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Hunter S. Thompson (1937–2005)

It wasn’t at all how I had imagined it…the passing of a 60’s icon and one of the best writers of our time…

With all that I had read and heard about Hunter driving his convertible the Great Red Shark through those twisted mountain roads near his fortified compound in Woody Creek, Colorado, and his thirst for speed, I had always thought that someday I’d turn on my computer, radio or TV to hear that he had died in a fiery car crash off of one of the cliffs. Not that I thought about his passing that often, but as he grew older, every year that passed was like an amazing gift considering his lifestyle.

As it turns out, the news of his death was much worse than I had imagined…I was out of town and when I hit the road Monday morning and turned on my cell phone, I had 5 voice mail messages from friends and family informing me that Hunter S. Thompson had committed suicide.

Hunter Thompson was 67 years old. He had written more than a dozen books, most of which spent time on the Best-Seller’s list. He is best known for his books Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72. He was a regular contributor to Rolling Stone magazine and his success and popular articles helped propel the magazine to new heights in its early days.

Those who have known me awhile know that I have been a fan of HST’s writing and have been greatly influenced by his humor. Like many young aspiring writers and journalists I had to learn the hard way that you cannot be Hunter. There is no way to effectively write like him. So many people got into journalism or became writers because of Hunter, only to find out they simply could not do what he did. They couldn’t do it mentally, physically or artistically. Many tried to copy his style, or even adapt it, and I’ve yet to see anyone succeed in doing so. He created his own style of writing referred to as Gonzo journalism. It was entertaining, creative and cut to the truth and heart of the story quicker than most and he did it by inserting himself into the story in an exaggerated manner. He was the only one that could write that way; all others failed, and failed miserably… including me.

I had the opportunity to meet Hunter and spend the evening with him after a speaking engagement at the University of PA in 1994. His manager had arranged for me to interview him for a weekly paper in Nashville. I tried to set myself up for disappointment. I figured there was no way he could live up to all the hype and my expectations. I was wrong. He was everything I had imagined and much more. His persona was larger than life, and in person it was overwhelming. He showed up late and was already drinking heavily, in classic Hunter fashion. Then afterwards, he hung out for a while in a room next to the lecture hall signing autographs. Then the guy from the college hosting the event drove Hunter and I over to his hotel where I was supposed to interview him. He sat in the back and I sat in the front with the driver. I turned and looked at him in the back seat and smiled…he scowled at me and then screamed at the top of his lungs. “Why are you staring at me! You’re a cop aren’t you? I knew it! You’re a cop!” I assured him that I wasn’t a cop and he said, “Well, stop staring at me then!” But I couldn’t help it, I wanted to look at him, the man who had written so much and influenced so many. When we got to his hotel he ditched me in the hotel bar and went up to his room. There were constantly people coming and going from his room, being ushered up and down the elevator by the kid from the college. When I was finally ushered to his room he had stuff everywhere. It looked as if he had ordered one of everything from room service. He looked down at my shoes, a pair of converse low tops, just like he was wearing. He looked up at me and with a little humor behind his eyes said “Copy-cat mother f***er!” We finally talked, be it ever so briefly, about politics and the Minnesota Vikings. We were constantly interrupted by phone calls and the college kid coming in and out of the room, running errands for things that Hunter had demanded. Hunter made and received numerous phone calls. I believe one was from actor Don Johnson, and at least one was a complaint from the hotel’s night manager. I finally gave up on the interview but it was a night I’ll never forget.

Hunter has been described as a “desperate southern gentleman.” I could definitely see moments of that, but he was also belligerent and abusive while at other times he was a brilliant political or sports mind, waxing poetic about current events or the NFL. I enjoyed his biting wit the best. He was funny. But there was always an underlying sadness…in his writing, in many interviews and in person. It seemed he was often battling demons, real or imagined. It is very sad and frustrating to see a light extinguished in this way.

Vaya Con Dios Doc.

 

Here I am with Hunter in PA...click on the image for a larger view

Hstwithme_1


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My favorite works of Dr. Thompson’s:

Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas

Generation of Swine

Songs of the Doomed

Curse of Lono

Polo Is My Life (RS article and storyboards. The book was never published.)

For more information about Hunter S. Thompson, his life and his work visit:

www.gonzo.org


The Grammy's, Super-groups & Smile

This post is a little late but I did watch the Grammy’s…most of it anyway. I came away from it with a couple of questions…

Why do super-groups and collaborations between big stars always suck? Case in point is the Grammy performance of Across the Universe… Someone had a great idea…we’ll take a great song, assemble the biggest names and some of the best singers and…it will sound horrible. Was any one singing in tune? I think Stevie Wonder was the only who sang in the right key most of the time.

Super groups and collaborations, like duet records, are almost always terrible. Does anyone have an example to prove me wrong? Asia? We Are The World? The Sinatra Duets? All crap. Admittedly, I do kind of like the Live Aid tune Do They Know It’s Christmas and there are a couple of moments on that Santana collaboration CD…but overall when you get two or more superstars involved in a song or a project, it’s a recipe for bad art. Even The Thorns, a group I really wanted to love didn’t live up to it’s potential. You just get the impression listening to these things that the parts are so much greater than the sum.

Ironically, the one Super Group that was in many ways as good or better than the sum of its parts is the Christian group the Lost Dogs. The four original Lost Dogs came from four of the best alternative Christian bands, four of the only good Christian bands in fact. I think what made it better is that the Dogs didn’t sound like the bands the members came from, but had it’s own sound. They wrote and recorded together too. Most all-star songs and super groups aren’t even in the studio at the same time and don’t collaborate creatively even if they are. That lends itself to really bad art, obviously.

My other question, and it's the thing that troubled me the most about the Grammy's, is regarding SMiLE. Brian Wilson puts out the album of his career; critics almost unanimously agree that it's his high water mark yet it's not even nominated for Best Album. They did give it a Grammy for best instrumental, which is more like a slap in the face. Best instrumental? From SMiLE? The best parts of the record are the vocal arrangements, not to mention the incredible songwriting. So they don't even nominate it for best album but give Brian a Best Instrumental award. Does this make sense at all? ...to anyone?


Heed The Call

The Call emerged in 1980 with a unique sound and incredibly deep, moving lyrics. Believe it or not I was introduced to their music through a video on MTV, it was for the song “The Walls Came Down.” I don’t think it was played a lot, but I was fortunate enough to have seen it. I rushed out and bought the record, “Modern Romans.” I was blown away. They became one of my all-time favorite bands. What grabbed me were the passionate vocals, the aggressive bass playing, the keys and the lyrics. Oh those lyrics! Christian pacifism! Here was someone with the same religious and social views that I had, and they were so powerful and intelligently written. Frontman and main songwriter Michael Been is one of my top 3 all-time favorite lyricists, he’s up there with Terry Taylor and Bruce Cockburn.

The band’s loyal but not large following often wonders why they weren’t bigger. So why wasn’t this incredible band more popular? One of the answers to that question is U2, or more accurately the critics that constantly compared them to U2. Most critics claimed The Call were just U2 sound-alikes. A claim that borders on the absurd if you actually start comparing the records. Now, I can easily see why a fan of one band would be a fan of the other, but to claim that The Call was just ripping off U2’s sound has no basis in reality, at least to my ears. Another band that suffered a similar fate and almost remained in obscurity because of this same claim by critics was Simple Minds. All three of these bands started to come onto the scene here in the US at about the same time and there was something similar about the feel but each had a unique sound and it’s obvious these are three different bands that were not being influenced or copying each other’s music and style.

The Call released 8 studio albums and a live record and there weren’t too many missteps along the way. They’re all good, but my favorites are by far Modern Romans, Into The Woods, Reconciled and Let The Day Begin. Reconciled is considered by most to be the bands high water mark. This album yielded the almost hits “I Still Believe” and “Everywhere I Go.” Sadly, almost all of the studio albums are out of print now, with a few of them having never been completely released on CD. There are a couple of compilations still available, but they’re hit and miss as far as essential songs go. Some possible good news of things to come is the upcoming reissue of “Into The Woods” on CD. Look for that. It’s an incredible album, one of their more artistic and a little bit dark.

A few of my favorite Call songs:

The Walls Came Down

Let The Day Begin

Everywhere I Go

Oklahoma

Scene Beyond Dreams

In The River

I Still Believe (Great Design)

Modern Romans

Back To The Front


Halftime Highlights

When it comes to musical tastes I have no problem admitting I'm typically not in line with mass appeal or the critics. In fact, I'm quite proud of being different, to be eclectic in my musical tastes and opinions. But there is something that's bugging me though...an opinion that I thought everyone would share, but yet seemingly almost no one else does...I seem to be the only one that absolutely loved the Paul McCartney performance during the Super Bowl's halftime show. Just do a Google search with the words "Paul McCartney Halftime Show" and you'll get over 50,000 links to critics and bloggers ripping it. Typical comments are "boring," "safe," "old" and "raspy voice."

Am I actually so conceited to think that all those critics who are saying the exact same things are all wrong and I'm right? Of course, but this has less to do with personal conceit or confidence than it does with facts. Like the fact that these opinions and story angles on his performance were being spewed days BEFORE the Super Bowl. There was a preconceived notion that it was going to be boring. I heard that dozens of times from the newsgroups, blogs, morning shows, newspapers and television commentators...all BEFORE the Super Bowl. This negativity and this storyline has nothing to do with Paul's actual performance and more to do with the fact that the NFL got an older artist to perform in the wake of last years FCC shake up and wardrobe malfunction. This year wasn't about singing and dancing to tracks with wild outfits. This year was about great songs performed live. The fireworks were great too, some of the best I've seen.

Also, MSNBC did an online poll...80% said it was great, 20% called it boring. Ah, so there are some others out there that thought those songs sounded better than ever with the incredible band he assembled. How about his voice? He's in his 60's and it still sounds great! He's singing live in an outdoor football stadium with no tape backing him up. What a novel idea. Instead of sitting and watching the show with an open mind, enjoying the performance, I'm afraid most critics didn't pay any attention to it and probably had made up their minds it wouldn't be interesting. Too bad, because he did 4 incredible songs and they sounded better than ever. As it finished, before I even had a chance to say anything, my wife looked over at me and said, "that's one of the best halftime shows I've ever seen." Wow, well, I guess that's because she wasn't thinking about how old he is, how fully dressed he was, or how bored she was *supposed* to be.