A few weeks ago I posted a few of my favorite quotes from Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (link HERE), and of late I've learned that a few of the other local bloggers are fans. Reading references to the late "Dr Gonzo" made me think about when...and why...I started to read Thompson's work.
My first experience with HST was at Bishop Hannan High School. I'm not sure of the year, but it was probably around 1979ish. One or two of the more influential kids in my class, "influential" being a relative term among teenage boys, were talking about this book "The Great Shark Hunt", which intrigued me enough to get a copy (my edition looked something like THIS). I was hooked from page one. Being a nerdy kind of guy, I was already familiar enough with Richard Nixon, George McGovern and the rest, so it wasn't as if I was learning anything new. In fact some of the subject matter itself, such as the Kentucky Derby, didn't interest me at all. Instead of information, it was really just the style of HST's writing that grabbed me. When Thompson writes, it's almost as if he's talking to you. He is this wacky uncle that is telling you a bizarre story: you just don't see his words, you hear his thoughts. It's a subtle kind of thing I suppose, and maybe I'm reading too much into it all, but even in later works such as his ESPN column (Hey Rube) I felt exactly the same way.
The drugs thing is interesting when it comes to HST's work. I say this with a completely straight and honest face: I have never, ever in my entire life tried an illegal drug. It's not as if I'm against experimenting with things, because that's definitely not true; in fact there have been times in my life where I've practically been a drunk. Instead, it's just that I can barely keep track of my own thoughts and behaviors while sober; the thought of floating among cosmos is just more than I could handle. You would think then that the almost constant references to drugs and drug abuse (everything from ether to mescaline, with lots and lots of things in the middle) in HST's work would be a turn off, but they really aren't. In fact I have the HST quote about drugs and alcohol posted in my office at work. Anyway, the drug references in his work aren't as much about the glorification of altered states as they are (at least in my opinion) about how reality is so insane...for some...that it may take illicit drugs to make sense of it all.
When you are 15 years old, it seems as if everything about you is strange. Thompson made it alright to be strange and smart at the same time. He also turned the notion of journalism on its head. When the rest of the world was watching Walter Cronkite talk with a straight face at 6:30pm, you had HST talking about hallucinated bats attacking his rental car. That's a far cry from "...and that's the way it is".
A fellow blogger described doing some "gonzo journalism" last night, and that's a pretty good description of what we do actually. I think much of the blogosphere is heavily influenced by HSTs work, as he made it okay to "talk" about events as a journalist, as opposed to simply "reporting" facts. We all know that facts can sometimes be subjective, which makes the notion about infusing them with a point of view all the more logical. In some respects you can argue that what HST did...and what many bloggers do...is far more of an honest exercise in information sharing than the supposedly "straight" journalists who claim an objectivity that actually doesn't exist.