Man Of Action: Hunter S. Thompson Keeps Moving (Relix Revisited)
It is rare for a writer and a single word to be so conjoined. Attributed to him in the Oxford English Dictionary, it describes both an attitude and a form of reportage he championed. Based on William Faulkner’s notion that the best fiction is more accurate than any fact, Gonzo provided the theoretical gas to spark Thompson’s blowtorch prose. As a literary style, it had two main tenets: total subjectivity and a first draft/best draft approach that jibed perfectly with the post-Beatnik literary world of the late 1960s.
Thompson threw himself into his stories recklessly, riding with Hell’s Angels, getting drunk with Kentucky Colonels at the Derby in his native Louisville, and talking football with Satan himself, Richard Milhous Nixon. Most famously, he (with friend and Chicano activist Oscar Acosta) set out on a multi-day drug rampage in Las Vegas. It was a chaotic dear experiment, as he explained to his editor at the time, where he and Acosta gave “dollar bills to ‘boys’ for quick unctuous service” and went “roaring into the Circus-Circus in a huge Coupe de Ville [in order to] know the insanity of watching people jump and run and salute and all that crap.”
Active Citizenship-Personalizing Politics
Thompson describes himself as a hillbilly. And, like a lot of things, he means this far more literally than one might first suspect. He rarely leaves the Colorado highlands. When he does—such as for a whirlwind promotional tour of book signings, television appearances and interviews that landed him in New York following the publication of Kingdom of Fear —he seems incredibly ill at ease. When his attention drifted, it wasn’t hard to imagine his mind wandering back to the quiet dark of the hills.
Reductively, Thompson has always been the old man from the mountains who stumbles out of the underbrush every few years to wreak havoc and pass judgment, before growing exasperated and cantankerously trundling back to the hills to be with his guns and books and peacocks. The birds stalk the night as Owl Farm, Thompson’s home of 40 years, squawking creepily as they navigate between twisted pieces of metallic sculpture and the wreckage of whatever Thompson’s been using for targets lately.
Owl Farm is often referred to as a “fortified compound”, and there seems some kernel of truth to that. Memorabilia of all kinds line the walls, remnants of Thompson’s long career. There are weapons and drugs, but most of them are books. Thompson is a man of letters, and dishes out references with aplomb: H.L. Mencken and Mark Twain, Bob Dylan and the Book of Revelations, enlightened men and porn moguls, learned philosophers and speed freaks—a vast panoply of the wizened and weird.
Amidst the clutter are also Thompson’s extensive archives—carbon copies of everything he has written, including several thousand letters—haphazardly organized by dozens of assistants over the years, which only necessitates new assistants to untangle the filing systems of previous ones. A third volume of his collected letters is currently being prepared, and he is playing an active role in a film adaptation of The Rum Diary, a novel he wrote in the late 1950s. Set to again star Johnny Depp and Benecio Del Toro, along with Val Kilmer and others, the movie will go into production sometime next year.
Inside, Thompson works on his beloved typewriters, never upgrading to a computer, despite a weekly column on ESPN’s website. His brain works only as fast as he can type on a vintage Selectric. In conversation, he speaks in tight bursts, quickly stopping and starting, as if allowing his hands time to type. “I’veneverunderstood. Whatamemoir. Reallyis.” When he stumbles, which is frequent, the impression is that he’s stuck on a word. The constant derailments can be explained, perhaps, as lingual crossroads: how to write the story. When presented with an object of desire or potential Action he barrels ahead, his body language changing and thoughts focusing.
“I leave [Colorado] once every two months,” Thompson said. “In the past six months, I’ve been to Hawaii and LA. It’s getting harder and harder because of the planes. I fly first class, with all the advantages I can get, but—goddamn—it’s just getting more and more horrible. That’s intentional, I believe. That’s part of the overall plan to dumb the population down. A frightened population is obedient. They’re confused. They’re afraid. A fearful population is going to be easier, more malleable, more complaint. I wasn’t personally hassled [on the way to New York], but the breakdown of the system hassles everybody.”
“Politics is the art of controlling your environment,” Thompson is fond of saying. For Thompson, politics is the base level at which humans communicate and it deeply bothers him when people make no attempt to engage.
“If you don’t do it—if you don’t participate in your life—someone else will. You’re either going to be aware of what’s happening around you, or you’re going to be a slave to it.” For his part, Thompson ran for sheriff of Aspen in 1970, waging a ridiculous (and widely documented) campaign on the Freak Power ticket, whose promises included renaming Aspen “Fat City” (to discourage tourism) and very nearly won. More recently, he has played an active role in the Fourth Amendment Foundation, founded in 1990 after he was acquitted in a privacy issues case to protect citizens from unlawful searches of their homes.
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