Your average journalist reports what he sees. A good journalist looks beneath the surface of a story and reports what he finds. But a great journalist – and of these there are few – sees into the very soul of events. Then, armed only with words ill suited to the task, they try to tell the rest of us what they saw. In the process, too often they go mad.
Ernest Hemmingway was one of these. Hunter S. Thompson was another. This weekend Hunter followed Ernest, checking out and paying his final bill in buckshot. He had seen enough. He had seen too much. Even his vices – drugs and alcohol – could no longer dull the truths he carried in his head. So he blew it off.
Writers like Hunter and Hemmingway write, not because they give a shit whether we “get it” or not. They were not trying to warn us about anything or to steer us in one direction or another.
They wrote because they were trying to get all that stuff out of their heads. It was their only hope. If they got it down on paper, they thought, maybe they could move on.
But it never worked. Instead every story they covered simply added another truth filter through which the mundane nonsense of everyday American life, work and politics had to pass muster. And, increasingly it did not. It could not. Hunter had come to know too much.
So Hunter, like Hemmingway self-medicated -- and self-medicated some more.
But booze and drugs alone could not get Hunter through his days. He had to live. He had to work. He had to interact with those he knew only too well were stupid, evil and/or full of shit -- all that, and less.
And, he also had to live with the rest of us, most of whom believed the BS they heard on the news and seen on TV. So he lived satirically. He lived life as farce. Maybe then people would understand. Or maybe they would think he was just an attention-needy class clown who never grew up. Whatever. It was the only way he could navigate the world. He knew it was all a joke... more often than not, a bad joke. And so that's how he lived it.
Thankfully it was not until the final months of his life that Hunter withdrew almost entirely from our world. He continued to work. He continued trying to let us see what he saw. During Clinton’s first term Thompson wrote an essay comparing Clinton with Nixon. He had covered both presidents and said he found them very different.
“I covered Nixon. Nixon was truly evil,” Thompson wrote. “But Clinton is not evil. Clinton’s just a punk with bad habits.”
Once again Hunter had seen right through the façade and into the soul of events, events that had yet to fully reveal themselves. How right he was about Clinton, a brilliant politician with the emotional maturity of a horny 16-year boy.
And he decoded GW Bush, as only Hunter could;
"Things haven't changed all that much where George W. Bush comes from. Houston is a cruel and crazy town on a filthy river in East Texas with no zoning laws and a culture of sex, money and violence. It's a shabby sprawling metropolis ruled by brazen women, crooked cops and super-rich pansexual cowboys who live by the code of the West -- which can mean just about anything you need it to mean, in a pinch." (Hunter S. Thompson, RollingStone, 2004)
YO, Hunter -- this Bud’s for you pal.