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February 21, 2005

Hunter S. Thompson

Like every other guy who wrote for a college newspaper in the last 30 years, there was a time I wanted to be the next Hunter S. Thompson, until I realized (as we all inevitably do) that being the next Hunter S. Thompson wasn't merely a writing aspiration, but a lifestyle choice for which most of us simply didn't have the pharmaceutical tolerance, even if we had the inclination (which -- thankfully, in retrospect -- I did not). So eventually I gave it up and concentrated on being the first me, which, besides being a far less crowded field, aspirationally speaking, also turned out to be the better writing choice.

Now Thompson's dead; he shot himself in the head. At the moment I can't decide whether this is shocking or, given his public persona, somehow appropriate. I will note he is the second writer I've admired to suicide in the last year or so, the other being Spaulding Gray, who took the plunge off the Staten Island ferry in a death that was also shocking yet somehow appropriate. I don't claim that there's any theme to this; lots of now-dead writers whom I admire didn't suicide. One simply notices when they do. One also notices that the two were similar in a certain way -- they told confessional tales of themselves doing things: Thompson in drugged-out, balls-out fashion, Gray in his more buttoned-up New England asides. Both were storytellers, which is a facet of writing I admire and which I don't think gets enough attention these days. And I suppose you could say they both wrote their own ending of their own stories rather than waiting for life to do it for them.

I didn't become the next Hunter S. Thompson, which I think we're all grateful for, but did I learn anything from him? I did indeed. I learned a little hyperbole is a wonderful thing, although too much is, well, hyperbolic -- timing matters in its use. I think it's easy to enjoy his more whacked-out passages and miss how surgically he used them when he was on his form, which is why there are so many bad Thompson pastiches out there (even on the Web. Especially on the Web). I think it's easy to miss his lesson as a journalist, which was that a good story isn't always the one you're supposed to be covering. He also reconfirmed to me something I've been taught over and over by my favorite writers: that you can get away with a lot as long as you tell a good story.

Those are all useful lessons, and I thank Thompson for them.

Posted by john at February 21, 2005 05:09 AM

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» gonzo goodbye: hunter s. thompson from Bill Peschel
As everyone knows by now, Hunter S. Thompson killed himself. Lileks has an excellent summation of his career:A great writer in his prime, but the DVD of his career would [Read More]

Tracked on February 21, 2005 07:05 PM

» The American Masters from The AnarchAngel
I suppose you could say he died, and now will be disposed of, like he lived; With a Bang. Tasteless, sure, but so was HST, and he liked it that way. [Read More]

Tracked on February 23, 2005 11:52 PM


Chris Byrne | February 21, 2005 06:43 AM

After seeing some of the stuff he wrote and said in the past few years, I admit, I'm not surprised. I figured it'd be a massive drug overdose (jsut for old times sake), but he pulled a Hemingway instead.

I didnt agree with a lot of what he thought, but I loved the way he expressed it. I still have copies of Hells Angels, and Fear and Loathing in las Vegas around.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.

PiscusFiche | February 21, 2005 07:11 AM

Despite having been a journalism student, I never really wanted to bite Hunter's style, although that may have been because of the pharmaceutical considerations. (I can never decide if that punctuated the lessons of story or if it obscured them.) Still, it was very weird for me to see that big red stripe on top of CNN and realise that was for him.

Mark A. York | February 22, 2005 11:53 AM

"think it's easy to miss his lesson as a journalist, which was that a good story isn't always the one you're supposed to be covering."

That's what my journalism teacher said. Most people are too afraid to do what Thompson did so whether they think they can is moot. They can't. Hyperbole is entertaining but like Carl Hiaasen, you have to know how to wield it.

Phil German | February 22, 2005 12:55 PM

It's such a cliche to say, "I caught my breath in shock," but I did. Your journal was the first I'd heard of this news and it just hit me in the face when you said, He's dead--he shot himself in the head. I sucked in air and people sitting near me turned to see what was up.

I read Thompson's best writings long after they were politically relevant. I stopped reading him before it all got tired. I never tried to imitate either his stylistics or his lifestyle. I just thought he was fun, funny, and somehow powerful in diction.

Phil German

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