It is a day just like any other. The sun came up (though it’s hard to tell) and everybody is going about their day like normal. All except me. Today is a somber day for me and any other member of the freak culture. Our colonel is long gone. Fifteen years to the day. Sure, when he took his life, I was no older than 3 years old and some change, so I wasn’t as affected as others. But the impact this man has had on my brief 18-year journey will last a lifetime.
Hunter Stockton Thompson was and, in my opinion, remains one of the most influential and talented journalists in the history of pen and paper. For nearly everyone who doesn’t know this name, this probably seems like a bold statement from a pompous pretentious teenage “know-it-all.” But I strongly urge those people to hear me out. Hopefully, this man’s work will finally receive the attention it deserves.
It’s 1966, everyone is going about their days just like now. Three years before “Helter Skelter.” Just a year before the “Summer of Love.” Then suddenly, a new book is published. Nothing special about the event itself, books are published nearly every day. But this one is different. This one is about a group everyone secretly desires to know more about, but are too scared to look for themselves. This book is Thompson’s “Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs.”
No one had ever written a book as raw and in-depth as this. Thompson himself spent the better part of a year living alongside with and following the Angels, becoming enveloped in their culture like a moth to a flame. Not only did he provide the what behind these gangs, but he also sought to provide a why. He offered that society created the Angels. They were made obsolete as the world moved on from WWII, leaving them far behind. More like them will continue to grow as society moves forward.
As Thompson put it “There will be a million Hells Angels. They won’t be wearing the colors but they’ll be the people who are looking for vengeance because they’ve been left behind.”
This was Thompson’s first real exposure to the media. Sure he’d been writing for years prior, leaving one publication (i.e., getting fired for insubordination or a handful of other reasons) and moving on to another. Thompson found himself questioning the American Dream, believing it to be very much dead. He released more and more works that touched on this topic in his next major title, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream,” released in 1972. In this, he recounts a trip to Las Vegas with his Samoan attorney going by the name “Dr. Gonzo” in which they take as many drugs and illegal substances as they can. All the while, Thompson recounts the failure of the 1960s counterculture movement. This is by far one of my favorite pieces of literature and illustrates Thompson’s style of “Gonzo” journalism perfectly. He removes objectivity and simply recounts his experience, leaving the reader questioning whether or not they can trust the writer’s perspective. It’s incredible.
As Thompson grew older, he started to become increasingly more political in his commentary. With the election of Nixon, Thompson felt more inclined to point out how politics were ultimately ruining America. He loved Nixon as much as he hated him, and as shown in “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72,” he really hated him. For Hunter S. Thompson, nothing was taboo for him. He could talk about anyone or anything and handle it with the grace only a “professional coward” such as himself could provide. And in a time such as now, where politics seem to be tearing the very fabric of the country apart, I’d say we need him back more than ever. Only he could perfectly craft the words that would highlight the absurdity that has become of politics. He would be the much-needed referee to this countrywide fist-fight.
I would very much like to see what the self-proclaimed “Doctor of Gonzo Journalism” would say about society now. He probably would be as big as he was in the ‘70s if fate had decided to let him stay around. But, sadly, it was Thompson who made the decision. At 67, Thompson could no longer take the daily pain that sadly came with his old age. The last words Dr. Thompson would write read thus:
“No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always b—–. No Fun – for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax – This won’t hurt.”
These words as somber as they are, perfectly encapsulate Hunter S. Thompson. He lived how he wanted. Whether or not society agreed with him was entirely out of the question. I must admit I am saddened to know I will never get to pick his brain. Ask him all the questions I have. He was and continues to remain the reason I chose to be a writer. Thank you, Dr. Thompson. You will be sorely missed.