Two days ago I wrote a brief tribute honoring one of my favorite writers, Hunter S. Thompson. It would have been his 80th birthday. Below is what I shared on social media.
“Happy Birthday to Hunter S. Thompson. He would have been 80 years old today. He was a pioneer of New Journalism and regarded as the creator Gonzo journalism. His life and career ensures that he will forever remain America’s favorite madman.”
Shortly after posting that I started to wonder about his work in the later years of his life. Is it possible that I missed something he may have written that transcended his earlier works? Duh. It’s not just possible, it’s almost certain.
It seems like a silly question, I know. But as creatives, we can usually find great ideas when we ask ourselves seemingly odd things or while we are lost in random thoughts. Writing this article is an example of that.
Suddenly it’s not so silly.
All kidding aside. It was that innocuous thought that prompted me to begin a little quest. A side project if you will. I wanted to find anything Thompson wrote that I may not already have for my personal collection.
I had no idea that during my quest to help satisfy this personal curiosity of mine that my wife would help ensure our collection of Gonzo’s writings would be complete. I should have expected it since she also a fan of the writer also known as Raoul Duke.
Out of nowhere, my wife informed me via text message that she found what are absolutely the last words Gonzo ever wrote. Sadly, this piece came from the note he left for his wife before committing suicide in 2005.
She created this graphic allowing us to complete our collection.
I felt like sharing this not because I’m a morbid bastard. Instead, I’m doing so to honor the man who lived and died, on his own terms. These final words represent who he was. It falls right in with his artful first-person writing and his unapologetic mentality.
His articles, features, letters, and books were always written in his own voice, his words were never sanitized. His thought-provoking personality always came through in his writing unlike anyone else at the time. His audible voice translated gracefully to the words he put on paper never losing the impact of his message.
The success of his methodology was influential in such a way that most of us regularly use it in our writing decades later. Maintaining our voice is important to our individual success as. It’s arguably the best way to define ourselves.
Paying no mind to whether he would piss anyone off was also a key to his success. As conflicted as he was, critics didn’t bother him too much. To him, the world was too dark and corrupt to concern himself with the thoughts of his critics.
For every moment of triumph, for every instance of beauty, many souls must be trampled.
While he was, and still is, an influence to me, how and what I write is quite different. When I write non-fiction and/or articles I prefer to stay true to the story. It’s critical to define fact from fiction.
Should I ever decide to delve into any type of fiction, the application of Thompson’s process can be also useful. However, in this day and age, to mimic the way Thompson wrote likely puts you alongside proprietors of sensational fact-free click-bait.
Don’t get me wrong, Thompson was a genius at what he did and was shameless about it. He didn’t peddle the type of propaganda that is rampant today. He was a whole different animal and in those days people knew he was inventive in a lot of his work.
In fact, reporters such as Tom Wolfe described Thompson’s style as “… part journalism and part personal memoir admixed with powers of wild invention and wilder rhetoric.” Or as one description of the differences between Thompson and Wolfe’s styles would elaborate, “While Tom Wolfe mastered the technique of being a fly on the wall, Thompson mastered the art of being a fly in the ointment.”
Thompson’s approach clearly involved injecting himself as a participant in the events of the narrative, it also involved adding invented, metaphoric elements, thus creating, for the uninitiated reader, a seemingly confusing amalgam of facts and fiction notable for the deliberately blurred lines between one and the other.
Thompson’s writing style and eccentric persona gave him a cult following in both literary and drug circles, and his cult status expanded into broader areas after being portrayed three times in major motion pictures.
Thompson also helped clear the way and created an adaptable framework that we all use in translating our verbal voice into written words. Most of use this method in one form or another. We see it in blog posts, essays, books, and commentary. It’s how we differentiate ourselves from one another.
Hunter S. Thompson not only showed us the importance of using our individual voices in our writing, but he also taught us to be unapologetic about it.