Monday, February 21, 2005
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
But of course, Doctor Gonzo's words did fork lightning, though perhaps few of our readers remember that era when, more than perhaps any of the other enfants terribles--Capote, Mailer, Wolfe--Thompson blew apart the staid conventions of journalism like Hendrix dynamited the blues. Reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in real time, with its ink-splattered illustrations by Ralph Steadman mirroring HST's psychotic, yet transcendental odyssey through the fascist underbelly of the American Dream, was the closest I think I ever came to the fabled "contact high" that psychedelic evangelists believed could open up the doors of perception for everyone. Completely uniniterested in the line between fact and fiction, journalist and participant, sanity and insanity, the deadly serious and the utterly profane, FLLV knocked the stuffing out of a profession that, in a world coming apart at the seams, desperately needed it. At the time, everything seemed possible. And lest we misremember him as a heartless misanthrope, there was always his famous endorsement-that-wasn't-an-endorsement of Jimmy Carter, "Jimmy Carter and the Great Leap of Faith." Inside the bitterest cynic is always a hopeless idealist.
Whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad, but because Hunter beat them to it, they made him a celebrity instead. From Hells Angel outlaw to Doonesbury cartoon character is probably more of an indignity than any of us could take, though Thompson gave it his best shot. Then, of course, there were the drugs, which ceased to be a literary asset circa 1978. Finally, there was simply Reality's ability to concoct, in the procession of political charlatans and pigfuckers that we've been saddled with since Nixon, a bad trip even Thompson couldn't transmute into psychedelic gold.
"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." Now we know what the pros do when the going doesn't even have weirdness to recommend it any more. At least he didn't end up a literary organ grinder monkey, like Tom Wolfe.
Lambert has more.