I must disagree somewhat with my co-blogger James Rummel’s earlier post on the cultural importance of Hunter S. Thompson’s works.
Those who’ve read my stuff in the past know that I’ve always been more than a little influenced by HST. For those of us who enjoy strong drink and occasional forays into the domain of high weirdness, the good doctor provided a vocabulary to describe the vague and sometimes horrible recollections of lost evenings. His prose could be simultaneously fascinating and stupid, hilarious and repugnant, right and wrong.
Even for those who have never been particularly interested in wild times and substance abuse, he is a unique chronicler of mid-20th century American history. As well as being a constant assault on conservative values, much of Thompson’s works are bitter recollections and critiques of the failures and weakness of the counter culture. His excesses are, intentionally or not, as much a warning as a celebration.
If you want to know why the hippie generation has become so bitter and reactionary, just read the famous “high-water mark” quote from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. His “doomed generation” was the flower power generation collapsed on its own worthlessness. In his middle works, even conservative thinkers can gain profitable insight into the self-destruction of 60’s idealism, and see the progress of the 67’ers into obsolescence and the emergence of a more sinister and violent left in their wake.
I link the decline in his later work’s quality to the ideological collapse of this generation of peace and love. Thompson’s attacks on evil fascist Republicans become more and more farcical as the Summer of Love’s corpse progressed in its putrefaction. I believe it was more the rise and apparent victory of his mortal enemy, conservative “swine” America, than the many years of hard living that left him a raging husk of a writer.
His decline was a sad one, as when he was at his best, his writing was grotesquely sublime.
Gun-nut. Drugged-out-freak. Pseudo-journalistic hack. Drinker. He was all these wonderful things and more. Even though his politics were idiotic, he was a unique individual, unwilling to conform to society’s expectations. With train-wreck-like charm, he gained fans across the political spectrum. Like him or not, his cultural legacy will be around for a long time, and his contribution to American literature is large.
As someone he probably would have called a filthy sell-out pig, I am saddened by his loss. I always figured he’d live to be a hundred, surviving on a steady diet of bourbon and cigarettes.