Hunter Shaman Thompson is dead
tribute by Ron Whitehead
My friend and hero Hunter S. Thompson is
dead. I followed his life and work from the release of HELL'S ANGELS till now.
I will continue to follow it. My friend Gene Williams and I sold Hunter's books
we sold the first ROLLING STONE magazines in the underground bookstore, For Madmen
Only, and in the headshop, The Store, we operated on South Limestone in Lexington
Kentucky. I never dreamed I'd eventually work with Hunter and with members of
The Beat Generation: Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Herbert Huncke, Gregory
Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, David Amram, Diane di Prima, Amiri Baraka, and others.
Their works changed my life. Dreams do come true.
Hunter shot himself.
He is gone. He died in his kitchen in his cabin at Owl Farm Woody Creek Colorado.
read his Nixon obituary, "He Was A Crook," and other works
to him in that kitchen.
took my children to visit him. He loved young people. He loved his family.
drank and did drugs with him. We watched basketball. One night, years ago, in
early May my son Nathanial and I arrived, driving 24 hours non-stop from Kentucky,
just in time to watch the NBA playoffs with Hunter. Don Johnson called several
times wanting us to come over. Kentuckian Rex Chapman was playing for the Phoenix
Suns. The Suns were down by nine points with one minute to go in the game. I looked
at Hunter and said I'll bet you that Rex will hit three threes and tie the game,
that the Suns will win by one point in three overtimes. Hunter looked at me and
laughed. Rex hit three threes and tied the game. But Phoenix lost in three overtimes,
by one point. I got damn close. Hunter paid closer attention to me after that.
We talked about life about our families about literature. Hunter was a good kind
man. He was full of life. He was tough. He was a real human being. He was spirit,
holy spirit, no matter what anyone says.
had the honor of producing, with the help of Douglas Brinkley and many young people
and friends,The Hunter S.
Thompson Tribute at Memorial
Auditorium on 4th Street in Louisville Kentucky in December 1996. We had a sold
out standing room audience of over 2,000. I brought in Hunter, his Mom Virginia,
his son Juan, The Sheriff of Pitkin County, Johnny Depp, Warren Zevon, David Amram,
Douglas Brinkley, Roxanne Pulitzer, Harvey Sloane, Susi Wood & a bluegrass
band, and many more. The Mayor gave Hunter the keys to the city. The Governor
named Hunter, Johnny, Warren, David, Doug, and me Kentucky Colonels. It was a
Hunter is one of America's one of the world's greatest
writers. He stands shoulder to shoulder with Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, Jack
Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, all five America's Best prose writers, bar none.
Jonathan Swift, George Orwell, William S. Burroughs, and Hunter S. Thompson
are literary giants, visionaries who have much in common.
to say that there will be no audience for Thompson's work, that no one will understand
or care. Yet as I travel across America across the world working with young people,
of all ages, I witness a movement, amongst young people, away from the constraints
of non-democratic puritan totalitarian cultures. I see a new generation that recognizes
the lies of the power elite, a generation that is turning to the freethinkers
the freedom fighters of the 50s and 60s, recognizing honoring them as mentors.
Art is a kind of innate drive that seizes a human being and makes her
or him its instrument. The artist is not simply a person acting freely, in pursuit
of a merely private end, but one who allows art to realize its purposes through
her or his person. Artists have moods, free will, personal aims, but as artists
they are bearers of a collective humanity, carrying and shaping the common unconscious
life of the species.
I have heard more than once that Hunter S. Thompson
is a madman. That oh look at what he could have done if he lived a more sane life.
Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel, pre-eminent Jewish author, recipient of the Nobel
Peace Prize, in THE TOWN BEYOND THE WALL, says: "Mad Moishe, the fat man
who cries when he sings and laughs when he is silent...Moishe - I speak of the
real Moishe, the one who hides behind the madman - is a great man. He is far-seeing.
He sees worlds that remain inaccessible to us. His madness is only a wall, erected
to protect us- us: to see what Moishe's bloodshot eyes see would be dangerous."
In Jewish mysticism the prophet often bears the facade of madness. Hunter S. Thompson
stands in direct lineage to the great writers and prophets. And as with the prophets
of old, the message may be too painful for the masses to tolerate, to hear, to
bear. They may, and usually do, condemn, even kill, the messenger. Hunter stood
as long as he could. He fought a valiant fight. He was a brave yet sensitive soul.
He was a sacred shaman warrior. He saw. He felt. He recorded his visions. He took
alcohol and drugs to ease the pain generated by what he saw what he felt. He lived
on his own terms. He died on his own terms. Did the masses kill Hunter? Did he
kill himself? He found the courage to stand up against the power mongers and the
masses. At least thirteen times he should have died but, miraculously, didn't.
He chose to take his own life. He completed the work he came to do.
life is a dream, as some suggest, sometimes beautiful sometimes desperate, then
Hunter's work is the terrible saga of the ending of time for The American Dream.
With its action set at the heart of darkness of American materialist culture,
with war as perpetual background, playing on the television, Hunter S. Thompson,
like the prophets of old, shows how we, through greed and powerlust, have already
gone over the edge. As Jack Kerouac, through his brilliant oeuvre, breathed hope
into international youth culture Thompson shows how the ruling power-elite is
not about to share what it controls with idealists yearning for a world of peace
love and understanding.
We must look beyond the life of the artist to
the work the body of work itself. That is the measure of success. Like those who
have re-examined Orwell's 1984 to find a multi-layered literary masterpiece, we
must look deep into Thompson's work and find the deep multi-layered messages.
His books, especially the early ones and his letters, are literary masterpieces
equal to the best writing ever produced.
Knowledge, from the inception
of Modernism, and through post-modernism and chaos to The Ocean of Consciousness,
is reorganized, redefined through Literature, Art, Music, and Film. The genres
are changing, the canons are exploding, as is culture. The mythopoetics, the privileged
sense of sight, of modern, contemporary, avant-garde cutting edge Nabi poets,
musicians, artists, filmmakers are examples of art forms of a society, a culture,
a civilization, a world, in which humanity lives, not securely in cities nor innocently
in the country, but on the apocalyptic, simultaneous edge of a new realm of being
and understanding. The mythopoet, female and male, the shaman, Hunter S. Thompson
returns to the role of prophet-seet by creating myths that resonate in the minds
of readers, myths that speak with the authority of the ancient myths, myths that
are gifts from the shadow.
february 22, 2005
copyright (c) Ron Whitehead 2005
the Spring of 2004, Ron Whitehead and The Viking Hillbilly Apocalypse Revue
(then, Sarah Elizabeth, Michael Dean Odin Pollock and Andy Cook) embarked
on The "Not Knowing" Tour - From La Grange to Chengdu. One of
their stops was at Hunter S. Thompson's ranch in Colorado. View the
VidClip from Hunter
Thompson's Ranch .
suggestions for Hunter S. Thompson's hometown Louisville, Kentucky to pay Tribute
1) Courier-Journal (Kentucky's main daily newspaper)
devote entire Saturday SCENE (arts/culture section) to Hunter's life and work.
2) LEO and Velocity (Louisville's weekly alternative newspapers) devote entire
issues to Hunter's life and work.
3) WFPK 91.9fm (all music) and WFPL
89.5fm (all news) (Louisville's Public Radio Partnership, NPR affiliate) devote
one week of programming to Hunter's life and work.
4) Baxter Avenue Theatres
(Louisville's art film theatres) start Annual Hunter S. Thompson Film Festival.
5) Place historic marker in front of Thompson Family home on Ransdell Avenue
in Louisville's Highlands neighborhood. Purchase the home and turn it into Hunter
Museum similar to what Kentucky did for Bill Monroe's Rosine, Ohio County,
6) Place giant Hunter photo banner on downtown highrise, visible
from Interstate 64, near new Muhammad Ali museum, same as Muhammad Ali & Pee
Wee Reese banners.
7) Rename The Louisville Free Public Library (the main
library at 4th & York downtown) The Hunter and Virginia Thompson Free Public
Library. Hunter's Mom Virginia retired, as librarian, from same library. Have
a Hunter S. Thompson Room for students & scholars.
8) Rename Louisville's
Cherokee Road Hunter S. Thompson Road.
9) Move the Daniel Boone statue
(Daniel with rifle) to Boone County. Replace it with statue of Hunter with typewriter,
gun, and other necessary Hunter items.
10) Rename Cherokee Park Hunter
S. Thompson Park.
11) University of Louisville start Annual Hunter S.
Thompson International Literature Symposium. University of Louisville Rare Books
and Archives purchase, catalogue, and exhibit Hunter's entire archives.
City of Louisville designate July 18th Annual Official Hunter S. Thompson Day,
Public Holiday, No School, No Work, Concert on The Great Lawn at Ohio River Waterfront,
downtown. Musicians/Bands perform their own but especially some of Hunter's favorite
That's it. For now.