Saturday, November 17, 2007

"In the destructive element immerse!" (On writers behaving badly)

As an avid Rolling Stone reader from 14 till 40 (when I saw the Olsen twins on the cover, the love affair was so over), I grew up reading and loving Hunter S. Thompson, but the way he killed himself cast a shadow over his writing for me. There was such cruelty and selfishness in the way he did it. (Thompson's young grandson was in the next room when Thompson shot himself in the head.) All that wonderful "gonzo" blah blah blah suddenly seemed...pathetic. An orgy of cleverness, to be sure, but it left a sticky mess for someone else to clean up.

But writers drink, don't they? Writers smoke, get stoned, kill themselves, right? On account of how brilliant and sensitive we are. The two takes on this issue are evident in two Hunter S. Thompson books -- both coming out this month, both with the title Gonzo, both featuring intros by Johnny Depp. (How the heck does that happen?) PR copy for Gonzo from Ammo Books:

Gonzo presents a rare look into the life of famed American author and journalist Hunter S. Thompson. For the first time, his photographs and archives have been collected into a visual biography worthy of his literary legacy. With a heartfelt introduction by close friend Johnny Depp, Gonzo captures a man whose life was as legendary as his writing. Gonzo is a tour de force that will take you on an incredible journey into the world of this American iconoclast, who was notorious for his completely truthful -- but not always factual -- hands-on method of reporting.

A different perspective is presented in Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson by Jann S. Wenner and Corey Seymour. Quoting Joe Klein's excellent review in tomorrow's NYTBR:

Hunter Thompson was always much more, and sometimes a bit less, than the sum of his ribald public persona. In compiling this oral history, Jann Wenner and Corey Seymour could easily have succumbed to the same temptation that Hunter did: to celebrate the myth, to recount a numbing parade of hilarious, drug-addled Hunter stories, and to miss the man. Happily, they have produced a rigorous and honest piece of work. “Gonzo” is a wonderfully entertaining chronicle of Hunter’s wild ride, but it is also a detailed, painful account of his self-destructive immersions; the brutality he visited upon his wife, Sandy; and the anguish of a life that veered from inspired performance art to ruinous solipsism.

...His best work was pretty much complete by the time I met him, in July of 1974. Indeed, Nixon’s collapse that summer was so garish — the tearful “my mother was a saint” sayonara — that it beggared any acid fantasy that Hunter might have produced. Reality had gone gonzo. There was nothing left to do except to play his designated role as Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, wandering the campus lecture circuit, swindling would-be publishers, entombed in a mausoleum of celebrity he had created for himself.

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