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David Amram Remembers


I first crossed paths with Hunter S. Thompson in the middle 60's when he was working for the Middletown Record, a small paper in upstate NY.

Hunter was staying on the West side of Route 209 in Huguenot, NY. All that was there was a tiny road side store called the Huguenot Superette I used to come a mile from where I lived to the store, to get provisions for the week. The Huguenot Superette was almost always empty, and the owner, after months of stony silence, finally spoke to me confidentially one afternoon about seeing flying saucers and saucer people in the field across the road, and how he had never dared to tell anyone, except for two people. Those two people were myself and someone else he described as that crazy writer upon the hill in the cabin close to both his store and my place.

That crazy writer turned out to be Hunter, who had moved up North to write, and to find work as a journalist. By all accounts, he was doing excellent work for the Middletown Record, until he left his job at the paper after attacking and nearly demolishing the soda machine in the building where he worked, when it failed to refund his change.

I was reminded of all this over 30 years later, when Louisville poet Ron Whitehead and author and historian Doug Brinkley organized a tribute to Hunter in Louisville in the late 90's. He and Johnny Depp, both Kentucky natives, were to be given awards as Kentucky Colonels.

I was invited to come down to organize a group of players into some kind of tribute band, as well as create all the music for the evening to accompany readers. The unusual group of musicians who had been asked to participate included master songwriter-pianist Warren Zevon, the great Kentucky singer Suzy Wood and her bluegrass band, with Johnny Depp sitting in with us playing slide guitar. None of us in our tribute band had ever met one another, and everyone showed up at different times all afternoon, so as I was hard at work getting this unlikely ensemble together, when a few hours before the show, Hunter made a grand entrance into the theater.

I heard his familiar staccato bellowed greetings as he roared into the backstage of the theater, dressed like a Viet Cong paratrooper, replete with an Aussie hat, a meerschaum pipe and a flask of fine Kentucky brew.

"Come back here Amram after you rehearse, and we will reminisce" he said.

When we finished rehearsing whatever was possible to plan in advance, I told everyone I would give them signals, to go with the spirit of the evening, and we that we would have no problem. They all loved Hunter and his work, and were wonderful players.

While the musicians went to get supper, I went back into one of the empty dressing rooms and sat down with Hunter. He told me how amazed and excited he was that his hometown of Louisville was honoring him after all these years.

"My mother will be here" he said. "I hope she approves of my behavior. She is a librarian as you know. She always encouraged me to keep reading all the books I took out as a kid. I guess my early days were similar to Kerouac's. I tried to read practically everything I could get my hands on. I always knew I wanted to be a writer. It is so nice you all came for this, My son will be here too, as well as old friends I grew up with."

It was a real treat to be able to spend some quiet time with him, as he spoke about all the things that had happened over the years since we first met so long ago. As all his friends can tell you, when you were with Hunter in a room alone, he was always acted in a completely different way then he did when a lot of people were around.

He was often shy, sometimes reflective, always witty, and genuinely compassionate. i saw as i listened to him talk that over all the years, and through the turmoil of his life, he had somehow kept his roots as a Southern Gentleman, even though in public it was obvious that he kept this hidden from others. He indicated to me that he found out early in life, after leaving Louisville, that graciousness, good manners and modesty are often perceived by many as being a sign of weakness.

Ironically, he found out that, to his amusement and occasional dispair, his wild, crazy and often outrageous public persona was adored by many, and being a wild man in public allowed him to retain most of himself, to draw upon when he retreated to the solitude of writing each day, I think he sensed that if he really allowed others to see him in his moments of gentility and kindness, they would be disappointed or feel that this was an act.

That memorable night during the tribute to Hunter in Louisville, there was a mini-marathon of performances which included Johnny Depp reading Kerouac with my accompanying Johnny, musical selections that we hoped Hunter wanted to hear, and a host of speakers all giving their heartfelt speeches honoring Hunter.

During all of this, Hunter stood off-stage by the curtain in the wings of the theater, cradling a fog machine, taken from the wall backstage, which was supposed to be used in the theater for emergencies to contain fires.

Hunter stood silently, crouched like a commando, clutching the fog machine as he listened intently to the music, the readings, and every word being said about him by all the speakers who came to pay tribute to their native son.

Whenever anyone who was giving their testimonial to Hunter began praising him excessively, Hunter would bound onto the stage, and with perfect theatrical timing, as if on cue, spray them with the machine, filling the whole stage and front rows of the theater with fog, like a production of the famous Witch's Scene in Macbeth, until they cut their speech short, all of which was accompanied by gales of laughter and applause from even the most conservative members of the audience.

"This isn't the Academy Awards or a Presidential Inauguration' he whispered to me backstage, between sprayings. "I'm simply a writer. These windbags have to learn to cut it short and get to the point"

Later that night, after the music was over and the last public speaker had been sprayed, we all went out to celebrate some more, and Hunter told me how much Kerouac's work had always meant to him, and wanted to know how Jack could stand dealing with the pain of instant notoriety of being an overnight success following the publication of On the Road, which instantly made Jack the last thing any serious writer ever wants to be: an American Celebrity i.e. a person who is famous for being famous, rather than someone whose work is read and respected.

Hunter, like Jack, always knew since he was a teen-ager in Louisville that he was a writer and an artist first and foremost, and whatever outrageous events he took part in over the course of his life, he always remained as serious about his work as he was about life itself

We also talked about music, writing, sports and our shared love of the South, and the beauty of the small towns and farmlands and the old inherent values of what seemed part of a vanishing America, which both Steinbeck and Kerouac had written about.

In the wee hours of the late night/early morning, as we were imbibing in some fine
Kentucky Bourbon, I reminded Hunter of the old Huguenot Superette and the flying saucer-loving proprietor from Route 209.

"I remember him" said Hunter. "Does he still sell the same stale week old loaves of bread? Is he still there? Is he still alive?"

"He's gone now, Hunter" I said. "He has left us"

"Well, we all have to leave eventually" said Hunter. "Let's have another drink and plan on staying around for a long time. Here's to many more. There is still a lot of work to be done."

Now Hunter has left us, and it is hard to imagine an America or a world without Hunter S. Thompson, here to keep us all in line and remind everyone of the work that needs to be done by all of us.

When he revealed in his writings the dark side of an America that no one else dared to talk about, he was also sharing with us the story of his own idealistic love of America and it's glorious history of liberty and free speech, all of which seemed to be in danger of being destroyed by the criminal behavior of bible thumping politicians who wrapped themselves in the flag, and used the horror of a senseless war to justify their own misconduct.

He believed that truthfulness and honor are the values we should cherish the most, and that pretentiousness and lying should never be ignored or tolerated, especially when indifference and cynicism become the status quo for people we allow to serve us in public office or any positions of responsible leadership in our society.

Hunter said that night, as he did through the years, that the last thing he ever expected was to become famous for what he wrote, out of desperation and disgust, in 1972, after seeing first hand the nightmare of the Presidential campaign he covered. He honestly thought that his 1972 reportage would be his swan song as a professional journalist, and instead it made him a star.

"What would have happened if I had liked and admired the people I was writing about in '72?" he said to me that night in Louisville. "I would have remained an obscure journalist, if even that. The whole Gonzo thing is similar to what I am sure Kerouac went through with the Beat thing. Putting a label on someone has nothing to do with their work. I am first and foremost a writer, just as Jack and all the great writers we remember today knew that they were. As a Southerner, I was brought up with old fashioned ideals of what this country was about. I still believe in those ideals and couldn't and never will just sit quietly by when I see our values being trashed and desecrated by lying lizards and thieves!!"

Thanks to Doug Brinkley's brilliant editing of Hunter's letters into a major book a few years ago, Hunter lived long enough to be rediscovered by a new generation as one of the great writers of our time, and much a much more important artist than the Gonzo Journalist stereotype, which only defined a part of his impressive literary output.

For his farewell to us, Hunter requested that his ashes be fired from a cannon, and I am sure that his wishes will be respected. I am also sure that all who are present at this final ceremony will expect him to leap out with a cigarette lighter to the cannon at the last minute, from wherever he is, to ignite the fuse himself for his final blast off. Hunter would never let a good time pass him by.

Long after the final cannon shot has sounded, and his ashes have settled in the mountain side around Woody Creek Colorado, our children and grandchildren will still be reading those amazing books that he wrote.

At the tribute to Hunter in Louisville, his son told the audience that having Hunter as a dad was an extraordinary experience that he treasured every day. Many of us blessed to spend time with him feel our lives will always be enriched by knowing him every day that we did.

We all should take a moment to send prayer to him for his spirit, as well as sending our love to his family.

Hunter showed us that none of us have to be afraid, that we must persevere in life, and pay attention to what is happening in the world we live in, just as he did, and that we must dare to speak out and stand up for what we feel in our hearts is honorable, decent and sensible.

While he now rests in Peace, his work will always remind us that we have to remain awake while we are here, and celebrate each precious moment of life.

David Amram
Putnam Valley NY
Feb 21 2005


- News, New & Of Note!  - Click Here for the latest happenings from our friends and family in the Poetry, Music and Art World! -

Politics, Truth and Justice: The Writings of Hunter S. Thompson - On Saturday, July 21st The Aspen Institute will hold a symposium discussing the enduring qualities of Thompson’s writing. - Click Here To Learn More about this event in a letter from Hunter's Son, Juan Thompson.

As The Poets and The Players make their way from The Heartland to The Cities and Beyond they bring back their Sights, Sounds and Stories from The Road. Click Here for their recounts and Learn Why . . . Travel Is Fatal!

On Sunday, December 11th 'Ode to the Sidewalks of New York Jazz & Poetry Reading' will happen once again hosted by legendary musician, composer, author David Amram & his Trio at the Bowery Poetry Club. - Click Here For More Info! - ALSO View Pix and Clips from May's Ode Celebration!

Pix, Clips and Page from kindred Keepers of The Flame! Join us in celebrating the LifeArtSpirit of Allen Ginsberg! Click Here to Enter!

On April 9th, Dave Amram attended a final farewell to his old friend Lucien Carr, Read Dave's warm reflect of Lucien and his reverberation of the timeless truth of that living "Now" is always the right time. - Click Here to read, "What is Born of Spirit is Spirit." -

Insom 04' Galleria!  - New & Expanded! -  Click Here to Enter! -

Philip Lamantia, one of the four members of "The Jazz/Poetry Trio" (Lamantia, Jack Kerouac, Howard Hart and David Amram) passed on March 7th. His friend and fellow Trio member, David Amram, looks back fondly with his reflect . . . Click Here to Read. " FOR PHILIP LAMANTIA."

Dave Amram Birthday Special! Click Here for VidClips, Pix and Debut Mp3's from  the new CD "The Long Road To Nowheresville!"
Click Here to read about The History of Insomniacathon.

More info about The Literary Renaissance

- Click Here for Links to the Family and Friends of Insomniacathon in and around this World! -

Read Ron and Sarah Whitehead's experience at Hunter S. Thompson's Send-Off at Woody Creek - Click Here to Read!

Messina and Amram at Insomniacathon 96'  -  New Orleans

Seven years later, old friends do it again in Louisville at Insomniacathon 2003

On Thursday, Feburary 10th, Playwright, Arthur Miller passed on. Click Here to read his friend, David Amram's, reflect.


Frank Messina and Dave Amram perform the Kerouac classic at Insomniacathon 2003

Jack Shea - Filmmaker, Poet, Songwriter, Friend.  - Click Here for More -






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