Friday, February 24, 2012

Gonzo Week Cont'd...Was Hunter Thompson The First Blogger?



Do you think all this stuff about how the Mainstream Media doesn't cover enough actual news, and/or get to the heart of the matter, is a new thing?

Think again.

Because here's vintage, pre-fame Hunter Thompson, circa 1968, writing to the general manager of his local television station in Aspen Colorado.

Dear Mr. Palmer,

Six months ago I watched your tearful commentary on the night of Dr. King's death; it was an impressive performance - and I use that word very deliberately, in light of your influence on the level of KREX-TV's programming since you took over as general manager. Your predecessor, as I recall, retired to work for Richard Nixon; he was an infamous yahoo, recognized all over the western slope for his unenlightened views on almost everything. So it was a hopeful sign - to those of us who can get only one channel on our sets - when the station's management was taken over by an articulate human being who publicly cast himself as a one-time friend of Martin Luther King.

Well....with friends like you, Dr. King didn't need enemies. It's you and your swinish, hypocritical ilk who've created and sustained the world that Dr. King was trying to change.....

You weep for Dr. King, yet you manage a TV station that stands as a rancid monument to the worst instincts of the industry. You talk of the need for a better world, yet you treat your TV audience as if they were total waterheads....

I'm sure 'Doc King' would be proud of you. You got your hands on a captive audience and fed them the cheapest, meanest kind of swill you could find......

From: Fear and Loathing in America
Simon and Schuster, 2000, pg 128

This was written just a few months after both M.L. King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, and just a few weeks after Thompson himself was beaten about the head while covering the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, this despite the fact that he was carrying press credentials at the time because he was working on a doomed project that would eventually become the underlying theme of pretty much all of the rest of his best work, which was....

"The Death of the American Dream"


What's amazing is that screeds like the one quoted above were not rare.

In fact, Thompson wrote literally thousands of them, often in the middle of the night, or just before dawn, to friends, foes and total strangers alike.

And he did it in his study, hunched over a typewriter, with reading light on, and often with music booming while he missed deadlines he knew had to reach back and yank forward if he wanted to keep a roof over his wife and kid's head (he did worry about that kind of mundane real-life stuff, almost constantly, by the way).

And, perhaps most importantly, if you read them one after the other, in them you can see the real evolution of his art.

Awhile back a guy named Greg Beato, who is a pretty interesting wordsmith himself, described the power, the glory, and the sheer fun of producing of all those unedited molotov word cocktails:

Who would have guessed that the dope-addled, peripatetic Thompson, who was so seemingly out of control that each last-minute story he filed came across as a miraculous convergence of typing paper, chemical incentive, and editorial triage team, was also a careful correspondent/diarist who carbon-copied and saved 20,000 letters over the last five decades?.....

If these letters show Thompson as far more clear-headed and calculating than his literary persona suggests, they also reveal that his larger-than-life aura and fantastic contrarian assurance were innate aspects of his personality rather than products of his eventual celebrity.

"I'm getting a little tired of writing articles that everybody praises and nobody prints," he tells novelist and former colleague William Kennedy, after turning in a 140-page manuscript on the NRA to Esquire. "I've been writing for 11 years," he says to Random House's Jim Silberman, "and never--not once, not even with my poem in Spider magazine--have I ever had anything published straight."

Instead, he wrote letters. "I'm having a hint of twisted fun with this letter" he says to Silberman in the midst of a nearly 4000-word letter. "I haven't written anything for a while, and I miss that kind of high rambling feeling you get when the crank comes on and THE MEANING is almost clear; just around the next bend, or at the end of the next crude tangent."

Such statements make it easy to see why Thompson took so strongly to the form. Letters are personal, spontaneous, informal--everything that Gonzo aimed to be.......

It also demonstrates that maybe, just maybe, Thompson was actually blogging 30, or maybe even 40, years before anybody had even thought seriously about the form.

Which might explain why his technique is universally mimicked by everyone, myself included, all over the bloggodome.



sassy said...

Thanks for this and your previous post on Thompson. I do miss him.

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

20,000 letters? If I knew he had written so few I would have kept at it and overtaken him.

RossK said...

You're most welcome Sassy.

Thing is, though, you don't have to miss him....His words are here forever.



First I laughed...And then I thought about it....

I have carbon copies of all the posts I've put up here over the years many of which are throw aways...I reckon I have, maybe 500 posts that come even close in terms of time and effort that you can see went into Thompson's late night screeds....

And those 20K are just the ones we actually know about....

I bet there were tons and tons and tons more...


macadavy said...

I'd like to nominate Boyce Richardson: "Decades later it may be one of the oldest continuing examples of what has become the ubiquitous Blog."