Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Lone Hunter

Decided to stay with the Doctor for another day. As I've said, he was a great influence on me, and I'm terribly saddened by his death. I'll return to other matters in due course. The bastards aren't going anywhere, alas.

Been going through my HST book collection -- and I have just about all of them, including a 1967 hardcover of "Hell's Angels" which I got for a steal at an outdoor book stall on NYU's campus (trying to be fair, I asked the guy, "You sure you wanna sell this for that?" pointing to the price, and he muttered, "Y'wan' it or not?") -- riding the various, beautiful riffs within. Many of his obits focused on his persona, his themes, his public vaudeville. But few really studied the man's technique. When you wave off all the other horseshit, you realize that the Doctor could just plain write. Even his later output, like "Better Than Sex" and "Kingdom of Fear," while not as majestic as his earlier work, contain some dazzling wordplay, lunatic concepts, and boss energy. There's a reason why I was never impressed with Hemingway. HST did it better.

Went to the local off-campus vid store with the crazy idea that I might rent "Breakfast With Hunter", last year's docu showing some of Thompson's private world, along with archival clips. Certainly The Kids will have snagged the DVD by now, I thought. Amazingly, no. There it was, sitting next to Nick Broomfield's "Biggie & Tupac", defiant gonzo fist for all to see. Didn't know whether to be thankful or pissed. Why wasn't this out? Why isn't some college sophomore smoking a bowl and taking in HST's run for Aspen sheriff in 1970?

Ah, well. Mine now. Take it to the counter where the lanky, nerdy, smart hip kids hang, listening to soft techno, trading poses.

"Hey man!" one says to me. "Did you know that guy killed himself yesterday?"

Stare at him for a beat. "Yes. That's why I'm renting it."

"Oh yeah. Maybe you should buy it."

"I probably will. But for now borrowing's fine."


The kid informs me that Criterion's edition of "Fear and Loathing" is loaded with Thompson extras, giving me the menu rundown as I wait for my change. Wanna tell him that I know all this, that my wife worked for years at Criterion and still has many friends on staff. But no point. Smile, say thanks, walk out into the slush.

"Breakfast" has some great scenes. My fave is when HST meets with Alex Cox and Todd Davies, the original director & writer for "Fear and Loathing," to discuss some script ideas. Apparently, Cox and Davies, in their script, took this passage from "Fear":

"And that, I think, was the handle -- that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn't need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting -- on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark -- the place where the wave finally broke and rolled back."

And turned it into a cartoon where Thompson's Raoul Duke would ride the breaking wave back to Vegas. Pretty fucking stupid, and contrary to the meaning of the passage. Of course, the good Doctor heats up, gives them both a decent tongue lashing, then throws them out of his house. While some of his performances in "Breakfast" are clearly for the camera, this one feels genuine. Cox, who recast Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen as junkie angels, was cheapening Thompson's poetry with dopey visual splatter. No wonder HST went with Terry Gilliam.

The one sequence that made me cringe was the 25th anniversary party for "Fear and Loathing" thrown by Jann Wenner & Rolling Stone. Apart from some real affection shown to HST by close friends like P.J. O'Rourke, most of the behavior is that horrid, glossy media bullshit that all writers should reject. It's a false world, antithetical to honest expression and literature. By that point, though, Thompson was trapped by his celebrity, the downside to the success he enjoyed. Sell enough books, influence a generation, and the beasts begin nuzzling your legs. The trick, as HST clearly understood, is to keep them from going for your throat.

Close friends said that Thompson preferred the solitude of his Woody Creek house to anything else. This was obviously true, for when the final moment came, that's where he was, alone, far from the corporate revelers and demographic hustlers. A brutal solo to end The Show. Just what the Doctor ordered.