heart of what HST was about, like Lileks says, you need to read The Hells Angels. That book typified his approach to life, journalism, and writing. The passage on riding his BSA out over the Bay Bridge in the middle of the night, by way of explaining why he rode motorcycles, captured the soul of motorcycling and why we do it better than anything I've ever read, in 33+ years of riding. And this sentence about a party going wrong during a booze-induced haze embodies his approach to life and journalism better than anything I can say here:

"Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, somebody stood up and blew out the back door with a shotgun."

If you've ever been boozed up and at a party where things went badly wrong, that simple sentence encapsulates it better than the next day's police blotter, the angry answering machine messages, and the friends who act strangely aloof for the next month.

HST may have been jerk, a drug abuser, and rotten to the people around him, but he could write really well, and that means something. If you haven't read Hell's Angels, read it. You'll understand.

Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and innocent,
And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique,
Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives,
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honours at their feet.
Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views,
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.

Posted by: Blackavar at February 21, 2005 11:23 AM

Thanks for the primer, Blackavar. I probably should do a little more research on Thompson. I guess I'm just really annoyed at how the press idolizes and worships someone who chooses suicide as a way out. Not knowing Thompson, it just seemed like an easy way for him to secure his legacy as a writer. My annoyance in this case may have more to do with the media than with the man.

Posted by: Kehaar at February 21, 2005 11:42 AM

Kehaar, find everything Thompson ever wrote about Richard M. Nixon and read it first. THAT will be his most lasting contribution: That drug-addled coot understood Nixon better than Nixon's own family did and explained him better than any other journalist or historian.

Otherwise, for a good one-stop intro, find a used paperback of the Great Shark Hunt.

The idolatry is misplaced, I'll grant. A lot of his early stuff simply took for granted the rampant sexism underlying the "free love" 1960s/early 1970s in a way that the older, duller Thompson probably wouldn't have. And the older Thompson was, well, duller. And suicide, particularly in this grotesque manner, is never the answer.

But the best of his stuff contributed greatly to literature and journalism, and his death is a true loss.

Posted by: Lex at February 21, 2005 01:49 PM

kehaar - I understand your frustration at the press who will lionist HST and his committing suicide. And knowing what little I know about him, it was probably an impulsive act by a drug and drink addled, egomaniacal loser, who realised he is well past his prime. having said that, I must say that not all suicides are equal. Soem like me ( who has contemplated suicide in the recent past) look at that as an option, when life goes horribly wrong ( cancer, financial problems etc). And so, I think, one has to make the difference between some drug addled loser like Cobaine or HST offing hisself, or some otherwise norman person who is forced to do it due to serious life problems. Just my 2 cents.

Posted by: ronin at February 21, 2005 04:05 PM

Ronin, I am a firm believer that while there is life, there is hope. Being a Christian, I also have religious problems with suicide. I don't buy into the Catholic assertion that suicide equals an automatic trip to hell, but I do believe that life was granted by God and is a gift only He can take away from us.

With that said, I understand that some people consider it an option. I just don't think that literary or artistic figures that commit suicide should be automatically turned into these heroic figures.

Posted by: Kehaar at February 21, 2005 04:52 PM

You know, I started to make a similar post on my own blog, but canceled out at the end thinking "I really don't know this guy's work enough to comment." There is just one glaring thing in the CNN article I read about his death: he (and CNN) described his home as a "fortified compound." And let's face it, anyone who lives in a "fortified compound" ends up taking a bullet eventually.

Posted by: James at February 22, 2005 03:51 PM
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