Celebrating Hunter S. Thompson’s 75th
Between the salad and the main entrée
One of the tasks of Thompson’s assistants is to transcribe tapes. Like his old friend Nixon, he records a lot—phone calls, conversations, and the like. He is no doubt conscious of the permanent record. There were two tape machines running at the bar. One was strapped to Thompson, the other to me. Mysteriously, Thompson’s cut off as soon as we stepped outside, and returned exactly when we reentered the bar. “I wanna eat some of that salad before we light this off,” Thompson can be heard saying. “Let’s go back inside, we can do it between the salad and the main entrée.”
As Thompson’s tape cuts back in, he is telling his Handlers that he’s extremely stoned. At other points, Thompson wanders off to consult with members of his entourage about whether or not to contact bookies, or ask where his hash is. Exactly spliced, the recording seems an invitation to eavesdrop on Thompson’s other conversations. Indeed, the Handlers play an important role in Thompson’s current mythology. He uses them as a public prop just as well as any cane, cigarette holder, or tin that may be filled with common sugar.
Following his introduction on Late Night with Conan O’Brien several days later, Thompson appeared from behind the curtain, beverage in hand, and began to walk in the wrong direction. Several men appeared, took Thompson’s drink, and gave him a nudge towards O’Brien, only to have him walk behind the set’s furniture, causing further chaos. It is a common ploy for Thompson as tapes of appearances with David Letterman often feature him entering the stage several seconds after his cue. On one hand, it might be simple intoxication.
On the other hand, it might be read as a conscious attempt to throw things off—which, in a way, seems to be exactly the goal of Thompson’s professional drug use: to produce Action. “I’m not a drug abuser,” he insisted. “I’m a drug user. I’ve always said that drugs are no excuse. Being drunk is no excuse. If that’s how you’re gonna operate in the world, don’t try to blame it on some weird shit.”
And why not? Drugs are fun. Fireworks are fun. They can be beautiful, especially in such an ugly, paranoid climate. What else besides strange wonder could one feel if he saw, for no instantly discernable reason, a crystally spark shower with no other witnesses to verify it?
After the explosion, there will be silence, and in that silence there exists the possibility for a better world where anything can happen, because something just did happen.
Action points towards Rest. There are fast cars in Thompson’s stories, very fast, but they almost always take Thompson to a deserted beach for a moonlit swim or someplace else where he can enjoy the afterglow of Speed and Chaos. The most common setting for Thompson’s work is late at night, usually in a hotel room, the rest of the world at slumber, where he can reflect thoughtfully. Writing itself becomes a sublime act.
Though he’d deny it to the end (“We won’t get anywhere if we talk about Utopia!” he snapped, as if someone might overhear), Thompson reveals the heart of a dreamer. Moments are made transcendental not because he has a sense of what is wrong and can articulate it (though he does), but because he has a sense of what is undoubtedly perfect and magical. “There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning,” he writes in Vegas.
Thompson reflected on the reputation that has acted as an open invitation for people to continuously show up in his life with weed and explosives and sounded more than a little bit weary, though he glared longingly at the sunroof as he said it.
“It gets boring, every time that cartoon runs, that Doonesbury thing. It’s a little bit of fun, maybe, to be taken as a lunatic. It colors people’s perceptions. If you call the President a ‘shit-eating dog’ and then you say he should ‘get the fuck out of Iraq’, it may give the ‘get the fuck out of Iraq’ a crazy tinge. ‘Oh, the messenger is a little stoned, so whatever it is, it can’t be true!’” Thompson looked at the sunroof once more and heaved himself out of the limo.
If Action points to Rest, the Rest—such as, say, sitting in a bar, walking outside to a limousine, then walking back inside the bar—surely points right back at Action, a great circle. Each needs the other, and Thompson needs Rest, because he needs to write. So he creates Action. It’s passive-aggressive, really.
Inside, Thompson reconvened with the Handlers. “Anita AnitaAnitaAnitaAnita!” he called, voice rising in pitch. “Where’s my hammer?” Anita retrieved an exaggerated plastic hammer that, when force was applied, reproduced a crash of shattering glass via a cheap, distorting sound chip. Thompson hit me over the head.
After the salad, before the main entrée could even be discussed, Thompson was swept off by the Handlers to deal with a phone call. I was left with a bag of fireworks and a head full of ways to use them.
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
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The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
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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.
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