GLIB WITH GUTS AND GORE: I Come to Bury HT, Not to Praise Him: The Legend of Hunter Thompson
So after he shoots himself upside the head, he wants his wife to shoot his ashy remains out a cannon. Big explosion! Big whoop!
So the man's a legend. This much is true. Apparently he lived (sometimes) as he wrote, and wrote as if chased by angels, Hell's Angels (HA’s).
So he could write. And he did write a number of classics. It's not easy, in America, to make a living as a free lancer, columnist, stringer, and writer of books. His “Fear and Loathings” eventually took on a life of their own, but it was his Hell's Angels, The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs that revved his career and kick started his legend.
So it's a funny thing about legends in our America of instant publicity. Authors write their own bio’s and let the world see them as they want to see themselves. And he showed us a mighty interesting view. He showed us that he loved to booze and battle, drive and drink, and shoot and shimmy--all at top speed. He let us know that he lived in a well-fortified, gun-heavy Rocky Mountain High compound. His legend characterizes him as an over-the-top, sex, drugs and rock-and-roll guy who was never far from intoxicants and never close to consensual reality.
So what can I say about a famous dead dude I never met? I ca n say that as a woman, I am envious of never being invited in (except as consort) to that macho world of famous men, famed toughness, serious celebrities, prized exclusivity, and a world of other authors. I ca n say that as a writer, a writer about riders, about bikes and bikers, and motorcycle culture, that I am envious of his ability to get published in rags that wouldn't even give me a tumble. I ca n say that since I never met the guy I can only address his work and the stuff we have in common: bikes.
So for the first time, I am on familiar ground.
For five years, after finishing my book on biker culture, I tried to get Random House to publish it because that's where Hunter Thompson got published. That's where his famous Hell's Angels book appeared. Five wasted years of writing and rewriting proposals because they hinted that if I just wrote this, or changed that, my work might be published along side of HT's. One day a friend said, "you'll be dead before they accept it. You're an anthropologist, send it to an academic press." I did and the contract came in the mail that very first week. I was pleased but it was not the publisher of Hunter Thompson. He was the star, the guiding light, the beacon and the shining sun pointing the way on how biker books should be presented to the public. He was the standard-bearer and the one to both emulate and beat.
And I missed out. Oh how I wanted to say he got it wrong. He was too narrow. He wrote about the HAs and while they are still the quintessential outlaw MC (motorcycle club), his version of them is too narrow and too skewed to one side yet it is the one enduring public view of their world. He gave us the brutishness and bravery but not the beauty. He told only the sensationalist part of the story. He told the story that would sell.
Daniel Wolf, another dead rider/writer, and the only one to give a full picture of an outlaw MC, told a more complete, more substantial, and more rounded story of outlaw MC life. But Wolf's book was published by University of Toronto Press and not Random House so it never took off, nor let the general public know that not all was booze and brawls among the outlaws. The HAs, being written about now from inside and out, live within their ow n substantial legend. But Thompson, even with his limited account, got good mileage out of his saga of outlaw MCs.
They made him. He was a Hell's Angels "made man," even to the final stomping. Always a good writer, he secured his place in writing history (note--not literary history) by choosing a subject more interesting than he.
Americans love to read about outlaws, thugs, gangsters, and bandits. Here was a subject to grab. And he did. He had access to one of the only authentic modern outlaw, wild west actions left in town. And they came complete with heroics, theft, bravery, terror, adventure, freedom, and horror. Here was a story to make a rep, a story with street creds. It was all his and he ran with it. And for all his self-aggrandizing bullshit, that's why we love him.
We love him for his willingness to "walk the walk." He rode with the Angels. Anyone withi n spitting, lane-splitting distance of bikes, knows that this fact alone makes him authentic. Since the HAs ride true to their patch, the very fact that Hunter Thompson could keep up with them, showed his mettle. He lived that dangerous, scary life full tilt.
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