Friday, March 25, 2005

Res Ipsa Loquitur.....

The High-WaterMark

.....which means "The Thing That Speaks For Itself".

That, along with "Let The Good Times Roll", was one of the favorite mottos of Hunter S. Thompson, and when he died I suggested that it was no more.

Now, I'm not so sure.


Even if you are not a Thompson freak you are probably acquainted with his infamous line about the vision of the highwater mark that he saw in the Mojave Deseert, circa 1971.

But just as a reminder of the work of a man at the top of his game, as it were, here it is word for word:

"We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark— the place where the wave finally broke and rolled back."

So forget all that 'He Who Makes a Beast of Himself to Get Rid of the Pain of Being a Man' stuff for a minute, because there is something else to consider here.

Something bigger.

Because if you go back to Thompson's mid-60's writing it is a beautiful, savage thing. And from it you can catch glimpses of life, the real thing, both in its darkness and its light.

And so, while I'm convinced that his high-water vision had the ring of truth to him at the time, I don't think that Mr. Thompson ever really believed it.

And while he always said that his job was to chronicle the 'Death of the American Dream' I don't think he really believed that either.

Because if you've really read Thompson you also know that, despite the great gathering of the darkness that came with Nixon's stomping of McGovern, Ford's pardoning of Nixon, the Hawks' false-deification of Reagan, the emergence of the New Dumb, the squashing of his own private Idaho from the Mankiewicz days - Gary Hart, the Atwater-aided Willie Horton-abetted one term aberration of George HW 'Sushi Barfing' Bush, and, finally, the lynching of Clinton by the unholy Scaife/Coors/Mellon Trinity, he never lost sight of the light.

I felt the same way when I stumbled upon Billmon's Whiskey Bar awhile back.

Back in the days when he still ran comments.

This time last year both Thompson and Billmon were still stomping on the terra, the former only occasionally, the latter every single bloody day (sometimes twice, or even three times per).

But both collided hard against something that could not be avoided in the run-up to the next big swindle - the re-unification of the Church of the Sacred Bleeding Aileswater/Rovian Heartless Ones during the re-election campaign of George W. 'Sushi Cortex' Bush.

Which, of course, was the stomping of the truth.

For Thompson, it was too much and in the end I think maybe the light at the end of the Dream tunnel really did go out, because, as quoted by Billmon:

Starting around the time George W. Bush got re-elected, Hunter descended into a deep funk. Traditionally, when the blues appeared it would last for a day or two and then his arch humor would creep back in full force . . . But not in November 2004. The jokes disappeared and never came back, replaced by incessant talk of his having fulfilled his life mission. Death was now always on the table.

Rolling Stone
Contentment Was Not Enough
March 24, 2005

Billmon too gave up the ghost, ostensibly because:

"What I finally had to confront was the fact that truth alone is impotent in the face of modern propaganda techniques – as developed, field tested, refined and deployed by Madison Avenue, the Pentagon, the think tanks, the marketing departments of major corporations, the communications departments of major research universities, etc. To paraphrase Hannah Arendt, the peculiar vulnerability of historical truth (which means political truth) is that it isn’t inherently more plausible than outright lies, since the facts could always have been otherwise."

Which scared the hell out of me, because, despite his ability to chronicle all that was going wrong with America, like Thompson, I always felt that, deep down, Billmon also believed in all that America could, and should, be.

But all is not lost.

Because now, suddenly, Billmon is back.

And sure, he can pretend it's because of that monkey he just can't quite get off is back:

"But as I’ve noted before, blogging is a strange drug. When you’re clean, it’s not too hard to stay clean. But once you start using the stuff again . . . man, the monkey can get his claws in your back pretty damn fast. So one post led to another, and then another. And, well, pretty soon I was back freebasing."

Or, he can pretend that he's learned to live with futility:

"American democracy will continue to vegetate in the chronic ward, occasionally moaning or drooling or wetting itself, until someone in authority finally orders the feeding tube pulled out....The Republican Party no doubt will continue to metastasize into an unholy alliance of Christian authoritarians and nationalist xenophobes. Little Green Footballs uber alles. The world, in other words, no doubt will continue heading for hell in a hand basket. But I guess I’ve learned to accept futility. Or at least, I’ve decided it isn’t good or sufficient reason to lock up the liquor cabinet and shut down the bar."

But we know it's something more than that.

Because we now know that, through it all, Billmon has kept a candle in the window.

And we know that that candle, and a thousand others like it, are throwing a small but growing light on the initials of a crazy hillbilly from Louisville that are etched in the stone above that old high-water mark far, far out in the darkness.

And that is a beautiful and sometimes savage thing.

Update: Credit where credit is due. The 'Sushi Barfing' thing is from another writer with a very different, yet strangely congruent, vision, Annie Lamott.


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