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Hunter S. Thompson's counselor


For Jesus himself testified that a prophet
has no honor in his own country.

- Gospel of John


After 8 years of living abroad, I recently decided to have my personal library shipped to me. Building a house in the northeast of Thailand, I soon would have a permanent home for the huge collection, saving writers like Shakespeare, Byron, Kierkegaard, and Balzac from the inevitable humiliation of being sold for 10¢ a pop, beside a grill of hot dogs and funnel cakes on a Pennsylvania lawn.

Shipments began to arrive about 4 weeks ago. Staring at the mound of boxes in my living room, I was both thrilled and nervous. Like meeting close friends after a long absence, there’s always concern over how time may have changed the relationship. I slowly sliced some packaging tape and opened a box. Neatly arranged before me were paperback editions of Kerouac, Wolfe, Mailer, Vonnegut, Updike, and at the bottom lay spread the hard-covers. Hunter S. Thompson’s The Proud Highway and a dog-eared copy of the Holy Bible instantly grabbed my attention.

Seeing Thompson’s book of letters next to the Bible, reminded me of just how much that religious work had influenced the legendary “gonzo” writer—an impact that was rarely, if ever, mentioned in the tributes that poured in after his death. It was a glaring omission, and one that I also was guilty of in my own eulogy.

In Generation of Swine, Thompson’s searing indictment of the 1980s, he acknowledges the Bible’s powerful influence on his work:

“I have stolen more quotes and thoughts and purely elegant little starburst of writing from the Book of Revelation than anything else in the English language…I love the wild power of the language and the purity of the madness that governs it and makes it music.”

But it wasn’t just Revelation’s that impacted Thompson. His writing is littered with borrowings from other Testament Books, both New and Old. A proud southern gentleman from Kentucky, he often depicted the world in biblical terms, famously claiming that Richard Nixon was evil in a way that “only those who believe in the physical reality of the Devil can understand.” And in a barbed attack on American culture Thompson described Hell as:

“…a viciously overcrowded version of Phoenix—a clean, well-lighted place full of sunshine and bromides and fast cars where almost everybody seems vaguely happy, except for the ones who know in their hearts what is missing.”

The Scriptures relevance for Thompson flooded back as I stared at The Proud Highway and Bible in the bottom of the box. It reminded me of the mystery surrounding Thompson’s brief suicide note. Before shooting himself with a revolver, he had typed the single word “Counselor” in the center of a blank page. To date, fellow journalists and friends of Thompson have expressed confusion as to what the word might signify, comparing it to the mysterious “Rosebud” of Citizen Kane. And that’s when it hit me. I picked up the Bible and quickly scanned the Gospel of John. There it was in the 14th chapter:

“16 And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor*, to be with you for ever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.”

It isn’t surprising that journalists didn’t pick up on this connection with Thompson’s goodbye in the days following his death. While the Bible has wielded greater influence on the history of American Letters than any other work, we currently live in an age where any mention of the Bible immediately conjures up images of right-wing nut-cases, homophobic TV evangelists, and door-knocking Adventists in bad suits. Fewer and fewer educated people (including Christians) read the Bible anymore. But Thompson wasn’t a product of this age. He was of that rapidly dwindling generation of writers who saw the majesty of the Bible as both a work of literature and a looking-glass into the human condition.

Thompson surely would have felt drawn to the Gospel of John, the most lyrical and mystical of the four Gospels. It’s there that we find the pronouncement: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” It is a decree that has resonated with writers from Twain to Whitman to Fitzgerald to Miller—a revelation that words are transcendent, that a writer’s vocation is more than just a job. It should be a calling, wherein the “Spirit of truth” (Counselor) is followed unfailingly. No mean trick.

For following your Counselor often means discovering things that aren’t fit for polite company. It’s never pleasant to find evil growing among the peonies. Or in the hearts of your elected officials. Better to be “vaguely happy” than uncomfortable. Thompson, though, never fell for that devil’s lie. He knew that even though the truth often cuts like a razor, it also serves as a “Comforter*” when the jackals begin circling. Because as Thompson recognized, the jackals don’t really give a damn whether you speak the truth or not. They are coming after us all one day. But facing the bastards down is a whole lot easier when you’ve got the truth by your side.

*The word “Counselor” is found in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. In the King James Version the translation uses the word “Comforter” to refer to the “Spirit of truth.”

D.A. Blyler is the author of the expatriate novel Steffi’s Club. His essays have appeared at, The Korean Herald, Bangkok’s The Nation, and many other online and international publications.

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