No, it’s not the shared last name. HST was simply one of the most fearless writers of our time. Of any time. This is usually where some people would insert a disclaimer along the lines of “if you separate his personal life from his professional life …” but in Thompson’s case, that’s impossible. His personal life was his professional life, and vice versa. Part hyperbole, part paranoia, part bullshit, all real. And entertaining. And informing. Usually all in the same sentence.
Often described as living on the edge, Thompson bluntly said, “The Edge… there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.”
He broke a lot of rules of writing, and even more rules of journalism (which is originally what attracted me to his writing). He never simply reported the story — he became the story. But he did it in a way that, for all its ego-driven manic exposition, left you wanting more and, maybe, thinking a little more deeply about whatever Thompson was writing about — politics, society, drugs, bikers, nature, The Next Big Thing, whatever. Yes, it was definitely gonzo. And it’s a voice sorely lacking in today’s writing in general, but in journalism especially. Nobody can ever accuse Thompson of not having balls.
One of the best examples of his work — both becoming the story and his skill as a storyteller, a Writer — was Hell’s Angels, his caustic, fascinating riff on the outlaw motorcycle club with which he rode for a year (and which ultimately beat him senseless):
“California, Labor Day weekend . . . early, with ocean fog still in the streets, outlaw motorcyclists wearing chains, shades and greasy Levis roll out from damp garages, all-night diners and cast-off one-night pads in Frisco, Hollywood, Berdoo and East Oakland, heading for the Monterey peninsula, north of Big Sur. . . The Menace is loose again.”
My favorite, though, is The Curse of Lono, which I read, appropriately enough, while I was living in Hawaii. Rarely do I laugh out loud while reading, but then again, rarely do I read a chapter titled, “Tits Like Orange Fireballs.” Thompson at his maniacal, sociopathic best.
I wish he were here today to attend a White House press conference or a Republican candidates’ debate. Menace, indeed.