Long Live Drugs And Politics
Hunter S. Thompson is dead. But what about his brand of raw, bloody, beautifully debauched journalism?
By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
I am not nearly stoned enough.
I should at this moment have, at the very least, roughly four Vicodin and three Valium and two giant nuggets of phenobarbital and a few whippets and a canister of ether and a tab of blotter acid and half an ounce of premium hash and a nice snifter of gin playing naked volleyball in my addled brain right now to properly pay homage to the late great Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, which is why I ain't touching this HST legacy thing with a 10-foot line of premium Colombian blow.
I ain't touching it because it's sad and fraught and would probably fail to do the man and his masterfully debauched writing any sort of true and appropriately inappropriate justice, and given how the fine San Francisco Chronicle, like all respectable newspapers, generally disallows stream-of-consciousness fire hoses of frenetic Thompson-like curse words in its publications, I am, shall we say, a bit hamstrung.
And to be perfectly honest, I'm tragically underversed in the Thompson worldview, not really a disciple and not all that devoted to the hard-boiled writer's life and times and the guns and his hellish relationship with law enforcement, the drugs (always, always the drugs) and Aspen lair and the feverish, obsessive devotion to politics and the Wild Turkey and the larger-than-life persona, and beyond the utter genius of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and bits of "Generation of Swine" and "The Rum Diary," I have spent insufficient time with the Legacy to perform the beautifully raunchy verbal epitaph HST so f--ing well deserves.
But one thing must be said, and said again, and repeated ad infinitum, screamed and lamented and slapped across the face of modern journalism in the wake of Thompson's brutal and sudden but somehow morbidly appropriate exit from this bittersweet existence and upon his ceremonial entrance into the next, a place where, we just know, the hedonism runs hot and hotter and the guns are plentiful and the drugs are insanely potent and all the hookers wear Lycra and look like Jenna Jameson and can quote Nixon's resignation speech while casually sucking the rust off a tailpipe.
Forget the legacy thing. Forget the "this man single-handedly changed modern journalism" thing. It's only partially true, anyway, given how the period when Thompson nailed the political world to the wall and held a rusty Bowie knife to its throat was nearly 30 years ago, long before the Internet and way before Nipplegate and far before most cutely agitated bloggers were even born and back when Dubya was just knee-high to a collegiate cocaine habit.
Here's what needs to be said, what's worth lamenting most: there are no new Thompsons. There are no new snarling fierce-eyed one-of-a-kind journalists covering politics and the national agenda with such radical and nasty and brilliant aplomb and with such an explicit and enthusiastic disregard for standard journalistic rules and tropes, all via anything resembling a national media outlet.
In other words, while it's true what all the staid J-school chairs and Thompson's fellow journalists are right now saying about how HST did indeed blow the door open for a whole new breed of blast-furnace writers who merely disguised themselves as journalists to get a goddamn press pass, tragically few have dared follow HST through that door.
There are no new journalistic radicals willing to take such a risky, careening road to fame and glory. There is a tragic lack of HST-style fearlessness in modern journalism. No, we don't need another Thompson per se; after all, the man broke the mold. But we could definitely use a few more heavyweight writers willing to take up arms, tattoo iconoclast on their tongues and scream their defiance of all things decorous and punctual and grammatically decent.
It is 2005. Fear and paranoia and snide FCC crackdowns and what I shall henceforth call the New Trepidation rule the journalism schools and newspapers today. Few if any young writers are willing the rip the breastplate off the political helldog and yank out its dung-blackened heart and hold it aloft for all to see, and then tick off a list of brilliant, drunken and completely accurate descriptive profanities and then laugh a hacking, cackling laugh and slam a shot of bourbon and stomp away to find some good cigars.
You might rightly ask, But is this what journalism really needs? Expletives and guns and drugs? Don't we already have enough of that with the military and Lynne Cheney and the Catholic Church?
Shouldn't journalism, in the wake of so much bland me-too political coverage and obvious liberal/conservative bias and corporate media consolidation and your inability to click on any major media Web site right now and read anything dramatically different than what any other major media Web site is offering right now, strive for accuracy and respect and something akin to that most elusive of slippery hammerheaded snakes, objective truth?
To which I can only reply, you wish. Objective truth is, of course, the great white myth of our time. It simply does not exist. The New York Times and Le Monde and all those CNN/MSNBC/Fox ticker-tape newsfeeds scrolling across the bottom of the TV like some sort of never-ending dribble of drool flowing forth from the mouth of Dick Cheney's proctologist, we know this does not speak of true reality. This is not How It Really Is. Or, rather, these media represent only a fragment, a sliver, a whisper of darker and more complex and insidious truths, far underneath.
The vast majority of modern journalism is, after all, about as dangerous and daring and funky and raw and humanly accessible as Paris Hilton stuck headfirst in a giant pool of blood oranges and Veuve Clicquot. We simply cannot relate.
The stuffed-penguin suits and the prepared speeches and the bad toupees, the bulls-- White House press conferences and the lies about war and the utter lack of accountability in anything BushCo says and does, this is only the surface. This is the gloss and the sheen and the highly reflective coating designed to blind you to the more bitter, debauched, wondrous, cretinous realities.
And Thompson, maybe more than any journalist in the past 50 years, did more to write those realities, grip them by the throat and pin them down with a high-powered rifle and threaten them with Asian genital torture and vicious armpit tickling, all while smacking them upside the head with his personal thesaurus wrought from the secret love den of H.L. Mencken and Ambrose Bierce and Jim Beam.
Thompson may have died lonely, in pain, miserable. He may have lived a bitterly restless life, lost and unhappy and ever seeking some sort of solace, a reprieve from a world full of cretins and snakes and river rats and Richard Nixon and all of Nixon's evil flying-monkey spawn, many of which now inhabit the White House. We don't really know, and maybe never will.
What we do know is, the door Thompson helped blow open is now nearly completely sealed up again, spackled over with the fresh concrete of fear and reinforced with iron bars and snide FCC regulations and heavily guarded by the least accountable and most secretive and violent and warmongering government in American history. The radical free speech HST embodied, the biting and ferocious (and ultimately insightful and telling) interrogation of the various thugs of government, this approach is no longer tolerated.
Only the tiniest openings remain. Only the slimmest slivers of light eke through. The era of raw open-mouthed bitingly hilarious New Journalism in major media is giving way to one of fearful reportage and shrugging sameness and prim adjective clauses sans wit or kick or rigid middle fingers, all undercut by the uptight quasi-religious hypocrisy of the Right, worse than Nixon, worse than Vietnam, worse than you want to imagine.
So then. Do yourself a favor, reread "Fear and Loathing," flip through "Generation of Swine," realize how relevant, hilarious, debauched, glorious, sodden with crazed half-truths and drunken epiphanies and wicked observations HST's observations still are. Wave high the flag of indignation. Scream the need for more iconoclastic voices. And laugh your ass off. This much you can do.
Oh yes, and make sure you do it all very, very stoned. Surely, the good doctor would've wanted it that way.