Editor’s Note: Mike Hayes is the social media editor at BuzzFeed.
Everyone who tries to emulate Thompson's Gonzo genius falls short to a certain extent
"The Rum Diary" is supposed to be Thompson finding his path to self destruction
We don't know how much of "The Rum Diary" he composed in the late '50s
I have never been whacked out on LSD.
However, if I had ever had the chance to meet Hunter S. Thompson, a real acid pro, my fantasy is that during a brief conversation in which he got to know me a little bit I’d feel comfortable asking him at the end of our talk: Do you think I could handle acid?
Even after I regaled him with the story of when friends of mine tried it in college, then wandered around the New York Botanical Gardens and invented the rock n’ roll backpack – which is a standard backpack with a radio boombox in it – he would say no, you personally shouldn’t take LSD, you suppressed malcontent. Hopefully, this would all just sound like a sort of guttural gesture, because that would be subtle enough.
There’s a definite chance that not only would HST think I couldn’t handle the drugs, but he might hate me entirely. I can’t imagine someone who covered the Hells Angels, shark fishing competitions, got to threaten the life of the man he hated more than anyone else on Earth (Richard Nixon) and helped get Jimmy Carter elected president enjoying the company of me, a person who basically gets paid to tweet for a living?
I am not alone in my enduring fascination with Thompson. Today the movie about the novel Thompson started writing in 1959 at the age of 22-years-old, “The Rum Diary” starring Johnny Depp, will be released. The film offers plenty of opportunities to remember the renegade journalist, such as Jann Wenner’s recent piece titled “Hunter S Thompson Was My Brother in Arms.”
I get the continued curiosity. And while it’s fine that I can’t write or take drugs like Thompson, I actually did try to be like him once.
In 2008, after reading “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” the piece in which he invented Gonzo journalism, I wrote a three-part series for Yahoo! Sports called “The Odyssey To The Infield” in which I attended all three legs of the Triple Crown Of Thoroughbred Racing in person. My experience was maniacal enough, but I wrote in a style that was caught up in the decadence and truly ignoring of the depraved.
I too overindulged in gambling, alcohol, and some frat boy misogyny, took a full can of beer projectile to the collar bone and hung around women in fancy dress that were too blind drunk to know that they were knee deep in mud. Yet with all that I still couldn’t capture his frenetic style.
I was impressed by my own momentum but could never let it come unhinged, and if HST himself read this report he would probably be nauseous at how upbeat it was.
It’s cool that I failed, because everyone who tries to emulate his Gonzo genius falls short to a certain extent.
Recently, when she thrust herself into the annals of The Gathering Of The Juggalos, Emma Carmichael from Deadspin wrote an excellent analysis on the currency of women’s breasts at the debauched music and arts festival held in some back corner of southern Illinois (see: “Dropping In On The Demented Utopia Of The Gathering Of The Juggalos”).
It was fine Gonzo reporting; she had the Juggalo clown make-up and everything, but ended up with the determination that she couldn’t be one of these people. I can’t help but wonder if Thompson fraternized with the crazies on the aptly named “drug bridge” at The Gathering if we would have ended up making them his people – and then they probably would have set off many, many explosives together.
I suspect “The Rum Diary” will be released to mixed reviews. I wager most of the criticism will be directed at the fact that 48-year-old Depp is attempting to play a 23-year-old. And the Thompson fans who see the film will get the subtext that this book is supposed to be Thompson on the brink of finding his path to self-destruction.
A time in his life when fear and loathing was just the fear. It was a time, pre- Nixon, when Thompson pictured himself writing books of varying degrees of madness, and not necessarily covering political campaigns of varying degrees of mad politicians.
We don’t know how much of “The Rum Diary” he composed in the late ’50s and how much he wrote later on (the novel wasn’t actually published until 1998), but I like to think that whatever was written by early-20s Thompson was written by a guy that already believed strongly in the notion that his own career momentum should take him down the path of madness, for better or worse.
Something that would be more awesome than meeting Thompson and having him insult me and write me off like one of the debauched hack journalists in “The Rum Diary,” would be meeting him and having him love me.
Maybe he’d like that I work at job where I get to post stuff like Photos Of Hunter S. Thompson Partying and supercut video of people doing Hunter S. Thompson impressions?
Maybe Hunter would even like Twitter? As Johnny Depp said earlier this week, “He was a very gentle guy. Hyper, hypersensitive, hence the self-medication.”
Maybe I could get a cool Thompson nickname like Depp, who Thompson called “The Colonel.”
Of course, if he liked me, we might end up dropping acid together and developing fuel-intake technology for the rock n’ roll backpack. And then there’s a good chance I’d lose my mind.