In celebration,Damien,Penny and I are sitting outside the Wicked Hop bar & grill enjoying whiskey and bourbon on a humid Friday afternoon avoiding the dire responsibilities of our meaningless information-technology jobs. I hope you are too.
My dad emailed me this morning:
It’s the birthday of journalist Hunter S. Thompson,born in Louisville,Kentucky (1939). His father was an insurance agent,and Thompson grew up in a comfortable,affluent home. In high school,he was accepted into a prestigious club called the Athenaeum Literary Association along with all the other wealthy and socially elite young people of Louisville. But around the same time, Thompson’s father got sick and died from a rare immune disorder. His mother had to take a job as a librarian to support the family,and Thompson suddenly became the poor member of his group of friends,the only one who couldn’t afford to go to an Ivy League school.
He rebelled against the club and became famous in the town for his outrageous pranks. He flooded the first floor of the high school with three inches of water during an assembly,and he dumped a truckload of pumpkins in front of a downtown hotel.
He was arrested several times in his senior year for vandalism and attempted robbery. He was excommunicated from the literary association,and he spent 30 days in jail. When he was released,he joined the United States Air Force.
Thompson spent most of his time in the Air Force writing for the newspaper at his base. He was honorably discharged in 1958 and began writing for any small newspaper that would take him. In his spare time, he obsessively studied his favorite novel,The Great Gatsby,outlining it and rewriting passages. He said,"I wanted to teach my neurological system how it felt to write that kind of prose."
Then,in 1964,the California attorney general issued a report on a dangerous new motorcycle gang known as the Hell’s Angels,and the national media picked up the story. Thompson was hired by The Nation magazine to write a brief investigative article about the gang. After his article was published,he got a call from a publisher offering him fifteen hundred dollars to write a book on the same subject. Thompson was so broke at that point that the electrical company had recently shut off his power. He later said,"For fifteen hundred dollars I would have done the definitive text on hammerhead sharks and stayed in the water with them for three months!"
Thompson bought a motorcycle with his book advance and began driving around the country,meeting bikers and writing about them. He almost died doing his research one day when five Hell’s Angels suddenly turned on him and beat him senseless. But he survived, and in 1967 he published his book Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. The experience of writing the book inspired Thompson to become a kind of outlaw journalist of the counterculture,writing about his own adventures beyond the boundaries of normal society.
In 1971,he published his most famous book,Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,about a trip he took to that that city,how it almost drove him crazy,and his realization that idealism of the 1960s had disappeared for good.
He said,"I haven’t found a drug yet that can get you anywhere near as high as a sitting at a desk writing,trying to imagine a story no matter how bizarre it is,[or] going out and getting into the weirdness of reality and doing a little time on the Proud Highway."