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February 27, 2005 - Born too soon to be a Hunter S. Thompson wannabe?

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Book Wrangler

February 27, 2005

By Bob Patterson


In the Los Angeles area known as “South Bay” one night club used to announce an evening with Hunter S. Thompson and then, on the day it was scheduled, they would announce that it was canceled.  On the day of the forth annual “he probably ain’t gonna show” event, this columnist was a little skeptical that it would actually happen.  When the traditionally cancellation announcement was made, it seemed that the place in question would have been better off billing it as a canceled appearance from the beginning and just invite all the Hunter fans to come and pay admission and have an open mic for the best “How Hunter Inspired Me” stories or some such.  After four three straight cancellations, we didn’t really expect to see the famed writer show up.


After four years of almost seeing Hunter S. Thompson, it was a surprise to learn, in late 1996, that the Viper Room on Sunset Boulevard had announced an evening with Hunter S. Thompson as part of their schedule of events.


Since part of the tradition (for this columnist at least) was not to buy advanced tickets and then face the hassle of getting a refund, we waited until the night of the event and went and got in line.  We hadn’t done any advance work to get in as press.  It was total serendipity.  Who knows if you can get a camera into the place?  We didn’t bother trying.  We just went and stood in the ticket line.  After the advanced ticket sales folks were admitted, the process of letting in those in line began.  It was a slow and tedious process, but after about an hour, we paid admission and we ushered in.


Actors Johnny Depp and John Cussack were on stage with Hunter S. Thompson, who had decided that the evening would consist of taking questions from the audience.  According to the buzz I heard around me, one fellow in the audience was working on his doctoral thesis in literature and was going to put some very incisive questions to Dr. Thompson about works he had written.  Not being much of a sports fan (Does Casey Stengel http://www.caseystengel.com/ still manage the Yankees?) it seemed like there wasn’t any question this columnist could ask that would be of much relevance.


The only recourse was a desperation question that might touch on something the author didn’t use as one of his leitmotifs but that possibly did interest him.


Nothing ventured, nothing gained.  We raised our hand and asked an off the wall question.  The memory is (somewhere there is a video taped version of this night that we’d love to see) that we asked him if he believed in reincarnation.  We recall that he dismissed the possibility quite quickly and used the question to springboard (stream of consciousness style) to something else.


If he has, in the intervening time, changed his mind about the answer to that question, he will probably have to impart that update to us by making an appearance in one of our dreams.


Somewhere along the line, I’ve heard that a writer’s craft develops along these lines:  first you read a great many books, then you find one (or several) voice you like and read that excessively.  Then, the rookie writer begins to imitate his idol.  If the writer does well at that point, eventually he may transmogrify that imitation into a new and unique style that is his own.


After the recent death of Hunter S. Thompson a great many writers have churned out pieces outlining how that process applied to themselves and the part inspiration supplied by Hunter Thompson played in their careers.  Most of them found Thompson’s novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas while they were in college and picked the father of gonzo journalism as their role model.


For writers who are a bit older, the influential writer was found earlier in the history of literature. 


If, for instance, you graduated from college in 1965, the war in Vietnam hadn’t had much impact or influence on the course of events in your life.  The raging hormones were yearning for something to get the process of life started.  If there wasn’t a war to protest, maybe a parking ticket could spark an event with a few arrests. 


In the spring of 1965, Hunter S. Thompson was an anonymous newspaper reporter covering South America for a newspaper based in New York City.  Little did we know what was just about to happen as we stepped up to the dean and received a diploma in May of 1965.  (A guy in the class of ‘66 went out to San Francisco and got a job with duties that included being a “handler” for a wild man on the staff of some rock’n’roll magazine called Rolling Stone.)


Jack Kerouac had an influence on the members of the Class of ’65 that might look familiar to those younger writes working on their tributes to Dr. Thompson.  Kerouac was renowned for being prolific, unique, and innovative.  Kerouac went out and broke rules, mocked convention, and used a big vocabulary to express his disdain for the squares who settled into a 9-5 existence. 


Raymond Chandler had used a cynical LA based detective to express his sarcastic opinions about life, love, and the mundane life of an oil company executive. 


Ernie Pyle had parlayed a skill for roaming and recording his impressions into a front row seat for the events of WWII.  Unfortunately, a sniper fired a shot that found the famed writer checking to see if the others in his group were OK. 


With folks like those in this columnist’s personal “Getting Paid to See the World Hall of Fame,” the qualifications for gaining membership in that elite group are rather specific.  The writer had to roam the world.  Did any of the other stories mention that when the last helicopter took off from the American Embassy in Saigon, one of the intrepid journalists who stayed behind to cover the story was Hunter S. Thompson?  The writer had to do interesting things.  (When he was working in San Francisco did Hunter ever drop in to the Bus Stop and hear “Big Bad Bruce” on the jukebox?)  Such a candidate would also need to become the basis for a legend such as the fictional writer in Philip K. Dick’s Man in the High Tower, who wound up living in a virtual fort in Colorado.


Geez, doesn’t Hunter S. Thompson fit all those qualifications? 


Maybe that place in the South Bay can now schedule a night with Hunter Thompson and fill the place with fans who know that Hunter S. Thompson doesn’t have to physically be there, to be there.  Did anyone ever ask Hunter his opinion of the Native Americans’ concept of the “Ghost Dance?”


Hunter S. Thompson has been quoted as saying:  “The man who hungers for truth should expect no mercy and give none.”


Now, the disk jockey will play cut number five from the album anthology titled “Kerouac:  Kicks Joy Darkness.”  The selection is titled “Letter to William S. Burroughs & Ode to Jack” by Hunter Thompson.


Have a gonzo week.




Copyright 2005 – Robert Patterson




Editor’s Notes -


Just Above Sunset contributor Phillip Raines –


I may write a tribute to him, but first I will drink whiskey, eat mushrooms, smoke a fat one and snort a rail while thinking of him fondly.  What's this I hear he plans to have his ashes shot out of a cannon?  Well, anyone who would type "The Sun Also Rises" just to get a sense of sentence flow would surely go out like Hemingway, but without the cannon.


According to Giblets




Don't believe their filthy lies. Giblets saw the Good Doctor with his own two eyes just a few hours ago, heading north in the White Whale. He said he was headed up to heaven to shoot God. "The great bastard's in season and it's long overdue," the Godfather of Gonzo said as he dusted off his elephant gun. "I have full reason to believe they will award me both the head and the tail. Expect me back by the apocalypse." Good hunting, Doctor Thompson. You'll be missed.



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"He had more to say about what was wrong with America than George W Bush can ever tell us about what is right." - Norman Mailer the death of Hunter Thompson


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