Put Up Your Dukes: Hunter S. Thompson

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Two of MAGNET’s Matts—editor Matthew Fritch and writer Matt Ryan—go to the mat to see whose opinion is more correct. Today’s topic: gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Put up your dukes!

From: Matthew Fritch
To: Matt Ryan

For this inaugural edition of Put Up Your Dukes, I come to you with an honest question. It’s prompted by our coverage of The Gonzo Tapes boxed set in the most recent issue. I listened to some of it (nobody can listen to five discs of that maniac rambling). I decided to watch the 2008 documentary Gonzo: The Life And Work Of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. What, exactly, is the appeal of this guy? Is it his confused self-image that mistakes “asshole” for “rebel”? His cliched macho obsession with guns and motorcycles? The fact that he treated his body like a garbage can? Please, god, don’t tell me it’s his writing.

“In Search Of The American Dream” from The Gonzo Tapes:

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From: Matt Ryan
To: Matthew Fritch

Let me get this straight: You’re troubled by Thompson’s affinity for dope, guns and motorcycles? If he drank fruit smoothies and played with dolls, would he have been more to your liking? What is Thompson’s appeal? To borrow a quote from Hunter himself, “Myths and legends die hard in America. We love them for the extra dimension they provide, the illusion of near-infinite possibility to erase the narrow confines of most men’s reality. Weird heroes and mould-breaking champions exist as living proof to those who need it that the tyranny of the rat race is not yet final.” Question his methods if you must, but the guy lived on his own terms, without regard for the expectations of “normal” society. For those of us with a “straight” job and a mortgage, that kind of fuck-all lifestyle is an inspiration. Still, for all his antics, Thompson was a talented writer, especially on the political front. I can’t imagine how you’d argue otherwise.

From: Matthew Fritch
To: Matt Ryan

Oh, I get it: He’s the original maverick! I’ll have to search the memory banks for a modern-day analogue. Let’s see, who else in recent public view was a self-important, gun-toting maverick? I’m drawing blanks—all that Jamba Juice must’ve gone to my head. Sarcasm aside, I’ll concede that Thompson was operating in a different sociopolitical climate: the late ‘60s and ‘70s. How appropriate that the latter is called the Me Decade. If the main tenet of “gonzo” journalism is the writer putting himself at the center of the story, I’d argue that Thompson’s entire life was an exercise in selfishness and me-first acts of drug consumption, cowardice and suicide. Inspiring stuff. Speaking of mortgages, I’m considering refinancing. But maybe I’ll go out in the backyard and shoot an AK-47 at some tin cans instead. Scare the “normals” in the neighborhood.

From: Matt Ryan
To: Matthew Fritch

So now you’re comparing Thompson, an educated, atheistic, anti-establishment lefty, to Sarah Palin, a right wing, pea-brained Jesus freak? I can only assume such a half-assed analogy is the result of you being rattled after dropping your copy of the collected works of Oscar Wilde into a bubble bath last night. I fail to see how a man who imbedded himself in the Hell’s Angels for journalistic purposes, who was known to be fiercely loyal to his friends, and who once ran for public office, can be labeled a coward and me-first. Oh yeah, the drug thing again. Next you’ll be complaining about the evils of sex. Remind me, you still work for a rock n’ roll magazine, right? As in sex, drugs, and … OK, so I’m still waiting to hear any specific critiques of Thompson’s writing, rather than broad-stroke remarks about the man’s public persona. You have actually read Hunter S. Thompson, right?

From: Matthew Fritch
To: Matt Ryan

Apologies for the delay in my response. I had to make a deposit at the bank—those giant bags of MAGNET money get heavy. (Speaking of which, check out our low, low price on subscriptions!) If I were Thompson, I wouldn’t have simply gone to the bank. It would have been more like this: “I crabwalked to the greed factory, my eyelids pasted to the inside of the dunghole where they have barbed wire and pencil-pushing attack dogs selling off pieces of the American dream.” No way am I parsing that man’s writing. I already have to edit music writers all day, and that’s punishment enough. Listen, I’m not trying to be the Fun Police: First-person journalism can be great if the writer puts his heart into it. Lester Bangs was a degenerate, egotistical addict whose obvious love of music saved every stupid thing he wrote—and he wrote many stupid things. What did Thompson love, aside from himself and his own politics?

From: Matt Ryan
To: Matthew Fritch

Crown Royal for breakfast? Do yourself a favor and read (or re-read) “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved.” If you don’t find it at least mildly entertaining, you should perhaps consider a career in diamond manufacturing via insertion of coal into your posterior. As this pissing match draws to a close, I will make one concession: In your last post, you proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that journalists should not attempt to emulate Thompson’s style. And, as a side note, let me say for the record that I find Lester Bangs’ output virtually unreadable.

From: Matthew Fritch
To: Matt Ryan

Lester Bangs Output is the name of my new aggro/noise/death-disco project. OK, so we’ve learned the following:
a) I’m apparently the daintiest dandy since Little Lord Fauntleroy.
b) You wrestle bears.
c) Like Ivan The Terrible and Arsenio Hall, Hunter S. Thompson was an important voice in his time. Whether his particular style and ideology should be emulated today is another matter. Fair enough?

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4 Comments

  1. Posted February 11, 2009 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    I’m still trying to figure out what’s wrong with a “straight job and a mortgage”. If you’re so smitten with those that live on the fringes (albeit with a Rolling Stone expense account), then buy yourself an assload of injectables, a few tons of weapons, a shitty cabin, and a typewriter. Not every nine-to-fiver is a Donald Trump wannabe.

  2. Posted March 5, 2009 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    Why bother putting a guy’s name in the headline if the content is just going to be name-calling between somebody who doesn’t really talk about the man in question, and somebody who obviously hasn’t read anything by him?

  3. Andrew the Noisy
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    Hunter Thompson is dead. Becoming so is the most useful thing he could think of doing. This is about the only thing I respect his opnion on. He’s Burroughs for frat boys. Let’s move on.

  4. E. Abbey
    Posted April 7, 2009 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.” H.S. Thompson