Hunter S. Thompson: an appreciation
Ohh, Hunter! How we miss your ass already! I can’t think what will become of Pitkin County without you. Through the horrible years of the valley’s transformation into a veritable country club for the greedheads of stolen wealth, you were an anchor of crazed sanity and demented decency. You spoke for the ever-vanishing individualistic anarchic spirit that first attracted us to the Roaring Fork Valley.It was some 40 years or so since we first met between the stacks of Peggy Clifford’s bookstore in the Hyman Avenue basement that now houses Mogador restaurant. You were driving west from Louisville, Ky., to seek fame and fortune in California. I was just back from teaching school for the Peace Corps in West Africa and on my way East to graduate school at Columbia. I remember vaguely Peggy introducing us and saying sagely, as it turned out, that we would like each other. Somehow she intuited that despite our different backgrounds, we shared some common ardor about life, our society, our politics, our world.
It was one of those proverbial passing of two ships in the night on the turbulent seas of our troubled times. You had just given up conventional journalism and were going West to make a name for yourself as a writer of savage and comic satires about the bloated myths of America in the 20th century. You etched your vision of the follies of our civilization in magazines and books that we and our children will remember to our dying days as some of the best and refreshing damn writing of the American century. You were our Mark Twain.Me, I was going in the opposite direction, as it turned out, to pursue conventional journalism at Newsweek and the Washington Post, and more recently in public radio, from which you had recoiled. Unlike your spirited freedom of thought, language and behavior, I chose the more traditional form of expression where pretense and decorum and, in recent times, the strictures of political correctness, were the accepted modes of public discourse.
Though we worked together in more worldly places over the decades, Woody Creek remained the irreverent island where we could meet for spirited dialogue, exchange of ideas, argument and outbursts of rage, humor and fun. You rode with the Hell’s Angels and Nixon and Carter and Clinton, and had the pleasure and the freedom to skewer them for their personal and moral failures, their hypocrisy and corruption. Me, I mostly followed our troops to ugly wars in places like Saigon, El Salvador, Beirut, Mogadishu and Baghdad, and because of rigid rules of objectivity, I was reduced to writing about the imperial hubris of our age in more polite, prosaic and guarded ways.What we all envied and admired in you was your absolute freedom … in writing as well as living. What was so refreshing about our periodic meetings in Bali or St. George or Owl Farm was to find you always so spirited and open, always keen of mind and lively of wit. To those of us who knew you well, you were a blast of fresh air – provocative and funny, outrageous and caring, acerbic and insightful, challenging and generous.You were a bad-ass with a marvelous, mischievous twinkle in your eye.
In recent days, people who knew we were friends keep asking, “What is your favorite story about Hunter?” I can only smile and say those times were personal treasures that they would not understand. How could one explain nights under siege at the Continental Palace in Saigon or the roadblock scene with the 101st Airborne in Grenada? How to explain those postwar days with Sandy’s Max Factor jar on Bali’s Sanur Beach? Or just one of those long evenings bullshitting about the world at your kitchen table in Woody Creek? They were all favorite moments, favorite shared experiences. They were what great friendships are all about.I’m sorry beyond words that you have left us all. Your energy, your fun, your anger and concern are already missed. But as publisher Jack Schoemaker said to me yesterday, “Hunter may be gone but he will still live forever.” You will, brother, you will, and we are all proud to have shared some time with you.May you rest in peace. God knows you earned it.Loren Jenkins, former editor in chief of The Aspen Times, is now senior foreign editor for National Public Radio in Washington, D.C.
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