Monday, February 21, 2005

Hunter S. Thompson 1937-2005

I'm really not up to a cutting so don't expect much from this entry but Lynda, Kara and Rob asked for one, so here's my attempt. I'm focusing on Generation of Swine, Gonze Papers Vol. 2 and the reason for that is I pulled all the books off the shelves, started with this one and ended up reading it all way through.

From "The Worst People in the World" (November 11, 1985):

The Washington Post jumped The New York Times in the'70s mainly on Watergate, but the chaos of success and the natural human weirdness of life at the Post (Janet Cooke, Bob Woodward, etc.) led to a kind of dysfunctional stalemate that is still a big factor in contemporary journalism, where the prime movers now are in television.
"Sixty Minutes" can rock your boat worse than the Times and the Post combined, and minute-to-minute judgments made at the CNN news desk in Atlanta have more effect on morning newspaper headlines all over the country than anything else in the industry except maybe a five-bell emergency bulletin on the AP wire.

From "Kill them before they eat" (February 10, 1986):

Last Friday was one of those days [slow TV news day], a genuine howler with an energy all its own. My story list got faster and fatter by the hour. The original plan was for a long-delayed and deeply political screed on the planned murder -- by Reagan and Gramm and Rudman -- of Amtrak, our national passenger-rail system.
The pigs meant to kill it off, for reasons that would shame every greedhead since Ebenezer Scrooge. It was a good story, but only one of many. By noon I was half mad with new input, and Amtrak was beyond the back burner.
The early news feeds on the big dish had Gramm-Rudman gutted in court, for constitutional reasons; Baby Doc Duvalier had fled Haiti as mobs gnawed the bones of his father; and the presidential election in the Phillipines was dissolving in fraud and violence.

From "Memo from the war room" (February 24, 1986) (on what he can pick up via his dish):

But you don't get a lot of Jim Morrison. That is what we call a Special -- straight black-and-white footage of Crazy Jim on stage in the old days, with a voice like Fred Neal's and eyes smarter than James Deans's and a band that could walk with the King, or anybody else. There were some nights when The Doors were the best band in the world.
Morrison understood this, and it haunted him all his life. On some nights he was noisy and lewd, and on others he just practiced -- but every once in a while he would get it into his head to go out and dance with the big boys, and on a night like that he was more than special. Jim Morrison could play music with anybody.
One of these days we will get around to naming names for the real rock 'n' roll Hall of Fame -- in that nervous right now realm beyond Elvis and Chuck Berry and Little Richard -- and the talk will turn to names like Bob and Mick, and to tunes like Morrison Hotel.
Play it sometimes. Crank it all the way up on one of those huge obsolete wire-burning MacIntosh amps and 80 custom-built speakers. Then stand back somewhere on the mainbeams of a big log house and feel the music come up through your femurs . . . ho, ho . . . and after that you can always say, for sure, that you once knew what it was like to hear men play rock 'n' roll music.

From "The Woman from Kiev" (May 5, 1986):

Last week, when I was baffled by a massive disparity in the body count from the nuclear disaster in the Soviet Union -- a difference between two dead, or 2,000 -- I dialed The Powerhouse in Georgetown.
"Who in the hell was it who said there were 2,000 killed at Chernobyl?"
"That's a UPI report from somebody in Kiev. A woman in Kiev."
"Some woman in Kiev?"
"Yes, she said it to UPI on the phone."
"Come on, Frank. We all know that some woman in Kiev."
"We all know the woman in Kiev and we all know the UPI, right?"
"Well, I'm not sure. Didn't the Mexicans buy it?"
"Wasn't it bought by a Mexican of some kind?"
"Yeah, that's right, they were."
"So we're dealing with a Mexican news service, and it's claiming 2,000 people were killed in Kiev? With no source except a mysterious woman with no telephone?"
"It's interesting that the CIA keeps telling us they can tell when the goddamn Russians cut the lawn in their back yards. They got these great cameras, right? They can tell what kind of cigarettes they smoke in Kiev . . . but can't tell whether the goddamn city's on fire or not."
"You must be slipping, Frank. I thought you would be the one person who would know about the 2,000 figure."
"I do know. I just don't know her name."
"Do you believe there was a report that said 2,000? Was it true?"
"I believe somebody said it, for God's sake -- but I don't believe it's true. Maybe there'll be a hundred thousand 10 years from now."
"What? Come on, Frank. Let's not get too careless with our facts here. Two thousand dead means 2,000 dead yesterday -- not 10 years from now. I thought you guys were smart."
"Well, the CIA liked the report, so they ran with it."
"You can't beat that. The last report I got, there was a huge yellowish gray could floating over Europe and heading over the polar cap."
"And then into Seattle and Vancouver."
"Residents fled in their nightclothes."
"According to the latest CNN weather report, it's definately going to hit Seattle."
"Police did not rule out the possiblity of arson."
"Indeed. Round up the usual suspects."
"It's that old fire story -- a fire of undetermined origin."
"This is just a wrist-wrestling UPI trip?"
"Yeah, Call them up. They'll tell you."
Which was true. I called Andy Tully, night editor of UPI in Washington, who took a very queasy position with regard to the Woman in Kiev -- the original source for the report of 2,000 dead in the Ukraine, when the reactor melted down.
There was a long pause on the other end of the line when I asked about the woman. "Nobody knows," he said finally. "We can't find her. She was always a reliable source for us, but now she's gone -- dissappeared in the chaos.
It was an unconfirmed report," he explained. "It came out of U.S. intelligence. They said she was a Gray Lady of some kind, a volunteer at the hospital. She claimed she saw thousands of corpses."
"Thanks," I said. "I understand now."

From "Four more games" (May 26, 1986):

Meanwhile, back in Washington, CIA Chief William J. Casey was filing charges of treason against NBC News, and Ronald Reagan himself put the whack on the Washington Post. . . . When Casey was unable to prevent the Post from publishing a massive Bob Woodward article on the current CIA operations, good old Dutch just smiled and said shucks -- and then picked up the phone and spoke personally with Post publisher Katharine Graham, who called the story back for major cuts and re-editing.
Woodward bristled and bitched, but the lawyers called him paranoid and his piece was eventually gutted, for reasons of national security. It was such a clear case of censorship and journalistic nut-cracking by the White House that even USA Today called it shameful. "The Post gave in," said columnist Michael J. Gartner, "and published a censored article that was five feet nine inches long and that was as bland as it was lengthy.
The collapse of the Post sent a rumble of fear and confusion through the whole journalistic community. It was like spreading rumors in Boston about Larry Bird shaving points, or priests selling fat young boys out of vans behind Fenway Park.
Nobody wants to hear these things. If the Post can be intimidated, who else can feel safe? NBC was still holding, but Casey was pushing for serious criminal penalities and a final decision by Attorney General Ed Meese, who is currently tied up in his own campaign against pornography, and will soon be publishing the findings of his controversial commission's investigation.

From "Lester Maddox lives" (July 14, 1986):

The court's decision ["U.S. Supreme Court had upheld the sodomy laws of Georgia"] and the [Ed] Meese report [on pornography] were applauded by hardcore evangicals -- an essentially fascist constituency -- and also by former two-term Georgia Governor Lester Maddox, a longtime for of Sodomites.
Maddox is a legendary bigot who once tried to keep black people out of his cheap fried-chicken restaurant by passing out hickory ax handles to white customers, as they came through the door to eat supper.
No more wretched example of high-powered White Trash exists in America today than Lester Maddox. When the Great Scorer comes to write Lester's name, he will get the same chance as Knute Rockne. There will be no talk about whether he won or lost but how he played the game. And there will be a special dung heap in the low-rent section of hell for that brute.
Maddox came out of retirement, as it were, to denounce sodomy once again and to call for the forced exile "to Cuba or Moscow" of Atlanta TV mogul Ted Turner, president of TBS and several other networks. Turner's sponsorship of The Goodwill Games, a sort of off-year Olympics featuring head-to-head competition between U.S. and Russian athletes, convinced Lester that Turner was in fact a bedrock communist who was working overtime to sell out his own country and the Kingdom of God.
[. . .]
But there is something distinctly different in the idea that Lester Maddox is once again a major voice in national politics, despite his legacy of shame. It is somehow worse than Richard Nixon getting re-elected and moving back into the White House.

From "The Turk comes to TV news" (September 15, 1986):

The whole CBS network went up for grabs last week, and it made a lot of people nervous. ABC and NBC had already been sold off in the past year to Big Business cost-cutters, and now the legendary monarch of the TV news business seemed on the verge of going belly up and being sold for salvage.
It was an ominous prospect. CBS had been the dominant force in TV news almost since the first days of television, when Edward R. Murrow could take on the accountants and the profit-takers and still get two hours of prime time for a prize-winning news special. Murrow's integrity and intensity are revered by TV executives today, but at the time of his best work he was regarded as a prima donna and a trouble maker.
Yet it is mainly on Murrow's reputation -- along with heroes like Walter Cronkite, Eric Sevareid, Hughes Rudd and currently Bill Moyers -- that CBS has traditionally been viewed as the champion of TV news.
That is no longer true. [. . .]

From "Loose cannon on deck" (October 6, 1986):

There was another botch in the Big House last week, or at least that's how it looked on TV. The traditional last-minute rollover did not happen when the Senate voted on the South African sanctions bill on Thursday, and the result was a high-profile public humiliation for the Reagan administration.
The final 78-21 vote to override the presidential veto was 13 short of what Reagan needed to avoid a major political embarrassment. It was the first loss of his career on a major issue, and the defeat was made more cruel when it came at the hands of the Republican-dominated Senate, where he had won almost everything else.
The numbers were so humbling, in fact, that they raised certain questions as to whether the long-running "Reagan Revolution" has finally come to a fork in the road -- or if the whole thing is a high-stakes Ponzi scheme designed to maintain GOP control of the Senate in the '86 elections, almost exactly a month from today.
[. . .]
Every other time they had stuck like gum to the president, they had won, and enjoyed the fruits of victory. But this time Dutch had led them into shame and defeat, for reasons they couldn't explain, and it was making some of them nervous.
What were his motives? Why would he blindly defy public opinon and certain disgrace in Congress by vetoing a bill that even his own people knew from the start was a losing proposition?
The day after his crushing defeat in the Senate, Reagan was all over national TV. On ABC he was shown in direct confrontation on the White House lawn with what appeared to be the whole White House press corps.
There was no more of that old-timey stuff about tossing bon mots over his shoulder to appease the crude shouting of Sam Donaldson, as he and Nancy made their way from the chopper to their refuge in the East Wing. . . . No. This time he got mean, waving his fists distractedly and charging the camera too fast for the zoom lens, causing his fact to look fat and unnaturally swollen.

From "The Lord and a good lawyer" (December 1, 1986):

Reagan had gone out on the campaign trail day after day for almost three months and begged the voters in places like Fresno, Baton Rouge, Reno and a tin hanger at the Denver airport to "stay with" him and his warriors in the critical midterm election, or otherwise they might risk a disastrous public repudiation of his whole presidency and everything it once seemed to stand for.
The voters responded by rejecting almost every big-time politician in the country who had made the mistake of identifying in public with Reagan.

From "The lake of fire" (March 2, 1987):

Old actors never feel guilty for crimes they committed at work -- because all they ever really did was play roles, and that was all Reagan did as president. He is going to have a hard time understanding some of the things that are going to happen to him when he starts getting treated like Richard Nixon.

From "The scum of the earth" (March 30, 1987):

Oral Roberts was on TBS, live from the Prayer Tower in Tulsa and still begging for more money. His son, Richard, of the Abundant Life Prayer Group, was telling his audience to send "your one-time gift of $15 to keep PTL on the air" while continuing to hammer the faithful with reminders of his own family crisis. Just because Oral talked his flock out of the $8 million ransom price that he said God had put on his life with a deadline of midnight April Fool's Day didn't mean the battle was over.
Oral still needed more. God's price, said Richard on TV, was not just $8 million, "but $8 million above and beyond our normal operating expenses."
In other words, God was talking net -- not gross -- and he wanted his eight big ones in a brown bag by the midnight hour on April Fools' Day.

Again, that's all from one book (Generation of Swine). Check your local libraries, look up Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hell's Angels, etc. (I'd especially recommend The Proud Highway which is a collection of his letters.) Yeah, as the 'jokers' apparently pointed out over and over, he liked his drugs. But that's not what made him worth noting, that's not what his made his name. It was the writing. So go to the writing if you want to appreciate what he accomplished. If you'd like to round it out with some tales of his life, so be it. But if the "coverage" cited in e-mails is indicative of what we're now left with ("Oh, he wrote some stuff . . . Boys on the Bus . . . he took so many drugs! Man, let me tell you! There's this story about him when he was on . . .") that honestly says some sad things about the people "reporting" and "remembering" and it says a something really sad about the culture we've become. [Note: Timothy Crouse wrote The Boys on the Bus, not Thompson -- this is also noted in the previous post.]

The man was a writer, one that helped revolutionize writing (for good or bad; or for good & bad depending upon your opinion) and that's not a sidebar or an aside. That's how he made his name. Praise his writing, trash his writing, but let's hope tomorrow people will recongize what he made his name on and not continue this personality-obsessed "reporting" (which says a great deal more about their own standards -- or lack of them -- as well as what they apparently feel you're dying to hear).

I want to note a column by Maureen Farrell at BuzzFlash -- "Hunter S. Thompson, George W. Bush and the Free Republic:"

So, yes, while it’s true that Thompson has done his share of illegal substances and often relies on hyperbole (that’s part of his charm, if you ask me), the tactics used to ignore the larger concerns raised by the Good Doctor’s piece -- in this case, questions about U.S.-sanctioned torture -- are now commonplace. While in a perfect world, discussions regarding America's changing attitudes towards the rule of law and human rights might rightly follow, instead teeth are bared at Thompson and anyone else whose message is disliked.

Farrell's column ends with a cutting of some of his columns (as well as links) so please check it out. (The date on it is June 16, 2004.)

I'd also urge you to check Rolling Stone. They already have an obiturary up "Hunter S. Thompson Dies" by James Sullivan. Here are the first three paragraphs:

Hunter S. Thompson, the dean of gonzo journalism and a longtime contributor to Rolling Stone, died Sunday in his Colorado home of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was sixty-seven.
Thompson gave the phrase "fear and loathing" its cultural relevancy, writing the darkly comic altered-states novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and the maniacal political reportage of Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72.
His first book, Hell's Angels, published in 1966, was an inside look at the notorious biker gang. For his efforts, Thompson got himself roughed up by some of the gang's members. From then on, however, it was Thompson who did the roughing up, with words that he wielded like weapons. His political coverage was famously irreverent, often to the brink of viciousness. In a recent piece for Rolling Stone on the 2004 presidential campaign, he called George Bush a "treacherous little freak." To Thompson -- who once threatened to run for the presidency himself and narrowly lost an election in 1970 for sheriff of the Aspen area, running on the Freak Power Party ticket -- politics was a blood sport, and American politicians, so prone to corruption, were only too deserving of contempt. Observing President Bush's poor performance in a debate with "my man" John Kerry, he wrote for the magazine, "I almost felt sorry for him, until I heard someone call him 'Mister President,' and then I felt ashamed."

[Note: This post has been edited for typos and font errors -- though I'm sure I haven't caught all of them. And for Kara, who stayed up waiting for this post, I've also clarified a parenthetical that was confusing. Thanks for catching that Kara.]