Downward from writer to celebrity
I feel as if I ought to write about Hunter – God knows, everyone else has – but it isn’t easy. It’s not that I’m devastated at losing such a good friend. Hunter and I weren’t really friends. We knew each other, talked from time to time, said hello when we crossed paths – but that was it.It may have been my fault. I kept my distance from Hunter. That was partly because of the star-struck mobs rampaging out to Woody Creek to suck up to the famed Dr. Thompson and then swagger back to town with proud stories of his latest cool outrage. I certainly didn’t want to be part of that.I also stayed away because Hunter had a terrible effect on other writers. He was responsible for some of the worst writing to disgrace the pages of America’s newspapers and magazines in recent decades. It wasn’t his fault, but it seemed that every writer who ever interviewed Hunter felt obliged to write about it in hideous imitation Hunter Thompson style – most of it as bad as someone trying to copy the Mona Lisa in finger-paints. They’d crank out yards and yards of “outrageous,” “quirky” – oh go on, say it – “gonzo” writing. Wretched.So I kept my distance because I didn’t want to be a sycophantic jerk and I didn’t want to start writing bad imitation Hunter Thompson.And, besides that, I was mad at Hunter because somewhere along the line, a long time back, he gave up being a real writer and settled for being a celebrity. It was an easy transition, wasn’t it? After all, Hunter was famous because he was the hero of his own books. Wasn’t he?A lot of people seemed to believe that. They were determined to treat him as if he actually was the central character in his great novel, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” But he wasn’t that character. He was the writer who created that character – and those who failed to realize that difference, failed to respect the true accomplishment of Hunter Thompson.In their eagerness to suck up to Hunter the celebrity, they were spitting on Hunter the artist.And Hunter, damn him, put up with it.I heard an interview on the radio with an editor from Rolling Stone who worked with Hunter to finish the original manuscript of “Fear and Loathing.” He didn’t bring Hunter drugs and booze. He didn’t fawn and tell the writer how great he was. He pretty much locked Hunter in a hotel room, brought him food, pushed him hard, made him work. He even taped Hunter’s rantings and transcribed those tapes.Hunter needed people like that, but sadly he settled for sycophants.You could see that clearly these past few days, as people rushed to make it clear what great friends of Hunter’s they were. You can hear it from those who babble how Hunter was the heart and soul and conscience of Aspen. No, he wasn’t. You can hear it from those who declare that every word he wrote was magnificent, golden prose, the best of his generation. No, it wasn’t. Not lately.That wasn’t what Hunter needed when he was alive. It isn’t what any of us need now that he’s dead.Let me stop for a moment to make it very clear that I’m not talking about the people who were Hunter’s real friends. I’m not talking about the ones who didn’t think to fawn on Hunter, because they met him as an equal – Loren – because they could support him with their own strength – Sheriff Bob – or because they recognized a kindred spirit – Cleverly. (And, yes, many others.) And I’m certainly not talking about his family – those who have cause to mourn that the rest of us cannot fathom.I’m talking about the other people, the ones who clung to Hunter for their own glory and their own needs, not his, the ones who dragged him down.And so I was disappointed with Hunter because he let me down by falling for that nonsense and not writing any more extraordinary books.But then there’s one more thing:Hunter S. Thompson wrote one of the great books of the second half of the 20th century. In “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” he gave a voice and a vocabulary to thoughts and feelings and a way of life that truly were important. Scoff if you want, but it mattered. In its own way, “Fear and Loathing” is a book that stands with Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” – and that, after all, is one of the great books of all time.And that ain’t bad.Well done, Hunter. You will be missed.Andy Stone’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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