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More on Hunter S. Thompson

Everyone should read the masterful appreciation of Thompson by the incomparable Henry Allen, who has a better bead than anyone on the crazy decades of the Sixties and Seventies (as you probably know he wrote a book on "the decades." Henry also knocked out a terrific appreciation recently of Susan Sontag . I read a number of the tributes to Thompson yesterday (after filing my own) but eagerly anticipated the Henry Allen offering, because he plays at a different level from everyone else. Maybe in my journalism class we should spend the rest of the semester just reading Henry's stuff. He captures the manic energy and hilarious paranoia of Thompson, and there's this unexpected flourish near the end of the piece:

readers worshiped him as a man of profound experience, to the point of playing what you might call "the Hunter Thompson game." The point of the game is to create mortal fear out of nothing more than, say, the sun flashing in a window.
First man: You see that glint?
Second man: Like binoculars?
First man: Try 12-power Unertl glass on a Remington .308.
Second man: Your first wife's boyfriend?
First man: But he's a cop.
Second man: Exactly. Our heads? In four seconds? Vapor, baby.
This is the sort of conversation that boys have in treehouses, to scare themselves for the fun of it. Thompson's writing had the venerable American quality of boys' literature, in the manner of Hemingway, Jack London and Mark Twain.

Boys' literature: Exactly.

A lot of emails have come in about Thompson, and I'll rack 'em up here quickly. In most cases I don't know anything about the emailers, and I wonder if in the future people would tell me where they live. (These are mostly excerpts, fyi.):

Michael Joy writes:

I am worried that too many journalists are writing off Thompson's death as suicide. To begin with it is well known that drugs, alcohol and firearms are in dangerous proximity in Thompson's house. Until the forensics are complete there is more circumstantial evidence that the death was accidental. Thompson was known to have discharged firearms in the house while under the influence. I would be more inclined to think ricochet than self inflicted. It as also a question that a man who wrote down so many thoughts and observations of his environment would not have left a note documenting his intentions to end his life. To call this a suicide before the evidence is in represents irresponsible journalism.

I believe that law enforcement at the scene concluded that it was a suicide and made that announcement. It would be irresponsible journalism to refuse to report the police statement.

Galen White of Louisville, Kentucky, writes:

I knew Hunter when he was in the ninth grade, and I was a senior at Louisville Male High School. I belonged to the Athenaeum Literary Association. We met Saturday nights. Hunter, not old enough to join at that time, hung around our meeting place, just checking things out. As part of our meetings, we offered book reports. At the age of about 13 in 1951 Hunter had already read most of the books I was just finding. He was the best read high schooler I have ever known. I rediscovered him in the early 60's when he wrote for Max Ascoli's "Reporter" magazine. He produced a very serious article about Louisville.... Hunter once said he loved Kentucky, but that he had to leave to find what he wanted to do. We will miss him.

Jo Coster of South Carolina writes:

I discovered HST about the same time you did, in the early 70s when he was covering politics and society for Rolling Stone. In the passionless age of Eric Sevareid, he was such a different voice--a journalist who CARED, who used words like throwing knives, who could talk football with Nixon and then turn around and ask "Jesus! How low do you have to stoop in this country to be President?" He was the tutelary spirit of blogging journalism. Mahalo to his ghost and prayers to his family. We will miss the Sheriff.

John Hargrave of the Ozarks, writes:

I began reading him back in his straight journalist days when he was covering Central America for a Dow Jones weekly called -- if memory serves -- The National Observer. This would have been in the mid-Sixties. The work was astoundingly good and so much better than the stuff sitting next to it that it must have been embarrassing for the reporters so placed.

Kristin St. John writes:

I stumbled across Thompson when I first graduated from J-school and moved down here -- unemployed and, after working at a professional newspaper throughout college, pretty much jaded. His brand of journalism, coupled with his fearless lifestyle, inspired me face the facts -- life is insane -- and we need to jump on for the rough ride. I honestly don't think that Thompson really knew the effect he had on those of us under the radar. Yeah, he probably got tons of fan mail -- but, that's what it mail. It doesn't represent the "disciples" who are being introduced to his writing and who are embracing the school of thought that all establishment needs to be questioned and taken to task -- and aspect as important today that it was back in the 1960s.

I'll try to post more emails down the road. I'll also try to figure out how to make the font sizes look better. And before I forget, here's the link to Sunday's Rough Draft column.

By Joel Achenbach  |  February 22, 2005; 11:51 AM ET
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