inSide Books: Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone by Hunter S. Thompson
October 31, 2011 by Bryce Wilson
“For, in order that men should resist injustice, something more is necessary than that they should think injustice unpleasant. They must think injustice absurd; above all they must think it startling. They must retain the violence of a virgin astonishment.” -G.K. Chesterton
“We can’t stop here. This is bat country.”-Raoul Duke
I have spent much of the last six years being very angry with Hunter Thompson. Trust me, it’s no fun being mad at one of your idols. I don’t think I even realized that I was angry until the last two years or so. His suicide was so sudden, so final. The circus after his death so fitting. Like everyone else, I dutifully sat by and watched as he was enshrined in the canon, and bought my ticket for Gonzo when it came out. I didn’t tear down the Gonzo fist that hung above my writing desk at the time. I didn’t sell all his books or give away my Criterion of Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas. Instead I did something altogether more remarkable.
I just stopped reading him.
This may not seem like that big of a deal for you. But for a good five years, Hunter Thompson was at the absolute head of my own personal pantheon. When I hit adolescence and had the usual loss of faith in the things that I had heretofore used to guide me, I latched onto Thompson with a vengeance. Anarchistic, but in his own strange way, fiercely moral, one who blazed his own path with a vengeance. It was a blazing star: one-third prankster God, one-third virtuoso, and one-third something else, something ineffable that I still haven’t quite processed. For a kid who suddenly found himself alone in a world bigger and more threatening than previously thought, and to make things worse, stuck in that world sans code, Thompson was seemingly tailor made. A mentor whom I never had the chance to meet. I put a lot of myself in him.
And yeah I was more than a little angry when it got thrown back in my face.
I was angry that I was deprived of his bullshitless opinion and caustic wit. Angry that he let the Bush Administration wear him down. Angry that he didn’t want to see what was coming next. It’s painful to read his woefully premature crowing over John Kerry in the last article he wrote for Rolling Stone and think he would not see the next election. He would not be there to guide us in the mayhem afterwards. “No more football. No more fun?” You stupid bastard you missed the Tea Party. It’s not just that his work would have been entertaining. It would have been vital. For Thompson’s disciples looking down four more ugly years, it was hard not to feel abandoned by the man when we needed him most.
That’s the thing about suicide, no matter how tragic it is, there is always that little kernel that feels like a personal affront to those who are left in its wake. At this point I’m sure some of you reading are saying, “Well you didn’t know Thompson. So what the hell are you talking about?” Well that’s a lie. I may never have met the man, but we always know the authors we truly love. Otherwise why would anybody write?
As I picked up Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone I came to the uneasy realization that this was the first time I had read Thompson in at least five years. Like the documentary Gonzo, it’s obviously more for people more unfamiliar with Thompson’s work, than those not. It’s a primer, and those who have read Thompson in serious quantities will be familiar with most of the words from the canonical work, like Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail and The Great Shark Hunt. Some of it is abridged, which frankly seems to miss the point to a head-scratching degree, and it could have used a bit more context. I know it’s not a biography, but even a few crucial sign posts like Thompson’s infamous, and some say down right crippling, failure to cover “The Rumble in the Jungle” could have been a great aid to understanding his work.
But a funny thing happens as you dive into the book. Momentum takes hold and I was able to do what I haven’t been able to do in so long: just let go and feel it. No one has ever written more truthfully about American politics than Thompson. And precious few with so much fury at injustice. He turned absurdity against itself. To fight madness, he drove himself mad. He was our guide through the kingdom of fear. And if he just didn’t want to do it anymore who are we to blame him?
So for all of its flaws, I am grateful for Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone for allowing me to finally come to terms with one of my idols. A fallen one perhaps, but one who enriched me all the same. Did Thompson let his readers down? Perhaps. But we owe him regardless.
Buy the Ticket. Take the Ride.
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About The Author:
A freelance writer, unrepentant literature and film junkie and bookseller, Bryce Wilson is a recent California transplant living in Austin (he moved for the waters). Between bouts with his trunk novels, he has written for the San Luis Obispo New Times as a retro film critic for the past five years. You can also find his musings on his film blog Things That Don’t Suck (thingthatdontsuck.blogspot.com) and his horror blog Son Of Danse Macabre (sonofdansemacabre.blogspot.com).