I discovered him in the pages of Rolling Stone.
Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. His prose, viewpoint and voice changed in explosive ways the way I viewed the world, politics and writing in general.
To me he was an anarchist unleashed in print, striding the world as a larger than life figure. With laser like precision he lobbed firebombs at convention. He eviscerated celebrity and politicians with intellect, inspired joy and at times, brilliant insanity.
His coverage of the 1972 election cycle was presented in issues of Rolling Stone. The viewpoint was seemingly a drug and alcohol fueled frenzy that belied the prescient despair for America's political future. It is in my opinion the best first person account of the American political process ever penned. The visceral horror he showed us was only shades of what would eventually become the norm.
Those dispatches from the bitter battlefield of modern America was collected and published as "Fear And Loathing On The Campaign Trail". This book should be required reading for any Historian, Political Science major, pundit wannabe or a sane person trying to understand modern political insanity as it happened in real time.
Doctor Thompson presented as a proud, intellectually secure anarchist. He held all our institutions in disdain. Hunter was alternately, whimsical, vicious, bemused and bewildered by the social ruins he wandered through. Often as a provocateur rather than an observer.
Looking back Hunter Thompson and Richard Nixon were natural enemies. Like the cobra and the mongoose. Together they defined the American experience of 70's America.
Nixon showed us the venality of anything goes, end justifies the means and leave your opponents corpse rotting by the road school of American political life. He was a master media manipulator even as it turned on and devoured him. Nixon was the walking dead in the American nightmare. Throughout his life he was repeatedly destroyed politically and left for dead. He always rose, stronger and haunted us anew.
Nixon was destroyed when he lost his run for California Governor in 1962. He displayed a hint of his arrogant, vicious disdain for America as he lashed out. "You won't have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore", he promised. He lied.
From '62 to '68 Nixon travelled the US like the Ancient Mariner. A shade seeking salvation while doomed to wander aimlessly.
He attended Republican fundraisers in places most of us didn't realize existed. He collected political IOU's like we collected baseball cards. If it would give him an edge in his quest for the Presidency he would cut the ribbon at a new Pet Store. Again he was reinventing himself. The vicious, venal cold warrior was replaced by a visionary statesman.
After he was hounded from office, one step ahead of impeachment, he was a disgraced Republican pariah. No candidate would be caught dead anywhere near him. Rather than fade away he arose again as an elder statesman. The criminal bastard was treated as if his outlook on world and domestic issues even mattered.
At his funeral he was eulogized as an important personage in American History. That he was. The thug that singlehandedly nearly destroyed the Country. It seems this time they drove a stake through that evil demonic prick's heart. He hasn't risen from the dead like an American vampire as he was wont to do for decades.
For far too long I was a cable TV installer. Once I was hooking up cable for a woman here in Columbus. It was a rather upscale apartment complex of the type Central Ohio is rife with. She was moving in and in one room were framed photos of the Trickster. Autographed. I may have looked askance at them. Obviously she saw I despised the disgraced, not rotting in prison, former President. She looked me in the eyes and said,"You're one of those, aren't you?" i replied than indeed I was. She had helped on his memoirs. She asked me to leave when I asked if she planned to write more fiction.
Hunter Thompson went after Nixon like a terrier after a rat. He exposed to us the underbelly of a man obsessed with power at any cost, A man that would do anything to get it . And anything to keep it.
With Dick, as with everything else he did, Hunter said exactly what he felt about Nixon. He gave voice to a generation that learned to despise RMN. And he put Nixon into context of a nation in a death spiral. Thompson was my Salinger. A worthy successor to Twain as a commentator on the foibles and phantoms of society. He pulled no punches. He was honest in his views. He was intellectually consistent. The prose was a epee in the hands of a master.
Thompson eviscerated the George W. Bush Presidency with the same glee and profanely, precise view he had of Nixon. He showed us that Bush/Cheney was the successor to the corruption Nixon wrote the playbook for. He exposed their hatred for American political convention. He told us how they took a prosperous nation at peace and turned us into a war waging debtor.
When Hunter took his life we lost a genius.
America lost a voice that transcended the petty noise that passes for commentary today. We need a hundred Thompsons today.
I'd settle for one.