Kirk A.C. Marshall

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High & Beautiful: The Sane Person's Column for Coping With the Demands of the New Century

*A Retrospective*
Published: 21 / 02 / 05 (c)

DATE: February 21, 2005

TO: Whom It May Concern

FROM: Kirk Marshall



I will miss Hunter S. Thompson. Obviously, I didn’t know him in any pragmatic or intimate way. I wasn’t there when he ingenuously attempted manslaughter upon Jack Nicholson with obscure and illegal Japanese fireworks as a celebratory “birthday surprise”. I wasn’t there in New York to commemorate his sixty-sixth birthday with The Strokes and a highly-lucid, compulsorily alcohol-fuelled game of groundlessly rules-free bowling (somehow, the kicking of one’s opponent became an indispensable sportsman tactic). I’ve never been to Woody Creak Tavern, Aspen, Colorado, the late great man’s fringe-dwelling haunt where he could be found orating his acerbic politics, hurling chairs across the room, and imbibing well-aged smoky bourbon to the soundtrack of excess and expletive-strung philosophising. I never got to shake his hand, something that he doubtlessly would have found no singular enduring significance in, but nevertheless a memory that (perhaps akin to those having shared sake with John Lennon), would reside within me ‘til my own funeral pyre was staked into the soil. And that, there, shall be the most saddening of all things stigmatising Hunter’s (for anyone knowledgeable of his words personally can claim to be knowledgeable of the man) passing. I’ll never get to meet that man.


            I first read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in 2002 (as an exception to the rule, ignorance here was just… ignorance). See, I was then asked, with affected dubiety by a brilliantly narrow-minded Catholic year 12 English teacher, to select a work of twentieth century contemporary literature thus far unread; to compose a persuasive critical analysis of justification for why it warranted inclusion into the twenty-first century’s organic literary canon. I said, hot damn (“Can I muse upon this for a time?”). I said, I want to read a journalistic novel about unencumbered, raging, drugs-addicted bohemian anti-heroes eking a debauched netherworld – and etherworld – week of decadence in Vegas (“It’s, um, about the American Dream”). I said, I want to read this filthy-minded satire from the perspective of a crippled and paranoiac man’s vaporous, mescaline-fug eyes (“It’s an allegory of hope”). I said, I want to read a pugilistic, poetical, fuck-you-in-the-ear ode to a rockstar modern man’s disintegration of soul; a book about two guys ripped on a veritable arsenal of mind-compressing hallucinogens; a threnody to the world of craziness where the moment of transcendence boils down to a psychopath shooting at desert iguanas from within his cherry-apple Great Red Shark convertible (“It’s an invaluable statement against animal cruelty”). I suckered my teacher in, and though still a small victory I don’t doubt a random atom of Hunter’s glorying essence is somewhere passing through the air, jubilating over it. I got an A+.


            He was a great man. And like all great men, Hunter S. Thompson bore the curse of genius. Even though I was singularly privy to his words alone, countless and thorny as battlefields of roses, sometimes I didn’t understand him. His dense, rewarding gonzo memoir papers Kingdom of Fear is an exemplar, an interminable source of both Hunter the Poet Made Deified, and occasionally Hunter the Meandering Lunatic. His bones suffered the weight of legacy and his bloodstream the clog of a billion coruscating witticisms. No human would call George W. Bush “the goof-ball syphilis President” to his face. Hunter was something else.


            Sometimes he wrote with his pen. Sometimes, like today, this day, he wrote with his own shotgun. Hunter Stockton Thompson committed suicide, murdered himself, by shooting his own bullet into his own brain. It’s soul-sundering and depressing, granted, but it’s also a curiously sentimentalist end. It’s the sort of business that harks back to the suffrage of the hero-writer, of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Acosta. That lost elegiac period where the man was king, and the work itself was pale second. Hunter became a legend in his own lifetime. Realistically, how does one continue to live like this, when the world progresses forward and legend becomes synonymous with myth?


            For me, at least, the way in which he elected to go does not, to any degree, negate how I feel for this embodied moment in history. And yeah, his passing will be encased in the amber of my heart forever, in much the same way people have sung the loss of J.F.K. or Princess Di or Kurt Cobain or Jeff Buckley. I was young and impressionable, searching for a wilding mantra to go by living, and Hunter. Well. He showed me the bats.


            Hunter S. Thompson wrote of Tim Leary, in a personalised obituary published June 9, 1996: “He is forgotten but not gone. We will see him soon enough. Our tribe is now smaller by one. Our circle is one link shorter. And there is one more name on the honour roll of pure warriors who saw the great light and leapt for it.” It’s an irony, then, that his very own words are the best ones to serenade his passing. He not only leapt for that great light, but stoked its flame.


            So think: as you order that next drink on the weekend perhaps it’s right to raise your glass in memoriam. Providing it doesn’t interfere with arm-wrestling that Russian backpacker, of course. Hunter, well, he would have hated that.