Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson pages 1 to 130 (or so).

Hunter Thompson was a goddamn monster. Maybe my current affiliations have colored my interpretations of what I surely once thought was just rebellious and devil-may-care. But, really, this book so far has really peeled the skin back from this guy, and it's not pudding underneath.

First off, this book is an oral history, warts and all, compiled by Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone and a few other people. It's a birth to death kind of story, so they dig up everyone they can to help illustrate what life was like with Hunter banging in your orbit.

Turns out he was demanding, controlling and hardwired for criminality from birth. They cover his upbringing which was poor, but he still was able to enjoy the high social status of rich folks because of people he knew. But what strikes me is that I can't recall anything traumatic or terrible about his upbringing, but he did everything you'd assume people with fucked up abusive childhoods did. You want to assume that this guy maybe got beat a lot, or was somehow fouled by an uncle or something that would give concrete cause for the way he behaves, but I don't remember it in the book. He's an asshole all on his own.

And nobody ever called him on it. It's probably the most amazing thing about the book is that he'd do all this absurd shit, like somehow lugging a bag of concrete into a bar, starting a riot in that bar causing the bag to rip open and cover everyone, and then proceed to fight a few people, but he wasn't arrested for it. No one seemed to mind (aside from the people he was fighting, but they weren't interviewed). He really skated by on his audacity to actually do all that shit he did, so the only reaction you could actually muster was, "Well, yes, he did just fire a shotgun out of his door and somehow blame it on me for not loaning him $1,000 that I know he won't pay me back. Well done, I suppose. Of course I don't mind. A perfectly reasonable reaction, verily." Because, well, what do you do with people like that?

There's two real telling things though about this whole Hunter book, which is not a love-fest at all. Yeah, people are going on about his genius and such, which was expected, but there's more to this book I suspect than just that. It has another agenda to sort of illuminate something about this great character.

See, I'm 130 pages in. He's written Hell's Angel, the Kentucky Derby piece, nearly won that sheriff election and in the early stages of the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. So, in terms of Hunter canon, there's the Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail `72...and then? Yeah. I have over 300 pages worth of material yet to make it through. See, something else is going on here besides just polishing Hunter's statute or telling ribald stories about the excesses Hunter inflicted on himself and others.

Sandy Thompson, his ex-wife (from divorce, not the suicide), is just brutally honest about him, pulling no punches about how cruel he treated her from early in the relationship and how she fooled himself into staying with him (because he was attractive and had the personality that sucked you in). The segments of his son make the son seem a little damaged or at least closeted in a sense from something. And there's this telling quote by Sonny Barger that's something along the lines of "just because somebody's good at something doesn't make them a good person" and that's about as right as it comes.

I'm eager to see what shape this story takes from here, especially after it gets past the campaign book because there's not much "literary" worth from there. The movies will be covered, sure. I just hope it doesn't keep beating this drum about Hunter was a wild man, Hunter was a jerk, and yet, impossibly, Hunter got away with it (but he really didn't...he paid remarkable prices for all this...because he lived and got a lot of money does not mean he lived well or sanely...can you imagine being trapped in that head?).

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