Hunter S. Thompson | Critical Review by Maureen Freely

This literature criticism consists of approximately 4 pages of analysis & critique of Hunter S. Thompson.
This section contains 802 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Richard Bernstein

Critical Review by Maureen Freely

SOURCE: "Rum Days, Acid Nights," in The Observer Review, No. 10607, February 5, 1995, p. 22.

In the following review, Freely discusses Thompson's Better Than Sex and Paul Perry's unauthorized biography of Thompson and asserts that the gonzo journalist has lost his edge.

When Peter Cook died, his friends kept apologising for his best comic acts not seeming so shocking anymore. You had to understand how strict the conventions were, and what an exhilarating shock it was to see him break them. To appreciate Hunter S Thompson's humour, as is clear from Better Than Sex, you also have to put yourself bak 20 years and remember just how much reverence the silent majority had then for people in office, and just how much faith in the redemptive powers of the party animal.

'Getting assigned to cover Nixon,' said Thompson while covering the '72 election campaign, was 'like being sentenced to six months in a Holiday Inn.' He preferred Wallace: 'The air was electric even before he started talking, and by the time he was five or six minutes into his spiel I had a sense that the bastard had somehow levitated himself and was hovering over us. It reminded me of a Janis Joplin concert.' His political allies were much harder to bear. Of Hubert Humphrey he said: 'He looks like he died in 1959 and has been frozen over ever since.' His least favourite was Ed Muskie, a 'mushmouth, middle-of-the-road compromiser', with staffers so fat that they had to be helped out of cars and lifts.

Like so many pioneers of the New, but now middle-aged, Journalism, Hunter S Thompson has never given much importance to fact and abhorred objectivity. The point of writing about current events was to explain what they did to his head. If he walked into a situation that was already stranger than fiction and acted badly to make things worse, the story only improved. And if his consciousness was altered by other substances, then so much the better. When he set out to research Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, he claims to have packed 'two bags of grass, 75 pellets of mescalin, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-coloured uppers, downers, screamers, laughers … and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls.'

Paul Perry's unauthorised but worryingly deadpan biography suggests that there is not much space between the real man and the self-made caricature. He was a troublemaker and practical joker even when he was a Louisville schoolboy. His first job in journalism was as a copyboy at Time magazine, but he quit when they refused to see him as foreign correspondent material.

His heroes were Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Ginsberg and Kerouac—until he read The Ginger Man. He seems to have devoted the rest of his life to being the Ginger Man. He was horrible to his saintly wife. On a good day this meant cheating on her and telling her she was a bad housewife. On a bad day it meant beating her up in the presence of his publisher and then going out to Ken Kesey's place to witness a Hell's Angels' gang-bang. When she finally left him several decades too late, he was devastated, but had been on controlled-substance autopilot for too long to learn any new tricks.

Friends and fans still can't decide which drug it was that lost him his edge. He still makes plenty of money from his paint-by-numbers paranoia act, but the joy went out of it decades ago, as a quick look at Better Than Sex will show. He is too tired and emotional these days to spend much time on the trail itself: what he provides instead are the notes and faxes he wrote while watching CNN on his Colorado farm. He claims to have gone over to Clinton because of Gennifer Flowers, and then renewed his commitment after figuring out Clinton was also seeing the ghost of Marilyn Monroe. But in the end he decides Clinton is the 'Willy Loman of Generation X, a travelling salesman from Arkansas who has the loyalty of a lizard with its tail broken off and the midnight taste of a man who'd double-date with the Rev Jimmy Swaggart.'

He perks up when harking back to the good old days. He confesses to his son that he was the one who killed JFK, and recalls the bitter, farcical end of the McGovern campaign, in which a dingbat named Clinton was held responsible for losing 222 counties in Texas, terminated 'without pay, with prejudice,' and sent back to Arkansas. 'We'll never see that bastard again,' one aide is said to have said. 'He'll never work again, not in Washington.'

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This section contains 802 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Richard Bernstein
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