Better Than Sex
Brinkley sent me the invitation, via email and phone, for the wake, a celebration
of Hunter S. Thompsons life and work, an event that would culminate in the
blasting of his ashes from a cannon mounted at the top of a monument of his Gonzo
fist, a 15-story 153-foot tower, higher than the Statue of Liberty, modeled after
Hunters logo: clenched fist, holding a peyote button, two thumbs, all rising
from the hilt of a dagger. Family and friends were being invited. Fellow Kentuckian,
and all round nice guy, Johnny Depp, now living in France, was producing the event
paying $2.5 million out of his own pocket. A few rich and famous friends of Hunter
would be in attendance. Music would be provided by Hunters friends Lyle
Lovett, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and David Amram. Sarah might sing My
Old Kentucky Home, a Hunter favorite. It would all take place on Hunters
Owl Farm, Woody Creek, near Aspen, in the heart of Colorado.
things changed. Word got out about the event. The press and the gliterrati picked
up on it. Suddenly large sums were being offered, under the table, to get an invite.
A Hollywood firm was hired to handle everything, including the invitations. Brinkley
bowed out as Gate Keeper. David Amram told us not to go that it was out of control,
crazy, pure madness. We decided to stay home. We were too busy to get jerked around.
We had better things to do. Plus Sarah and I werent really in a financial
position to pay the $600 we guestimated it would cost to make the trip.
December 1996 I produced The Official Hunter S. Thompson Tribute at Memorial Auditorium
in Hunters hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. I brought in Johnny Depp, Warren
Zevon, Roxanne Pulitzer, Douglas Brinkley, David Amram, Harvey Sloane, Hunters
mom Virginia, his son Juan, The Sheriff of Pitkin County (Hunters bodyguard),
and many others including some of Hunters childhood friends. It was an amazing
event. The energy was sky high. Electricity filled the over 2,000 standing room
only crowd. A&E filmed it as did Hollywood filmmaker Wayne Ewing who had just
finished filming The Eagles Last Tour. The event was a huge success. The
problem was that one week before the event the University of Louisville, fearful
of negative publicity, withdrew their sponsorship. The event cost $80,000, a small
sum compared to the $2.5 million Johnny paid to produce the Blastoff. We earned
$30,000 from ticket and merchandise sales. I got stuck with the $50,000 balance
to pay out of my pocket. A $30,000 balance remains. Sarah and I are still paying
on it. Of the over 1,000 music and poetry events I produced all over Europe and
the USA, in the past 15 years, this was the biggest loser. On all but five I broke
even, lost a little, or made a little. When I made a little the extra money went
into the next creative project.
Ewing filmed the 1996 Hunter Tribute so it could be included in his newly released
cinema verite documentary Breakfast With Hunter. The film is brilliant. Wayne
used a great deal of footage from the Hunter Tribute that I produced. At the 1996
Tribute, Wayne agreed, on a handshake, to send me copies of both his film of the
96 Tribute and the final product, Breakfast With Hunter. After the 96
Tribute I talked with Hunter and Wayne about the $50,000 loss. I never heard from
Wayne again. Sarah and I paid $49 to order Waynes new documentary from his
website. I was glad Wayne used so much footage from my Hunter Tribute. But I was
furious that he credited the University of Louisville for producing the event.
I wrote Wayne an angry email asking that credits be changed and that he send us
copies of the DVD. While in Colorado for Hunters Blastoff I got word, from
various sources, that Hunters beautiful wife Anita and his wonderful son
Juan had been told that I was going to file a lawsuit against Hunters Estate.
A lie. Before leaving Colorado I wrote them a letter to set straight the lies
of the grapevine.
the last minute Sarah and I decided to go. David Amram, despite his warnings to
us, decided to go so by God we did too. Besides, we wanted the adventure. Plus
we realized that in nearly two years of being married we hadnt taken a honeymoon
trip. All our trips and tours to Europe and across America had been to perform,
for me to read my poems and stories and for Sarah to sing her songs. We decided
that regardless of what happened at the Hunter Blastoff that we were going to
have a romantic interlude in the midst of our workaholic writing and performing
to get to Colorado?! Our 1988 Toyota pickup, Sarahs dads old work
truck, has 230,000 miles on it. Its dependable but could it climb the Rocky
Mountains? Out of the blue our friend Andy Cook, who has toured with us for years,
gave us his 1989 Nissan pickup which only has 90,000 miles on it. What a surprise!
We didnt know if our new/used Nissan would make it but we decided to find
out. Then an hour before departure my sister Robin called and asked if she could
borrow the 88 open bed truck to move her daughter, my niece, Heidi, back
to Eastern Kentucky University for her final semester. Robin said in exchange
we could drive her Mitsubishi sports car to Colorado. Are you kidding me?! We
were as excited as kids at Christmas. Now, finally, we were on our way.
drove 24 hours non-stop. We left Thursday, noon. I called and left messages with
Anita and Juan Thompson to let them know we were on our way. All night, through
Kansas, wild lightning storms covered the terrain in front of us and to our right.
But to our left and behind us the sky was clear and the full moon shone through
our open moonroof and brightened the high plains. Sarah and I had breakthrough
conversations all night. We were ecstatic, excited, on cloud nine discussing our
love, our work, our family, our lives together. We were happy to be on another
adventure, our first since our 19 day, 14 county, 325 mile western Kentucky hike
back in May. We discussed the book were writing about the hike.
daybreak we began our climb from Pikes Peak taking backroads crossing the
heart of Colorado. We stopped at Independence Pass, the highest and most beautiful
point in Colorado, on our way to Aspen.
was in trouble. In 2003, in the days leading up to Bushs Iraq invasion,
while on The War Poets Tour of Iceland, Scotland, and England, with Frank Messina,
Andy Cook, and Sarah, after our first show at the Museum of Modern Art in Reykjavik
I had two lung aneurisms. In 2004, while on The Viking Hillbilly Apocalypse Revues
coast to coast USA Tour I had a series of mild heart attacks. I no longer do well
at high altitude. The fatigue of the long non-stop drive added to the fatigue
of overworking plus now the high altitude was taking its toll. It started with
my heart, chest pains, then lungs struggled to breathe, plus dizziness, then kidneys,
frequent and profuse urination plus dehydration, then nerves, hyper-sensitivity
to positive and negative vibrations from people and environment. But Ive
been through all this before. Sarah and I, like Hunter, are both road warriors.
I refused to let my pain diminish the excitement of the adventure.
arrived at Headquarters, The Wildwood Lodge in Snowmass Village, closer to Woody
Creek and Hunters Owl Farm than Aspen and less expensive. We took a two-hour
nap, showered then made our way to The Woody Creek Tavern, Hunters main
hangout, for a meal, to begin paying final Tribute to Hunter, and to visit with
the pilgrims who had hiked, hitchhiked, and driven Gonzoed vehicles from every
corner of America for the same reason we had, to pay Tribute to their hero, fallen
by his own hand, the Creator and King of Gonzo, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. And, we
discovered, they were all going to try and break into The Big Party.