My Long, Hard Ride With Dr. Hunter S. Thompson is Finally Over
What the late guitar master, Jimi Hendrix was to rock guitar, you were that same driving, creative force to your typewriter banging out one deep, profound story, paper, or a series of your illucid thoughts. Dr. Thompson, forgive me. When that word 'illucid' left my thinking, I really did not know what it meant. But now I do. I confess. I only used that word for I was hoping that my readers would think that I was intelligent. I should have used the word lucid. Sometimes an illusion is better than knowledge.
I can't jumble, rumble, and even tumble up or down a few thousand credible phrases that I somehow strung together to give you, your memory and legacy the complete, fitting description that is truly painting the truth about you and your life. Oh, what a ride that must have been.
Those of us who were left to envy and talk about you were merely confused onlookers sitting in the nose bleed seats to watch your life go parading by. And hey, we did not catch one of those strings of beads that you were tossing to your fans. What about that infraction? Who will give us, your faithful fans, those beads now, Johnny Depp? That thought sickens me. Although Depp tried hard, no, labored through sweaty scripts to be "you," in "The Rum Dairies," but between you and I, he or anyone else cannot be you. Depp has a tough enough time being him.
The horse I have been riding for years following your dust is choking me, Dr. Thompson. It really is. You are familiar with dust choking you, for you were big into motorcycles riding them while under the influence of some liquid or solid controlled substance and when one is in that condition, they are bound to get choked on dust when being propelled down the asphalt going over 120 m.p.h. Now that, my thoughts on choking on dust, I got right. But the ride for me has not and probably won't get any easier.
At times when I was feeling normal as any living mortal could feel, I tried to write in your style, but failed before I got past my first paragraph. Now I have to ask, how did you write so well and I'm talking about both when you were sober and when you were "relaxed?" No. I will not stoop to using vulgar terms like "drunk," "stoned," or "highly numbed." Those terms of disrespect belong to and are used by the Harvard elite whose dad put them through college on a MasterCard. Maybe one huge monetary endowment. That sounds about right.
The sons and daughters of the DuPonts, Johnsons (of the wax company), and a few Ford grandchildren thrown in to round out the field and you have yourself a wealthy graduating class from Harvard in 1966. Yale didn't fare that well. Only a few Richie Rich's graduated from this institution of "higher" learning in 1966 with the emphasis being on "higher." Now those same grandchildren of fortunes are CEO's or something important in their family's string of businesses who do more harm to our air, water, and air than any firearms company around. I mean it. How many rivers of once-clean water were ever polluted by a Winchester rifle? What? No answer. That's cool. I am busy paying Dr. Thompson some belated, well-deserved tribute from a nameless, obscure man who followed every segment of his brainchild, "Gonzo Journalism,"and the off shoots: "Loathing and Fearing in Las Vegas," or the instant classic, "Views on The Kentucky Derby," what a masterpiece.
Dr. Thompson, I have rolled it over and over in my mind between thinking of how would I get grocery cash for the next month and the easiest way to remember my wife's birthday, on why you were so successful so swiftly when a scant hundred or so thousand writers were wearing their fingertips down to nubs and not being given the time of day from the "old guard" publishing houses. Your meteoric rise to popularity must have been attributed to the planets being in perfect alignment or the vast majority of stars being near the same black hole, something like that must be the reason why a lot of important people paid you huge amounts of cash to hole-up in some seedy motel room with cases of American and Mexican beer, gin, and whiskey, your electric Royal typewriter, the shades pulled down to block the sunshine, so you could write what you wrote without sober fans or motel bellhops faking a trip to your room to bring you some forgotten luggage just so you would give them a five dollar tip. Some people. Right?
Before I get further involved, I just have to tell you how much I enjoyed those truthful documentaries I watched when you and a friend were in an old Cadillac convertible heading to Las Vegas--swigging liquor, hitting on doobies all of the way. But yet, you were not stopped by the State Patrol for speeding or reckless driving. This too is funny business for I witnessed you, Dr. Thompson, go over the middle line of the highway numerous times. And sometimes you would be engaged in conversation with your equally-drunken friend and you must have forgotten where you were. Scary, man. Scary.
But scary is how you wrote and scary things is what the society of your time craved. Scary stories about Dick Nixon and the "fearing and loathing" that went with his policies while in the White House. Scary essays on why you thought L.S.D. and mescaline should be legalized. Your thoughts during lectures were not scattering in the least. You were very coherent. You even made sense even while hiding your abusive level of alcohol. Not many Marines or Navy men could do that. No, sir. Did I tell you that riding this horse was not getting easier?
Many enlightened writers, scholars, and scribes will scratch their perfectly-manicured goatees and wonder what I mean by the term 'riding this horse,' and that is what I really want them to do--search, research, dig, scratch and shovel away the propaganda manure that we have been fed as being the truth, the whole truth, and God help us to know the difference. It must have been a trip (60's drug reference) to work with you as a collaborator that is, if you ever needed one for one of your explosive and yet so playful political features. No, Dr. Thompson, I am not in any way, implying that your expose on the Hell's Angels being the least bit political. No. That piece was dangerous. Lined with pure, uncut dynamite. I saw the talk show where in 1967, Skip Workman, treasurer of this motorcycle "club" confronted you in person and demanded the payment (two kegs of beer) you allegedly promised him and his friends for allowing you to ride and drink with them while gathering material for your in-depth story, "Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs." As Workman hammered you, I saw that famous Hunter S. Thompson smirk--a natural defensive mechanism you used to contain your laughter at his gullibility. I didn't laugh. I was the victim of my own fearing and loathing about staying alive as opposed to being "taught a lesson" by these cool guys known as Hell's Angels.
I am going out on either a limb or plank by this assumption: Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, surely you were a shrewd poker player, right? You just had to be for no one bluffs a group of allegedly lawless men as the Hell's Angels without having some talent to bluff their butt off and live to tell about it in a best-selling book. Please speak to me from the grave, like many of Elvis Presley's worshipers, and tell me that on "this" front, I am correct. If you will do just that favor for me, this will be my last essay on you, the man, the author, and the most colorful air breathing man I have ever wanted to know.
I owe you a lot, Dr. Thompson. I really do and so does everyone who has ever put on the title of "writer," "journalist," or "stringer," be it legal or almost legal. You did not and could not be aware of the countless people behind a typewriter struggling to get inspiration for that Pulitzer-class last paragraph to their story being published in National Geographic. You did it. I can prove this if necessary.
I also want to confess a rather warped thought to you. I envy your wives, Sandra Conklin, married, 1962; divorced 1980; Anita Bejmuk, married 2003 until your demise in 2005. And your one child. Why? Think about it, Dr. Thompson if you can. These people who never thought of themselves as being special, were more than blessed. They were anointed and placed in such a place of honor: The place of being around you and knowing you even though if only for a short time.
There is no absolute closing place to this essay. I lie to you not. Not I or anyone else with a keyboard can ramble down, break a bronco like you, Dr. Thompson. You are an icon, and always will be. This is the truth by any standard, because and icon like you, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson never dies, he just continues to grow within the stories that are still being uncovered and unearthed in lands only God knows where. I think that I would like to die like you did--doing what made you happy. Not just from nine to five, but around the clock. You were no one's boss and no one's servant--not even to the bales of cash you made including the bales you "were" aware of making. Yes, you did have sober days. I don't know the week or month, but you were not drunk and high 24/7 for that would kill an "average Joe."
But there again, Dr. Thompson, you were no "average Joe."
If you are a fan of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, I Urge you to Watch This
A young, near-famous, Hunter S. Thompson is confronted by Hell's Angels, Skip Workman, a then-treasurer of the lawless motorcycle gang. This is a film clip from a talk show in 1967.
© 2017 Kenneth Avery