Monday, February 21, 2005

Sympathy for the Doctor
I don't think I've felt this bad about the death of a cultural hero since John Lennon died. But an Aussie colleague - and one too young to have really experienced Hunter S. Thompson first-hand, when he was regularly shredding the pages of Rolling Stone - came over to my desk, crouched down and put his arm around my shoulder. I'd been cursing to myself and more than a bit melancholy to be among a pack of Brit-centric "journos" for most of whom Thompson had merely been a name or curiousity.
"It's a dark day," he said.
Indeed, I replied. We didn't have to say Thompson's name, but began exchanging what we could remember of his quotes.
"'We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.'" I said. "'I remember saying something like 'I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive...' And suddenly there the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving ...And a voice was screaming: 'Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?'"
It's safe to say that I wouldn't have plunged into journalism, covered rock 'n' roll, worked for the Weekly World News as Ed Anger or impulsively relocated to China and started this blog if it wasn't for Thompson's work. He was an inspiration for some of the best - and occasionally worst - moments and works of my life. I studied his writing style obsessively at times, trying to unlock keys to his vocabulary, influences and rhythms. There were other influences and factors, of course, but he and Mark Twain were primary until I found my own voice.
The Doctor was good for extra-curricular ideas, too. I told my coworker about a Fear and Loathing-fueled lost weekend circa '73 or '74 driving from LA to Vegas on blotter acid with two high school friends. We wound up fried and floating through the Circus Circus casino, pausing briefly to get harangued briefly by Don Rickles, who was holding court at a private cocktail lounge table surrounded by sycophants and clad in what I recall as a purple suede leisure suit with collar tips about 3-feet long.
We three were in regulation counterculture denim, two of us with shoulder length hair and though I - on leave from the US Army - sported a shorn pate I did have a Grateful Dead "American Beauty" logo stitched on the back of my jean jacket. We paused to gape at Rickles who smirked back and fired off a litany of (even then) hoary cliches regarding "hippies."
"Are you a boy or a girl?" "Keep America clean, get a haircut," etc. Rickles' slick sidekicks chuckled and we kept gaping, watching the tracers shoot around them as vibrating reptiles and bouncing, dancing dooh-dah devil dogs faded in and out of our chemically enhanced visions.
Security finally and firmly escorted us out to other adventures.
"Maybe he was just playing shotgun golf and it got out of hand," the Aussie Hunter fan said, interupting my reverie. We'd both just read Thompson's last column for ESPN-2 about the sport he and the Aspen sheriff had created which involved blasting golf balls on a fairway with double aught.
Yeah. Shotgun golf. I'd like to believe that's what it was.
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