Hunter S. Thompson Is Dead and We're Not Feeling So Good Ourselves:
Some time ago, back in the darkest days of the Reagan era, when the Gipper's drooling dementia was increasingly, embarrassingly apparent, the Rude Pundit had his one and only encounter with Hunter S. Thompson. It was during college, and the Rude Pundit was part of the speakers' committee, inviting people to come to campus to give talks. Each contract with a speaker contained one or two quirky requests, much like the backstage riders of musicians at concerts. Some were pretty cool: Martin Sheen requested a dinner with members of the committee. Hunter S. Thompson requested a case of Wild Turkey waiting for him in his hotel room.
Needless to say, when the Rude Pundit and another student fetched Thompson to fulfill his speakerly duties, Thompson was fucked up and stinking of whiskey. The Rude Pundit asked Thompson about Iran-Contra, and Thompson mumbled, "Worse than Watergate and the fuckers are gonna get away with it." He was right, of course. Soon after, H.W. Bush saw to that with his pardonpalooza. When he hit the stage, Thompson leaned on the lectern and said, "I don't have anything prepared. Just ask me questions." There was a moment of laughter, like this couldn't be true, and then silence while Thompson scanned the crowd. Finally a hand went up and a student stood and asked, "Who's worse, Reagan or Nixon?" And the evening was off and running.
Hunter S. Thompson called out evil and insanity by getting down in the gutter with it and daring it to fuck with him. Sure, sure, all the wannabe hipsters carry Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in their backpacks (right alongside the one used Bukowoski they could afford and that copy of something by Chomsky that they never read past the first ten pages), but they only read the Thompson book because Johnny Depp made a movie. For Thompson in his purest form, check out Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, his account of the 1972 presidential campaign that rips the guts out of high-handed political rhetoric and drags it down to the sewer where it belongs. America is a civilization on the brink of doom in that book, and it is frightening and exhilirating to read.
For sheer crazed anger and vindictive hatred, read his 1994 "obituary" of Richard Nixon, a hurricane-force blast of anguish that defined, for the Rude Pundit, just how personal the political actually is. Thompson concludes, "He has poisoned our water forever. Nixon will be remembered as a classic case of a smart man shitting in his own nest. But he also shit in our nests, and that was the crime that history will burn on his memory like a brand. By disgracing and degrading the Presidency of the United States, by fleeing the White House like a diseased cur, Richard Nixon broke the heart of the American Dream." For his destruction of the Reagan-Bush years in a single magazine article, read 1992's "Fear and Loathing in Elko," about a drug-fueled, alcohol-hazed drive through the desert with Clarence Thomas (known as "the Judge" in the piece). No one could call the enemy by its name like Thompson.
We can speculate, and the Rude Pundit's sure that all of Blogsylvania will be ablaze with theories, as to why Thompson took his own life by eating lead from one of his beloved guns. Chances are it's the same old story - depression, disease, drugs, or some combination thereof. But the Rude Pundit would like to find something Greek and noble and tragic here. In an interview before the election, Thompson said of the Bush II administration, "This is the darkest hour that I have seen in my long experience as an American. This is evil." His Rolling Stone article on Bush and Kerry said, directly, that Bush was worse than Nixon, which, for anyone who read Thompson for a long time, was quite a startling belief. So the romantic, fall-upon-one's-sword version of Thompson's suicide is this: all Thompson saw in America was that we were on a never-ending spiral towards madness that even he couldn't envision, that the worst things he could imagine about this country were coming true and more, that the only possible things to do when the monsters are knocking are to stand and fight or cut and run. And he had fought far, far too long already.
As the Rude Pundit said, this is the romantic version, a sucker's dream of honor in dishonorable times. But the harsh inverse of this notion is: if Thompson couldn't take it anymore, what hope is there for the rest of us?
After Thompson finished speaking back in the college days, the Rude Pundit accompanied Thompson back to the hotel, ordered to "make sure he gets inside the door, then run." Hoping desperately that Thompson would want to go out for the night, handing out pills like candy corn, instead the Rude Pundit accompanied the Doctor on a calm walk to the hotel. Thompson had stayed on that stage for a couple of hours answering questions. He asked the Rude Pundit how he thought the "talk" had gone. The Rude Pundit said he thought it was hilarious, maybe even using the word "profound." Thompson smirked, "Yeah, it's amazing what a tired, drunk dopehead can do, huh?"
Or words to that effect.