How can I write this without sounding like an asshole? It’s always a terrible thing when your heroes die. Mine seem to be dying in droves: Marlon Brando, Russ Myers, Thom Gunn. I understand that you can’t expect them to live forever. Hell, by the time they die, they’re usually at the nadir of their careers anyway. Still, when you get the news, sometimes you just have put your life on hold and get drunk.
When I got the news that Hunter S. Thompson had died I was in no position to stop anything. I sat, immobilized on the toilet, magazine in hand, as the tinny shower radio screamed it into my echo chamber of a bathroom: "Self-inflicted gun-shot wound… Father of Gonzo Journalism…" Within an hour I was on the phone.
When my associate, Goodrich, picked up his line, he didn’t answer with his standard, grumbled greeting. "I heard," is what he said.
Don’t get me wrong. We are not fanatical, card-carrying members of the Dr. Thompson Gonzo Fan Club. We have, however, developed a fine friendship based on our shared enthusiasm for his writing and the writings of others like him. It is a friendship based in part upon a common belief in the philosophy the good doctor espoused. Thus the call, the answer and all that morose bullshit. The fact was that we needed to get gracefully smashed.
On Wednesday we met at Kelly’s Olympian. We thought it would be appropriate – just enough dive, just enough class, just enough motorcycles. Surrendering our bank cards to the bartender, we snuggled into the soft, glowing arms of liquor. I needed the time with Goodrich. He was the only person who could help me write this column with any sort of decorum.
We talked about how it happened, both of us agreeing that Hunter had not blown his brains out because of fear or loathing or even depression. Granted, he’d have been justifiably depressed looking at an America where a member of the White House Press Corps is an actual, full fledged male prostitute, where the youth have all of the excess but none of the intellect and the presidency is, well, just plain fucked. Regardless, it wasn’t his style. We both had a sneaking suspicion that he must have been terminally ill.
In any event, we wondered, "What next?" I began to bitch and moan about there not being a successor. Who would take the mantle? Who would come out of the pack to give it to the bastards? Who, in this reality TV mind fucked world, even cared?
Goodrich, in his wisdom, reminded me that there were predecessors. The same coke addled, liquor soaked social commentary that Hunter S. Thompson laid out, in all its brilliant depravity, has become the Simpsons, the Daily Show and other such cultural phenomena: Hunter’s skewed eye as adopted by individuals who tickle you with one hand while slapping you around with the other. The tickling is what makes it work.
The mirrors behind Goodrich reflected manic scenes of extreme sports from the flat screens behind the bar. I was reminded of a week I spent in Aspen, Colo. I had never tried white drugs before, but I had made it my mission to do cocaine with Hunter S. Thompson. I would hunt him down, ingratiate myself to him and we would wind up in his living room with a rolled up Ben Frank and a mound of white.
The closest I came to fulfilling this ill-advised mission was snorting a single line through a bendy straw off of a Papa Roach CD in some non-descript ranch house, far outside of Aspen, with a Native American gentleman who assured me that he had done coke with Hunter S. Thompson many times. I remembered the taste in the back of my throat. Bitterness.
Now, here I was with my best friend, the bitterness still lingering, trying to wash it down with enough whiskey to drown myself and this whole sad world.
"How am I going to write this without sounding like an asshole?" I asked my friend, "You know, I failed geometry because of ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.’ " Who hasn’t?
Goodrich reached into his bag and produced a fountain pen. He began scrawling something across a bar napkin. It read:
You keep your friends close/but your enemies closer/You hold your heroes to a higher standard/I’ve loved a woman because of Hunter/I respect my mother in part because of Hunter/I am in a position to write this because of Hunter S. Thompson/I am stopping now because he made Juan [his son]/find him/That was fucked.
There’s your eulogy.
In the end, heroes are just people, responsible only to their family, not to us.
Either way, when they shoot his ashes out of that cannon, I expect the blast to make this country’s ears bleed.