Man Of Action: Hunter S. Thompson Keeps Moving (Relix Revisited)
Thompson is an avowed enemy of Timothy Leary’s “turn on, tune in, drop out” mantra. “I believed that the thing to do with acid was to eat it and go out and get involved in the public life.” He built steam. “Leary, that son-of-a-bitch, that fraud… I think he was the most horrible person to come out of all the ‘60s. He advocated his way, which was the Guru way. You had to have a guide, and had to do things in a certain way, be in a room with certain lights, and have a certain high priest leading you. And that would be him, of course. I denounced Leary right from the beginning, even when I didn’t know that he was a working, hired informant for the FBI.”
When Thompson offers an unsympathetic account of the ‘60s, he’s not being a revisionist. He said the same thing at the time, as he fermented in the same San Franciscan ooze as the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. He bemoans the lack of a contemporary counterculture. “Jerry Garcia was a friend,” he said. “He and I used to argue. He was totally against politics. He had nothing but contempt for my involvement, my running for Sheriff. But I believe that until you personalize politics, you’re not gonna get anywhere. This war is not some distant thing. If every Deadhead voted, the country would be a different place.”
Thompson speaks of politics like an old General ready to fetch his tank in an age of personal rocketships. He calls music his “fuel.” Favorite albums like Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home and Los Lobos’ Kiko are valuable not because they are pleasurable escapes, but because they push him on.
Several times throughout Kingdom of Fear there appears a quote, attributed alternately to Robert Kennedy, an 18th century British political theorist named Edward Burke, and Thompson himself: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” When Thompson recited the dictum in the bar, his voice rose, as if looking for other patrons to join him in a moment of old-time solidarity.
Men of Action are needed. Taken as such, Gonzo is not too far removed from the bliss of the Beats, the Grateful Dead, or even Walt Whitman: being able to fully appreciate the capital-M Moment. Where Thompson splits with them, though, is his willingness to hone in on both ugliness and its consequences.
“My idea [for Vegas was to buy a fat notebook and record the whole thing, as it happened, then send in the notebook for publication—without editing,” he proclaimed, describing undiluted Gonzo. Thompson has inspired more bad journalism than perhaps any other American writer. “’All you have to do is drink a little whiskey, smoke a joint, eat some acid, and you too can write like this! ’” Thompson groused. “That’s as stupid as it sounds.”
At his best, a Gonzo journalist works not unlike an improvising musician. Just as a soloist must be able to spontaneously formulate coherent music from a knowledge of theory, form and historical vocabulary, a Gonzo journalist should be able to parse a story in real-time. It is a way of experiencing things with open antennae, fully aware of the mechanisms grinding under a scene’s surface, both subjectively and objectively.
And, sure, the drugs help, too. Gonzo is a primal manifestation of what might be deemed “the authentic American Dream.” In recent years, the phrase, “the pursuit of happiness” has come to mean, basically, the right to be left the fuck alone. Rather, as historian Gary Wills has posited, Thomas Jefferson meant something more classical. Being a good American didn’t mean engaging in self-absorbed quests for money. It meant being an active citizen, which would inevitably lead to a rich happiness. The simplest step one can take is to become aware of what’s going on around him.
In other words: Shit, if you’re gonna light off fireworks in the middle of a major metropolitan area, you should be damn sure of what the law is, the history of the flying dirt you turn up, and who you might piss off. “What kind of ordinances do you have around here?” Thompson asked, nearly as soon as he saw the fireworks. “What kind of permits do you have?”
“Do we have a sunroof?” Thompson barked at the limo driver, who had parked in front of the bar. “I have some rockets that you can shoot out of cars,” he explained. He turned a cardboard mortar over and paused. “This is not one of them. The ones I’ve got are Marine rockets. They really light things up—40 miles for 40 seconds with 40,000 candlepower. They really hang up there.”
The sunroof whirred open quietly, air pouring in. Thompson looked up, then out the windows at the passing Upper East Side traffic. “I’d just as soon do it right here,” he announced, and took another hit off the bowl. “I’m a law abiding citizen.” A loose theme of Kingdom of Fear is Thompson’s life-long relationship with the Law, beginning with a childhood incident. “To live outside the law, you must be honest,” he writes, quoting Dylan.
“I don’t think it’s the right and duty of Americans to carry a gun,” he said. “We know that the more guns that are left around, the more trouble you’re gonna have. I live out in the wilderness, far out in the wilderness. They’re tools. I’m not a murderer. I don’t go around and shoot people. It’s stupid to shoot people. It’s not beneficial. Or necessary.
“Where I stand leads to an elitist point of view, and not entirely democratic. My gut feeling is that I should have firearms, and not everybody else should. You can see the elitism in that. But it’s true. I have a proven record of 40 years.”
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
Ron Sexsmith visits the Relix office to perform a tune from his latest record Forever Endeavor.
Crystal Bowersox stops by Relix to perform a song from her new album, All That For This.
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