Blogs > Cliopatria > Noted Here and There ...

Feb 21, 2005 9:15 am


Noted Here and There ...



Hunter S. Thompson has committed suicide in Colorado. The"gonzo journalist" was the author of Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail. Although he was a few years older than I am, we both grew up in Louisville. When at nine he turned over a federal mailbox in front of a speeding bus, federal agents showed up at his house. He told that story in"Fear and Loathing in Louisville." Later, Thompson missed his graduation from Louisville's Male High School because he was in jail at the time. I waited for my college graduation from Duke to go to jail. Thompson and I may be related through my great-grampa Thompson. A Civil War veteran of the Union army, he had three wives and thirteen children. I only knew the four youngest children, but I used to delight in having my grandmother name all her brothers and sisters in order of their birth. Here's Hunter Thompson's later take on our hometown's annual orgy:"The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved." It's the article that launched his career as a writer. Amygdala has the story on Thompson and George Bush. Rest in peace, cousin Hunter.

I found Ian Buruma's"Uncaptive Minds" in the New York Times quite moving. Before 1995, there were 350 college degree programs in American prisons. Today, there are about a dozen. They had cost us so little, but they had no advocate. Thanks to Fontana Labs at Unfogged for the tip.

Gary Taylor's"Race Card" in the Guardian says the English became white in the 17th century. Rob at detrimental postulation gives Taylor's article a critical reading and also recommends Karen Brodkin's"Studying Whiteness Shouldn't Be Academic" at borderlands.

Bitch. Ph.D. tells us what she really thinks about Harvard's Larry Summers.


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Richard Henry Morgan - 2/21/2005

What I had thought distinguished them was the degree of obviousness of their idiocies, but fair enough, it could be a very clever Summers trying to discredit his critics. Or Karl Rove, of course (he's everywhere, don't you know?).


Ralph E. Luker - 2/21/2005

Richard, It need hardly be said that your dismissal of Bitch. Ph.D. as lacking credentials is wholly dependent on Bitch. Ph.D.'s pseudonymity. For all you know, Bitch. Ph.D. _is_ Larry Summers.


Richard Henry Morgan - 2/21/2005

I caught one of those little bits of Gonzo -- a member of an oppressed group or minority having to be better just to get noticed. I would submit such members can be even more noticed by being considerably worse. Is Ward Churchill superior to James Axtell as an ethnohistorian? Is Leonard Jeffries superior to Stuart Schwartz? I would venture the answer "No". And yet I would say, without fear of contradiction by just about anyone short of BitchPhD, they have been "noticed" more. So while Summers may say things poorly, or not well-thought out, or with an agenda (on occasions for all three), he's a winner of the James Bates Clark Medal who entered MIT at 16, was the youngest tenured professor in Harvard history at 28, former Treasury offcial, and President of Harvard, and Bitch PhD is ... well ... BitchPhD, precisely because his fatuities are not quite so obvious.


Oscar Chamberlain - 2/21/2005

I think Bitch PhD may have been doing a bit of Gonzo channeling in her comments on Summers. Like Thompson at his best, she strips away the veneer (and yes, some of the subtlety, too) of both Summer's remarks and the following brou-ha-ha to make the pretty convincing point that he asserted a highly questionable theory as fact and he did so for policy reasons, to allow Harvard to stop worrying about women's access to those fields.


Ralph E. Luker - 2/21/2005

These are great recollections of Hunter Thompson's journalism, when he was still in his prime. To answer Jonathan's question, I did not know Thompson, but I've been e-mailing my older brother this morning about our kinship. I do suspect that Thompson was our second cousin. There were degrees of alienation on that side of the family a generation back, so it might not be surprising, given the family's size, that I'd grow up in the same city with a second cousin and never have met him. Besides, Hunter Thompson clearly went to the _wrong_ high school, so far as we were concerned. Male and Manual high schools were long-time rivals and my dad was a Manual kinda guy.


Oscar Chamberlain - 2/21/2005

I find myself thinking of the article he wrote after Nixon's resignation for Rolling Stone. As he noted in his white hot opening, he had predicated the article on the assumption that no one, not even Gerald Ford, would pardon the bum. Then, just as he finished the article, Ford pardoned him.

What followed, as he interspersed his story on the resignation with the comments on Ford that could have vaprized Ford, expressed my anger and rage at Ford better than anyone else could, including myself.

The article was called, "The Scum also Rises."

PS For a time I more or less bought the argument that Ford's action helped the nation. I don't anymore.
Nixon asserted that the "sovereign" president was above the law. Ford confirmed it. And Watergate, more and more, is being reduced in the public's memory as a political squabble, neither more or less important than a certain blue dress.


Jonathan Rees - 2/21/2005

Ralph:

I can't quite tell if you actually knew Hunter Thompson. I certainly didn't, but it seems as if we both felt a connection to him so I hope you don't mind if I share.

I'm surprised I'm so sad this morning. I let my Rolling Stone subscription expire around fifteen years ago. I stopped reading Thompson's work when he became a parody of his former self - sort of like Uncle Duke or the way Bill Murray and Johnny Depp portrayed him in the movies [Those guys are two of my favorite actors, but It was pretty clear they saw nothing more to Hunter than drugs and wierdness].

J.R.R. Tolkien was my first favorite author. When I hit middle school, that slot was filled by Hunter Thompson. It wasn't about the drugs. It wasn't about the way he wrote (although I remember lots of high school journalists and a few professionals who tried to write like him and failed miserably). I loved reading Hunter Thompson because in his work it was always Hunter Thompson v. the system.

_Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas_ was Hunter Thompson (in the form of Raoul Duke) versus a sheriff's convention. _Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail_ was Hunter Thompson versus the mainstream press, including his own editors at Rolling Stone. The Kentucky Derby Story was really Hunter Thompson versius rich, elitist slobs. It helped in that case that his traveling buddy, English artist Ralph Steadman, drew those people after he had had far too many mint-juleps (if you know what I mean).

My favorite Hunter Thompson story is still "Freak Power in the Rockies," (from the Great Shark Hunt) in which he ran for sheriff of Pitkin County Colorado, whose largest city is Aspen. In this case, Hunter took on the greedheads who were turning Aspen into the Yuppie enclave that it is today. Even though Thompson lost, his campaign embodied the message of direct democracy which was so important to the 1960s. Anybody can win, it suggested, even a bunch of freaks because this is America! [Actually, I realize now that it's probably better for Aspen that he lost as, if memory serves me well, a main plank of Hunter's platform was that selling drugs will be outlawed but it's OK if people give them away. When I was in middle school, that seemed like an OK idea to me.]

I've seen Hunter classified with a lot of other great writers from the 1960s into a category called the "New Journalism." In his heyday, he was certainly as good as Tom Wolfe or Truman Capote. The difference I think is that Hunter always wrote about himself. Even if you met Hunter, you felt like you knew him because he was so open about what he thought and what he'd do if he could get away with it. Hunter was empathetic enough to find the human side of Richard Nixon [Richard Nixon!] during a conversation standing at a urinal next to him. How could you not want to be his friend? If you had met him at a bar somewhere, can you imagine what kind of stories he might have told? I'm sad now because I never got that chance.

Of course, you never knew how much of what Hunter wrote about ever really happened to him. He wrote everything deadpan, but I always suspected that for some of it he had to be kidding. The man would have had to have been an ox to withstand the abuse he inflicted upon himself. Had he died during the 1970s, I wouldn't have to think about the parody Hunter Thompson that survived into this new century. At the same time, his death by suicide makes me wonder if his rage and self-abuse wasn't really an act.

Regards,

Jonathan


Ralph E. Luker - 2/21/2005

Yes.


Bengt O. Karlsson - 2/21/2005

Is it true that Thompson was the original model for Doonesbury's Uncle Duke?