"Genius all over the world stands hand in hand, and one shock of recognition runs the whole circle round" -Herman Melville
I'd like to think that Hunter S. Thompson would have been proud that I learned of his sucide through the haze of a bourbon-flavored hangover, but I know better. Anyone who lives in a "fortified compound" doesn't need sycophants like me, bourbon-flavored or otherwise. He didn't care about making sure we were well-tranquilized with drugs and alcohol, and he certainly wouldn't have been impressed that I'd managed only 12 hours of carousing before passing out face down on my bed with my shoes still on. Instead, he cared about making sure we knew that there were really bastards and ratfuckers out there--he was pointing them out in a loud unhinged tone, just so they were tarred and feathered. He didn't let Nixon's death hide the fact that Nixon was an evil fucker, and his obituary of that man is second only to H.L. Mencken's obituary for William Jennings Bryan in ensuring that the evil dead have enough manure spread over them to finally make sure something good finally grows out of their blackened souls.
Hunter S. Thompson was an idol of mine for a long time. By the time he shot himself in the head (surely an anti-climactic way for such a man to go--shouldn't he at least have died in a peyote-fueled gun battle involving motorcycle thugs and a truck filled with nitroglycerine?), I'd moved on to other idols and people to emulate, but his influence on my life and writing is embarassingly strong. Harlan Ellison once said of writers reading other writers that "Milk tastes like what's it's next to in the fridge," and as my bookshelf can attest to, I spent a lot of time next to HST in my life.
It seems almost inconceivable an anecdote of serendipity, but I started reading Hunter S. Thompson the same day that I had my first drink of whiskey: I found "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" in a dingy bookstore in Sydney, and from that first night devouring the book in a cheap hostel, HST was a literary hero of mine. He was too rough and ragged and inconsistent to be my favorite writer, but I was Gonzo in tastes if not in reality. He was the voice I most wanted to emulate: to capture the lurid insanity of the universe with that terrible poetry, to cage the bad craziness and leave others breathless and reeling--and most importantly, to make those complacent bastards really fucking angry at the goons and assholes who were stabbing at the heart of the American Dream.
My attempts at following him were limited mostly to drinking Wild Turkey 101 and writing run-on sentences rather than joining a motorcycle gang or developing a fascination with high-calibre weaponry, but until I discovered David Foster Wallace five years later, no one best captured what I wanted to do when faced with a blank page. It would mortify the both of them to hear so, but no other writer has been as influential on my literary dreams as HST and DFW. I carried photocopies of some of his writing in my wallet everywhere. I must have read them once every couple of days.
I never wanted to meet my hero--a visit to the fortified compound out there at Owl Creek would have ended with my being shot, with a .357 hollow point if I was lucky. If I was unlucky, it would have been with a taser, and I would have been brought back for interrogation. Who could stand up to interrogation from that man? Who could face the disappointment of his disdain, especiall when the disappointment would have been expressed via my being doped up, stripped naked, and released into the mountains of Colorado with angry peacocks unleashed on me?
No, better to face the fact on my own. I failed my idol, and I'd never be able to look him in the face; the knowledge that I'll never have to now is not comforting.
HST gave rise to a new breed of self-obsessed writers, driven by the notion that they could become the story as much as he had; they stumble through their stories with none of his fierce wit and demented genius: they turn into pale imitations of Tom Wolfe (himself a pale imitation). Hunter S. Thompson was an avant garde artist whose stage was the American dream. He was the Heisenberg Uncertainy Principle brought to life, a personification of the idea that the reporter not only observes the story, but changes it. As a Merry Prankster of journalism, this usually meant trying to transform these stories into vignettes of his own life, turning even minor episodes into something weirder and more wonderful. Extremism in the service of journalism was his vice, and he is sorely missed.
"...no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant...There was madness in any direction, at any hour...you could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. And that, I think, was the handle--that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn't need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting--on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave...
So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark--that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back." -Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
"It has to be done right...and that's when the strange music starts, when you stretch your luck so far that fear becomes exhilaration and vibrates along your arms...The Edge. There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others--the living--are those who pushed their control as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to choose between Now and Later." - Hell's Angels
Hunter S. Thompson, Dr. Gonzo, finally gave up on waiting for the Wave to crest again. When it came time to choose Now or Later, it was finally Now. He fought for a long time, and finally, he left the Edge behind.