Hunter Thompson: All Gone Now
Lloyd Jeffrey Mallan
Feb 28, 2005 03:22 PST
Hunter Thompson: All Gone Now
by Fred Reed
When Thompson blew his brains out, a door closed somewhere and you could
hear the latch click. The main man had gone. Most of us can easily be
replaced. There was only one Hunter Thompson. Iíll heist one tonight to
a fine, fine writer, a voice of his time, the embodiment of an age the
like of which there never was and which, for good or bad, will never
The Sixties look drab now Ė unkempt Manson girls, the lost and unhappy,
kids bleak and bleary-brained after waking up with too many strangers in
too many sour crash pads. There was that. It was not a time for the
weak-minded. But for those whose youth passed in the freak years, there
was something gaudy and silly and even profound, something delightfully
warped, that nobody else would ever have. Thompson caught it.
I didnít know him. Others have written better than I can of his work.
But I knew the world that gave rise to him.
Starting around 1964, a restlessness came over the land, an itch. Kids
trickled and later flooded onto the highways as if called by something.
I canít explain it. Few had done it before. Few do it now. They Ė we Ė
set forth and created the only country in which Thompson could have made
It wasnít the war, at first. Nor was it only the usual impatience of
youth with authority. Nor was it even that we were young and the world
was wide. There was a revulsion against suburban emptiness, against the
eight-to-five Ozzie and Harriet gig, a rejection of the Establishment,
which meant boring jobs and singing commercials.
We discovered drugs, then regarded as worse than virgin sacrifices to
Moloch, and looked through a window we could never name. If the times
were out of joint, we were seldom out of joints. Chemistry defined the
life. You found a freak in some rotting slum and said, ďHey, man, got
some shit?Ē You toked up. You got the munchies, the skitters, the fears.
Parents really didnít understand. Dope, we said, will get you through
times of no money better than money will get you through times of no
dope. It did.
Thompson, a savage writer, a grand middle finger raised against the sky,
essayed drugs and found them good. And said so, and we loved him. When
he wrote of getting wacked out of his mind on seven illicit
pharmaceuticals, and wandering in puzzled paranoia through the lobby of
existence, we shrieked with laughter. We knew the same drugs. We too had
tried desperately to look straight in public when the world had turned
into a slow-motion movie. When it was over, everybody went into a law
Our socio-political understanding was limited. After all, we were pretty
much kids. I remember having a discussion in Riverside, California, of
how Republicans reproduced. We didnít think it could be by sex. I
figured it was by budding.
For a while though, it all worked. Apostles of the long-haul thumb, we
hitchhiked in altered mental states. I donít recommend it without
guidance. We stood by the western highways as the big rigs roared by,
rocking in the wash and the keening of the tires, desert stretching off
to clot-red hills in the distance. At night we might buy bottles of
Triple Jack at some isolated gas station and dip into an arroyo, roll a
fat one and swill Jack and talk and hallucinate under the stars. An
insight of the times was that if you got fifty feet off the beaten track
and sat down, you didnít exist. It still works if you need it.
None of it was reasonable. Iíve never found anything worthwhile that
Then there was politics, the war. Thompson was rocket smart and knew you
couldnít work within the system since that meant granting it legitimacy.
Peace with Honor, the Light at the End of the Tunnel, all the ashen
columnists arguing about timed withdrawal and incremental pressure. He
knew it was about profits for McDonnell Douglas and egotistical warts
growing like malignant goiters on the neck of the country. He was Johnny
Pot Seed, a Windowpane Ghandi, dangerous as Twain.
The times brought their epiphanies. I remember being gezonked on
mescaline in a pad in Stafford, Virginia, and realizing that existence
was the point of execution in a giant Fortran program. So itís all done
in software, I thought. I was floating in the universe. In the infinite
darkness of space the code stretched above and below in IBM blue letters
hundreds of feet high that converged to nothingness: N = N * 5, Go To
43, ITEST = 4**IEXP. For an hour I was awash in understanding. The
stereo was playing Bolero, which was written by a Do-loop, so it all
Thompson savaged it all, lampooned it, creating a world of
consciousness-sculpting substances and bad-ass motorcycles and absolute
cynicism about the government. Today, after thirty years of journalism,
I canít find the flaw in his reasoning.
The other writer of the age was Tom Wolfe, but he wasnít in Thompsonís
league. Wolfe was a talented outsider looking perceptively at someone
elseís trip. Thompson lived the life, liked big-bore handguns and
big-bore bikes and had a liver analysis that read like a Merck catalog.
His paranoia may be style, but you canít write what you arenít almost.
I remember standing alone in early afternoon beside some two-lane desert
road in New Mexico, or somewhere else, that undulated off through
rolling hills and had absolutely no traffic. I donít know that I was on
anything. Of course, I donít know that I wasnít. A murky sun hung in an
aluminum sky like a fried egg waiting to fall and mesquite bushes pocked
the dry sand with blue mortar bursts. The silence was infinite. I lay in
the middle of the road for a while just because I could. Then I followed
a line of ants into the desert to see where they were going.
A grey Buick Riviera, a wheeled barge lost in the desert, slid to a
stop. The trunk creaked open like a jaw. A squatty little mushroomy
woman behind the wheel motioned me to get it. As we drove the cruise
alarm buzzed, and she told me it was a Communist radar. They were
watching her from the hills.
It was a Thompson moment.
Then it was over. Everybody went into I-banking or something equally
odious. We gave up drugs as boring.
You can see why he ate his gun. Everything he hated has returned. Nixon
is back in the White House, Rumsnamara risen from the dead, bombs
falling on other peoplesí suburbs. The Pentagon is lying again and
democracy stalks yet another helpless country. This time the young are
already dead and there will be no joyous anarchy. The press,
housebroken, pees where it is told. But he gave it a hell of a try.
February 28, 2005
Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a
Copyright © 2005 Fred Reed
Freedom in our time!