Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Fear and Loathing in Garden City

"Hunter and John [Belushi] both shared a sense of possibility, and they seemed to have no limits. There was no Governor of the night. It was like being off on adventures with Huck and Tom - everything was possible."
- Gonzo: a Hunter S. Thompson Biography

There are the books that change your life - Kerouac's On the Road, Krakauer's Into the Wild, Dylan's Chronicles Volume I, and Christopher Kennedy's Moments of Clarity notably come to mind as the game-changers. And there are people who change your life - friends and lovers, brothers and cousins, Springsteen and Hemingway. And I guess Gonzo: a Hunter S. Thompson Biography yields a pinch of each of those ingredients.

Hunter S. Thompson was one of those rare individuals who outlived and will continue to outlive his own death. People gravitated towards Thompson, whether they had read his work or knew his fame or not. His larger-than-life personality rubbed off on those around him. He trail-blazed through the literary world to the extent that his writing established an entirely new literary genre known today as "gonzo journalism," the premise of which puts the writer in front of the actual journalistic subject in terms of storyline. Such "gonzo" journalism elicited countless imitators but no equals, to date. Hunter frequently walked into the offices of Rolling Stone magazine - his place of employment for years - and breathed life into rooms long bogged down by coffee and the tedium of work days, leaving the office inhabitants speechless, terrified, and above all never soon to forget the wake of Hunter S. Thompson.

The Gonzo biography recounts how the actor Bill Murray, after playing the role of Thompson in the 1980 film Where the Buffalo Roam, couldn't shake Thompson's character and mechanisms for well after the cameras had stopped rolling and the film crew had shut down. It is said that Murray often fell back into Thompson's character for years afterwards, and that if you look closely enough you can see Hunter re-emerging in Murray's acting during particular Saturday Night Live broadcasts and even during filmings of other movies, most identifiably in Scrooged.

The same is true of Johnny Depp, who played Thompson in the novel-to-film undertakings of both Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Rum Diary. Like Murray, Depp was unable to leave Thompson's character behind him, and Thompson and Depp would go on to be such good friends that Thompson personally requested for Depp to dispose of his ashes via cannon (while Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" blare from loudspeakers) after his suicide (yes, his suicide note is reason enough to idolize the man).

In similar fashion I find that Hunter's words are producing the same effect on me. On more than one occasion I've found my mind drifting to Thompson's visions of Puerto Rico, Las Vegas, and Aspen long after I've laid down my book and attempted to return to the obligations of another day. The voracity with which Thompson approached life will really make you stop your sputtering feet and reevaluate the way you're living. It's sort of a carpe diem effect. Whether or not I'm happy with the question of whether or not I'm living up to the bar set by Thompson is a notion that has caused me some distress over recent weeks.

When I was young, sure, I aspired to never let a night pass that wasn't eventful, to never leave an ounce of the night unsqueezed from its fleeting tube, but as the years stack up it becomes more demanding and quite frankly less appealing to meet such standards. Between two jobs, too, it's simply hard to put things on pause for a minute and remember you're not in any hurry, after all. What gets lost in the monotony of it all sometimes is my ambition, my thirst for life, and my writing pad and pencil, all things I wanted to put at the forefront as a sort of New Year's resolution back in January. But that is besides the point; the point is that I find my life palpably affected by Hunter S. Thompson's life and words as I slowly eat my way through his (rather thick) biography - which in my book is the definition of good literature, and life, for that matter.

The thing about biographies, too, is you really see the forests for the trees. When a life is laid out chronologically you can glimpse the crossroads from high above and the importance of certain decisions at such crossroads. Sometimes in the whir and commotion of life it's hard to even recognize when one is at such a crossroads even if it is staring you dead in the face, let alone the gravity of the choice in the diverging roads. Yet I feel as though I am creeping up on a crossroads in my own life - and maybe it's because I'm deep into the life of Hunter S. Thompson's life that I can recognize it. At any rate, if there's anything learned from Hunter Thompson's life it's that I don't want leave the stone of opportunity unturned or fail to take the risk knocking at my door only to regret it years later. As Hunter always (and famously) mumbled in that distinct Gonzo voice, "Buy the ticket. Take the ride".

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