Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Hunter S. Thompson Took Cues from Hemingway and Fitzgerald

This is the eleventh installment in a series about a book I'm reading called Stories Done, which is a great collection of tales of excess from counter-culture leaders.

While Hunter S. Thompson was drunkenly stumbling his way through his sophomore year in high school, he became an active and respected member of the local Athenaeum Literary Society, in which he professed his love for Ernest Hemingway and how he had "toughened up twentieth-century American literature."

Thompson also loved the way F. Scott Fitzgerald's "best characters exemplified something vital in the American spirit. Even if they worked within [society], it was their dark willfulness, their vision of social doom, that placed them apart."

A few years later, as a newspaperman in the military being honorably discharged, he filed a final article that seemed to capture a little Hemingway and Fitzgerald. It "described a fictional drunken nighttime riot at the base, resulting in the explosions of airplanes and and the rape of female cadets - none of which ever happened."

He also wrote a press release about his discharge, quoting a nonexistent captain saying Thompson was "one of the most savage and unnatural airmen I've ever come up against," and explaining that his "escape" from the military included "barreling his car out the gates, hurling a Molotov cocktail."

From there, of course, he went on to write one of the greatest American books, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. That fear and loathing was "a dread of both interior demons and the psychic landscape of the nation around him" and a realization by his high-minded generation that the walls of American reality were crashing.

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