Tuesday, February 22, 2005

GVeneration of Swine

The best of the obits for Hunter S. Thompson have been one-liners from less well-known writers who had nothing more to say than "he was honest; he got it right; he made me want to, too." That's as good an epitaph as anyone could ask for. Put me down for a "yeah -- what he said" where that is concerned.

The worst of them have tried to turn Thompson into a clever cynic cultivating a baseless legend, or a misunderstood, cuddly bear pulling the old "rough exterior" trick. Even if either or both of these were true -- and I don't believe them for a minute -- right now is a piss-poor time to bring them up. When a legend dies, you don't start pouring cold water right away. The doctor recommends some diesel fuel, and a match. You have until the sun burns out to tear the man down. Pray shut up while we build him up some more, first.

Early -- very early -- on Monday, when I learned that Thompson was dead, I swore that I wouldn't let myself be stampeded into writing an obituary, a memorial or an appreciation of my own. I had my reasons, the primary one being that I don't rate. A major writer deserves to be remembered and lionized by his contemporaries, his equals and his heirs. I'm none of the above -- just an admirer and occasional, not very successful, emulator.

Unfortunately, Thompson's contemporaries dropped the ball, almost uniformly resorting to the banal, the bitter or the brutal. He had no equals. And there are no heirs, nor even any heirs apparent. That leaves it up to the Little People. Maybe one of us can get it right. Or maybe not -- but it's open season and I figure I might as well take my best shot.

But I don't know what to say.

I could say that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was the late 20th century's Huckleberry Finn, and I'd be right.

I could say that Thompson was more Hemingwayesque than Hemingway, right down to the third act, and I'd be right, too. Res Ipsa Loquitor -- the thing speaks for itself.

If I learned anything from HST at all, however, it's that being right and getting it right are two very different things. HST usually got it right. And I want to get it right, too.

To me, it goes this far: At a time when half of America had its head buried in the sand, denying that a new age had dawned, and when the other half was drowning itself in the stagnant pools of Marcusianism and eastern spiritualism to try and explain or define that new age ("the sound of one hand clapping" -- what the fuck is that?), Thompson opened up a six-pack of Dionysus's own whipass and went out to explore it for us.

It doesn't really matter if HST was the HST revealed in his writing, or whether the real HST was a man behind a curtain creating that HST for us and secretly longing to be The Real Thing. I strongly suspect, nay, faithfully affirm, the former, but a difference which makes no difference is no difference. What we saw was what we got, and now it's all we're ever going to get, the mutterings of the dwarves notwithstanding.

It makes no difference whether or not he was a Renaissance Man, because he was the Renaissance, man.

When it's all said and done, he stomped terra, and he kept doing so even when it stomped back. He chose his life and he chose everything in it, up to and including the hour and manner of his death.

And that was enough.

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