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Hunter's fear


"So now…with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—the place where the wave finally broke and rolled back."
—Hunter S. Thompson

On the Internet bloggers rule the roost. And it didn’t take long after the death of Hunter S. Thompson for them to claim the famous author as one of their own.


Bloggers maintain that the “Good Doctor” was not only the father of gonzo journalism but also the blog community. A New York Times’ obituary lent credence to the paternity suit, stating that:

“Mr. Thompson's approach in many ways mirrors the style of modern-day bloggers, those self-styled social commentators who blend news, opinion and personal experience on Internet postings. Like bloggers, Mr. Thompson built his case for the state of America around the framework of his personal views and opinions.”

I strongly suspect that Thompson would (to steal his lexicon) fear and loathe such a paternal affiliation, for in many ways it borders on the kind of personal theft that led the legendary writer to despise Garry Trudeau for stealing his likeness to create Doonesbury’s Uncle Duke, and to retreat in later years to his infamous “fortified compound” in Woody Creek, Colorado—safely tucked away from those rabid fans who, unable to find a voice of their own, hounded the writer, hoping to absorb some genius through osmosis, a fat joint, or a shared tumbler of Chivas.

Thompson was a brilliant craftsman, arguably the best prose stylist of his generation, and perhaps (until his untimely passing) America’s greatest living author. To get there took a hell of a lot of hard work. Thompson’s vast knowledge of classic literature and poetry, combined with his thorough understanding of politics and the blood lust of Western civilization, is almost unprecedented in American letters. His literary voice was instantly recognizable (the ultimate goal of every author) and obviously the result of untold hours of self-exploration during his formative years as a writer, as well as reams of ink-stained paper that were destined for his eyes only.

When standing on the shoulders of giants one had better understand the body on which those shoulders rest. Thompson’s respect for literary tradition and scholarship, as well as his work ethic (missed deadlines aside) can be traced to his early admiration of novelist Jack Kerouac. As a young man, Thompson felt a kinship with the Beat author and the powerful immediacy of Kerouac’s prose. But unlike many fledgling writers, Thompson realized that Kerouac’s ability to write spontaneously with such breathtaking results emerged only after the On the Road author spent years immersing himself in the most challenging world literature of the 19th and early 20th century, while also spending countless nights scribbling his thoughts onto paper, then burning it in the morning (not posting it on a public bulletin board for the world to see). In other words, Kerouac’s work did not mean that writers only had to spill their guts, uncensored opinions, or subconscious detritus and voila they would become artists worthy of a public reading.

Like all legendary authors, Thompson had a tremendous and abiding respect for the written word, a love affair with language that led him to call writing even better than sex or any drug he had ever taken. We would do well to remember that in the coming days, when all the eulogies pour in, paying homage to the drug addled “gonzo” public image Thompson created while working for Rolling Stone, rather than his skillfully orchestrated cannon of work which includes such classics of Americana as Hell’s Angels, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and most recently Hey Rube: Blood Sport, the Bush Doctrine, and the Downward Spiral of Dumbness.

With Thompson’s propensity for self-mythology, it is easy for us to confuse the author with the crazed protagonist of his essays and books. But by all reckoning (including his eccentricities) Thompson was as serious a writer as Fitzgerald, Faulkner, or Hemingway—and one who practiced his craft with equal diligence, while dispatching no more bottles whiskey than his predecessors had enjoyed. In fact, Thompson’s work may have been even more difficult to produce. For to write in his bone-crunching style, requires (as the author once opined) the skills of a master journalist, the trained eye of a photographer or artist, and the weighty balls of an actor. In the politically correct, pop culture driven, castrated world in which we live today, a writer can count himself lucky if he possesses but one of these attributes, much less all three.

Therefore when The Times associates Dr. Hunter S. Thompson with contemporary bloggers, whose writing rarely, if ever, exhibits the hard won literary flair, wit, or style of an accomplished author who has dedicated a lifetime to his art, it is ultimately a piss on Thompson’s career by the book editors of an all too elite rag; and when bloggers make the association, it’s simply a reckless act of hubris that (though it may be unintentional) shows little respect for the man they now wish to honor.

This essay is not meant to bash bloggers. Only to say that in life, as well as art, it is best not to jump ahead of oneself. The blog community should be overjoyed with what they have achieved within the realm of journalism; with their indisputable influence on the landscape of American opinion; with their success at releasing the stranglehold of the country’s corporate run media. But Thompson was far, far more than a journalist, or even an author. He was an American original who (while savagely pursuing it) rode the receding American Dream to its inevitable and all too sad finish.

D.A. Blyler is the author of the novel Steffi’s Club. His essays have appeared at, The Korean Herald, Bangkok’s The Nation, and other international and online publications. A lecturer at Rajanagarindra Rajabhat University, he makes his home in Thailand.

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