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Monday, February 21, 2005

Hell's Angel

"Jesus, where will it end? How low do you have to stoop in this country to become president?"

The above quote refers to which US president? Sure sounds like Dubya, but in fact that is a quote from Hunter S. Thompson, about President Nixon, from Thompson's seminal work, "Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72."

Thompson committed suicide over the weekend, with no news as to what drove him there. I assume, having read most of his works, that the motive for his death, when revealed, will punctuate the strange and crazy way he approached life.

Most people know Thompson for his wild antics and drug-use, partly because his novel, "Fear and Loathing in America: A Savage Journey into the Heart of the American Dream," was made into a movie; casual observers overlook the political commentary and focus on the drugs, and you can blame Thompson for that. As opposed to his earlier works, that book highlighted his drug use to the point of distraction – humorous distraction, but distraction nonetheless.

There was a time early in my writing career where I was overly influenced by his writing style, especially his ability to through the American Dream back in the face of hypocrites and, yes, by Thompson's penchant for mixing drugs and reporting. I had mixed success with that style, even garnering my favorite criticism of all time from the esteemed Miami Herald writer Carl Hiaasen, who called my early column in The Independent Florida Alligator "public masturbation." He was of course right, and I honestly took his criticism to heart. I think one of my best attempts at "gonzo" journalism was an article I wrote for my magazine, Moon, in 1991, which oddly can be found on the Internet here.

But if you want to appreciate Thompson for something other than his ability to ingest massive quantities of every kind of drug imaginable, check out his early books, especially "Hell's Angels," "The Great Shark Hunt" and "Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72."