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Hunter S. Thompson: buying into every goddam word. ["The Doctor is In," by Jess Gulbranson]
Guest Writer

Hunter Thompson's personal brand of reality
Gonzo and Gidget
by Jess Gulbranson

y mother – my dear ol' mother – gave me a list of forbidden books when I was young.

I wasn't allowed to read anything by Hunter S. Thompson, Carlos Castaneda or GZO Jones. Of course, to a nine year old, that comes off more like a to-do list than a series of thou-shalt-nots.

The first of my transgressions was a copy of Jones's "In Defense of Dirty Latin," which some wit had slipped into the dust jacket of that ubiquitous Robert Pirsig book, which I won't deign to name.

So far so good.

I've had the opportunity to work alongside this living legend and have to say that I'm one of the few living people to know how much of his beat posturing isn't bullshit. God bless him.

Next was the first book in the Don Juan series, supplied by my father – my dear ol' father – along with "Dune" and the "Rocky Horror" soundtrack. Two out of three ain't bad. Castaneda can be considered a master illusionist like his Yaqui shaman protagonist, presenting layers of secrecy and deception about his own life that may never be peeled back.

It took a move from the sticks to Portland, home of the world's greatest bookstore, to score verboten writings by the apex of this weird isosceles triangle: the good doctor, Hunter S. Thompson.

As you may have heard, Thompson died several weeks back by blowing his own mind, literally. He is sorely missed, and not solely as a colorful character from the drug counterculture.

Thompson's biographical details – true, false or meaningless – have been covered pretty thoroughly by all the major scribes and I won't insult the reader by presenting them again.

I was at work when I heard, stacking bags of animal feed and listening to NPR. I had to stop and gape, letting the bags pile up on the conveyer belt. The commentator being interviewed was a longtime journalist friend of Thompson's and he said something interesting that I think is crucial.

He felt that Thompson's influence was not so important to the world of journalism as it was to that of American letters. Sure, without gonzo journalism there would be no Michael Moore, but I happen to agree: The breakthrough of the author and his own personal brand of reality are much more interesting and relevant than the vicissitudes of the real world.

You may be asking yourself what makes me an expert, to add such commentary. I'll tell you. At worst I am a wannabe writer, at best an unrepentant hack – perfect qualifications for the job. Thompson influenced me much more than I realized, blazing through my literary life like a ghostly chain-smoking meteor. To explain how, and to honor the man and his legacy as best I can, let me take you back.

Here we are again, in high school. I am a talented writer compared to most people I know, which is not saying much. I write terrible HP Lovecraft pastiches and even worse epic fantasy, a la Michael Moorcock.

I read Thompson's "The Great Shark Hunt," though, and I am able to blast out a series of truly wonderful stories, loosely titled "Raoul Duke in Heaven 1-7," the title itself a nod to Thompson's alter ego. These stories, lost in an incident too embarrassing to mention, remain the best things I've ever written – derivative of Thompson, sure, but good writing for a high-school sophomore.

I've yet to find them or top them, leaving me in something of a pickle. I feel that I am a writer, I tell people that I am, and I even convince some of them to publish me and give me awards.

Yet still I quite simply suck as a writer. What's worse, I'm unmotivated, as any editor of mine can tell you, regarding deadlines.

That quandary has remained, and it only resolved itself that Monday morning at the mill, animal feed to my ankles, figuring out what doctor could make me whole. I had to rush home and read "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" in a frenzy.

And somewhere in the dark desert heart of insanity, I found a terrible freedom: I am a hack and a hack I shall remain. But it's okay. God loves me and all my sins.

"God didn't do that, you did, you fucking narcotics agent," Duke says in that same novel. Thompson's madness parts to reveal a glimpse of Ialdabaoth, the clear light, the luminous emptiness, the numinous knot ...

I feel good again. Sad, because a great man has gone on to well-deserved rest. But good – honest and straightforward, clean living, and sworn to make the best of this bastard universe I call my own.

I invite you to partake of Thompson's universe and enjoy. Say a prayer for his family and friends.

Why did he do it? In a moment of bad taste, I joked to my mother – my good ol' mother – that Thompson probably sobered up for once. She replied that she had a nightmare vision of Thompson and Sandra Dee (who died the same day) trying to get into heaven at the same time. Gonzo and Gidget, storming the Pearly Gates.

In closing, a final word: Any commentary on the life and works of Hunter S. Thompson will question his blending of fact and fiction – at best relegating it to a sort of shadowy half-world of literary metalogic. No way. As Johnny Depp related after he played Thompson in the Hollywood version of "Fear and Loathing," the movie was toned down from the book, which was tamer than Thompson's notes, which were probably tamer than the actual experience.

Hunter S. Thompson was the real deal, no matter how crazy and improbable the writing gets. So how much of Thompson's legend should you buy into?

Every word. Every goddam word.

Post Scriptum: If this little project is worth a tinker's cuss, it's because I get a chance to celebrate the uncelebrated. James Manley, longtime NW Drizzle reader and all-around generous soul, expressed a great interest in reading the eulogy presented here. Unfortunately, he never got the chance. He "pulled a Hunter" on the 6th of March. God rest you, Jim. You will be missed.

E-mail Jess at j_gulbranson@hotmail.com and discover his previous writing.

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