Back to Insom04' On-Line! Home Page.

Thomas Healy Remembers

“In every breath we speak what we know,
Being what we are.
I am a man of good intention.
I have not hurried a difficult
Day by praying for night.
I extinguished no candle before its hour.
I have not tested the limits imposed by gods
Nor tried to turn back the stampede of events
That brought me to my knees and destiny.”

From “Confession,” in Awakening Osiris: The Egyptian Book of the Dead, by Normandi Ellis (Phanes Press, 1988)

The Legacy of Lono

by Thomas P. Healy

At the conclusion of The Curse of Lono, author Hunter S. Thompson’s scathing report on the “body Nazis” who participate in the Honolulu Marathon, he makes a claim that he is Lono, the ancient Hawaiian god of agriculture and peace.

At a public talk around the time the book came out, I took advantage of the Q&A to ask about the ending. “At the end of The Curse of Lono, you leave the reader thinking that you’re God — a god named Lono. My question is, did you give up religion for the same reason as politics” — no money in it, he’d written — “or are you, in fact, God?”

He had a good laugh at that but quickly turned deadly serious. “No, I am Lono.”

Gonzo journalist as shaman

“In traditional societies shamans are often known as ‘masters of death,’” writes Neville Drury in The Visionary Human: Mystical Consciousness & Paranormal Perspectives. “And they have been defined by Mircea Eliade as ecstatics capable of making a visionary journey from one plane of reality to another.”

By his own reckoning Thompson had nearly died some 15 times. Each return from the “journey” — whether beaten by Hell’s Angels or by Chicago cops — he had a story to tell.

As Drury noted, “The shaman returns to earth consciousness with … ‘spiritual revelations’ … and in traditional shamanic societies such revelations become part of that culture’s accumulated ‘wisdom teaching.’”

“Like tribal shamans, the artists saw themselves, in Ezra Pound’s phrase, as ‘the antennae of the race,’” Daniel Pinchbeck writes in his study of contemporary shamanism, Breaking Open the Head.He suggests that both 19th-century Romantic poets and Modernist writers emulated shamanic practices. “In a secular culture, they were the ones who journeyed into the land of the dead, who crafted images of an elusive sublime, who went into ecstatic states of inspiration.”

Journalists such as Thompson, John Reed, Studs Terkel, Ida Tarbell and Mollie Ivins certainly qualify as the “antennae of the race” — reporting on the view from “the other side.” Unlike these more conventional journalists, Thompson’s methods can be seen in a shamanic light. In virtually every article, he is in search of “the nut” of his story and generally it involved journeying in some “non-ordinary reality” that could be brought on by the systematic derangement of the senses via chemical means, by sleep deprivation and unbridled paranoia during a deadline frenzy or by raw amazement at the listless stupidity of “normal” life.

When he “returned” from his wanderings into the “savage heart of the American Dream” in Las Vegas or survived a campaign in the “vicious business” of presidential politics, he crafted tales of “fear and loathing” that illuminated, informed and inspired his tribe and entered into the cultural lexicon.

Thompson’s obscenity-laced texts led some readers to question his skill with language. In his reply to one appalled reader, who cancelled her subscription to Rolling Stone in a letter that said “profanity is a crutch for conversational cripples,” HST said, “[W]ords are just tools, for a writer, and when I write about Richard Nixon I’ll use all the tools I can get my hands on, to make people like you think about why Richard Nixon was elected by a landslide in 1972. My primary idea, whenever I sit down to write, is to get the attention of people like you and make youthink.”

Having referred to Richard M. Nixon in the past as a “cheap, thieving little bastard,” and a “criminal geek,” in recent years Thompson actually grew a bit wistful about his arch nemesis. In his last piece for Rolling Stone he wrote, “Nixon was a professional politician and I despised everything he stood for — but if he were running for president against the evil Bush-Cheney gang, I would happily vote for him.”

He went on to predict a Kerry win, and called George W. Bush “a treacherous little freak” and “a natural-born loser with a filthy-rich daddy who pimped his son out to rich oil-mongers.”

No other journalist in the world would have the guts to say such a thing out loud, much less publish it in a mass-circulation periodical. But Hunter was like no other journalist in the world.

Gonzo journalist as outlaw

“To live outside the law, you must be honest,” sang Bob Dylan, one of HST’s favorite musicians. “I always figured I would live on the margins of society, part of a very small Outlaw segment,” Thompson wrote in his 2003 book, Kingdom of Fear. “I have never been approved by any majority. Most people assume it’s difficult to live this way, and they are right — they’re still trying to lock me up all the time. I’ve been very careful about urging people who cannot live outside the law to throw off the traces and run amok. Some are not made for the Outlaw life.”

His novel approach to writing, dubbed “outlaw journalism,” “new journalism” or his own preferred “Gonzo journalism,” was an instinctual response to what he saw as the need to get inside a story and tell it from the perspective of radical subjectivity.

He knew from the time he was 16 he wanted to write. “That was all that really interested me,” he told writer P.J. O’Rourke in an interview for Rolling Stone magazine’s 20th anniversary issue in 1987. “Actually, learning interested me. Learning still does. That’s the main thing about journalism: it allows you to keep learning and get paid for it.”

It was a long, strange trip from his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, to his “fortified compound near Aspen, Colorado,” fueled by almost any and every legal and illegal substance a boy or man could put his hands on.

An act of belligerence on his part got him into the Armed Forces: when given the choice after a series of youthful indiscretions, he opted for military service rather than jail. He later refused to accept a security clearance from the Air Force on the grounds that he didn’t consider himself a good security risk “because I disagreed strongly with the slogan, ‘My Country, Right or Wrong.’” His punishment? “I was passed over for promotion and placed in a job as sports editor of a base newspaper on the Gulf Coast of Florida.”

There was no turning back. In that most precarious of careers, freelance writing, Thompson spent the next 40-plus years sharing his careening life up close and personal during a time of unprecedented transformation in the country’s political landscape: through post-JFK-assassination America into the rice paddies of Vietnam and Cambodia; the “police riot” at the ’68 Chicago Democratic Convention; the “dark and venal” Nixon years and his subsequent humiliating departure from the White House; the hopeful Carter years when the country came close to decriminalizing personal recreational drugs; the fascist (using Mussolini’s definition of fascism as “corporatism”) onslaught of the Reagan years, further developed during the first Bush presidency; the Clinton/Lewinsky detour; and on up to the “president-select” in 2000 and now the “re-elected” fortunate son, George W. Bush, whom HST described in Kingdom of Fear as “a bogus rich kid in charge of the White House.”

In the editor’s note for Fear and Loathing in America: The Gonzo Letters, Volume II — Thompson’s correspondence from 1968-1976 — historian Douglas Brinkley writes, “As a pure literary art form, Gonzo requires virtually no rewriting: the reporter and his quest for information are central to the story, told via a fusion of bedrock reality and stark fantasy in a way that is meant to amuse both the author and the reader. Stream-of-consciousness, article excerpts, transcribed interviews, telephone conversations — these are the elements of a piece of aggressively subjective Gonzo journalism. ‘It is a style of reporting based on William Faulkner’s idea that the best fiction is far more true than any kind of journalism,’ Thompson has noted.”

“I just usually go with my own taste,” HST said in a Paris Review interview in 2000. “I wasn’t trying to be an outlaw writer. I never heard of that term; somebody else made it up.”

While an outlaw journalist might take a dim view of deadlines, paltry word counts and expense account limits, he is not a criminal, say, in the way a journalist is who “outs” a covert CIA operative. That’s a felony, by the way, if anyone bothers to prosecute. An outlaw journalist isn’t a stenographer to the powerful and would never run verbatim transcripts of White House press briefings with the excuse, “If I am communicating to my readers exactly what the White House believes on any certain issue, that’s reporting to them an unvarnished, unfiltered version of what they believe.”

But it’s a postmodern world where a poseur like Guckert/Gannon can get day passes as a White House correspondent so he can transcribe Scott McClellan’s remarks but Maureen Dowd at the New York Times, who might ask a tough question or two, is denied access.

When Hunter had a press pass to the White House while covering Nixon’s departure, he used the access to file uncompromising stories for Rolling Stonethat are unthinkable in today’s self-preservation-oriented journalism herd-mentality.

“[T]he climate of those years was so grim that half the Washington press corps spent more time worrying about having their telephones tapped than they did about risking the wrath of … a Mafia-style administration that began cannibalizing the whole government; they swaggered into Washington like a conquering army, and the climate of fear then engendered apparently neutralized the New York Times along with all the other pockets of potential resistance,” he wrote.

His comments about the neutralized “Gray Lady” during the Nixon administration could just as easily serve as a contemporary coda to Howard Friel and Richard Falk’s convincing brief against the “paper of record” in The Record of the Paper, which outlines the Times’ inability and/or unwillingness to consider numerous violations of international law in its coverage of U.S. foreign policy.

As a maniacal freelancer, HST wrote for the Times Magazine, as well as Time-Life publications and a score of notable and forgettable periodicals. He wasn’t interested in the life of a time-clock puncher.
He told Peter Whitmer, “Journalism has always seemed a good way to get someone else to pay to get me where the action really is.”

Like the old-school journalists who called in 50-paragraph stories to the office, Thompson usually composed on-the-spot narratives from his notes, a reporting skill that takes tremendous focus, dedication and a firm grasp of the subject matter.

Thompson’s style was a direct descendent of the traditional method, but instead of 50 paragraphs, he’d submit 15,000-word screeds using a primordial fax machine, the technology of the fabled “mojo wire” — a low-resolution and low-reliability machine for transmitting text in pre-PC days — that has since been overtaken by wireless computer networks, cell phones and e-mail. In this technological milieu, HST’s most natural offspring are the bloggers.

Highly personal, unfettered by so-called journalistic objectivity and deadline constraints, blogs are a vestige of Gonzo journalism that deserve recognition as part of Thompson’s legacy.

Gonzo Journalist as Warrior

Author Barry Miles, whose most recent biography of Frank Zappa follows other life stories of counterculture heroes such as Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Paul McCartney, writes, “Zappa is an iconoclast in the male American tradition of Neal Cassady, Hunter S. Thompson, William S. Burroughs, Ken Kesey, Allen Ginsberg, Lenny Bruce and the early Norman Mailer.”

The Heartland iconoclast was not just a psychedelic hillbilly drunkard but also a keen intellectual, a brilliant political analyst and a gifted, determined craftsman who persevered against tremendous odds to tell his readers that there are options for resistance, that we can send a message to the fixers and greedheads to say that while they will always be among us, we are not afraid to meet them head on, to speak our truths and to stand our ground to the bitter end.

“He was an old, sick, and very troubled man, and the illusion of peace and contentment was not enough for him. ... So finally, and for what he must have thought the best of reasons, he ended it with a shotgun.”
— Hunter S. Thompson

These closing words from a 1964 National Observer piece about a pilgrimage to Hemingway’s Ketchum, Idaho, seem remarkably prescient. The man who wrote them would, like his hero, take his own life, in a different mountainside town, a few hundred miles to the south, some four decades later.

But his fans need not grieve over his final defiant act. Read long-time collaborator Ralph Steadman’s tribute in the Guardian. “It wasn’t a question of if, but when,” Steadman wrote in his moving essay.

We don’t have to wonder what Thompson’s last thoughts were. His suicide was a deliberate act — a calculated move by a man driven, as he often claimed, to “control his environment” as an ultimate assertion of individuality. In their public statement his family called him a warrior because his parting shot was a courageous act. In fact, it was heroic — like a samurai warrior who committed ritual suicide as an act of courage and honor.

Thompson leaves behind a remarkable journalistic legacy, unrivaled in the modern era, that chronicles the closing decades of the 20th century as well as the dawn of the new century in a raw, savage style that manages to wring out truth in brutal honesty without a trace of nostalgia or romanticism.

“The rebellion of the 1960s carried with it a kind of naive sense that since we were right, then ‘right’ would prevail and we would stop the war and find better ways to live,” he told Peter Whitmer. But he knew better and that’s why he interjected the word “naive.”

He called on the power of the “people’s history” of the recent past to remind us there were precedents to show that we could stand up to tyranny. “We were angry and righteous in those days and there were millions of us,” he wrote in his final Rolling Stone piece. “We kicked two chief executives out of the White House because they were stupid warmongers. We conquered Lyndon Johnson and we stomped on Richard Nixon — which wise people said was impossible, but so what? It was fun. We were warriors then, and our tribe was strong like a river.”

Yes, but the river was dammed by the neocons and drained by the fearmongers and greedheads whose idea of morality is gutting the Bill of Rights. I can imagine that after four decades of chronicling the “death of the American Dream” and seeing things go from bad to worse, Thompson was bushed.

Given a man whose lifetime fascination with intoxication was an integral part of his work, it’s almost ironic that the best word I can use to describe my response to his passing is “sobering.” With all of the stories that need to be told, all the chits that need to be called in, all the aggressive Calvinists seeking to supplant science with superstition, sacrifice human rights for property rights and convert the land of the free into the home of the brainwashed, Thompson’s final gesture should not — cannot — be ignored.

Thompson issued a wakeup call, warning of the cultural/political shitstorm that threatens our beleaguered nation and challenging us to awaken from the nightmare of history that has given the world George W. Bush and his cruel henchmen.

I hope we have the courage to answer it.

©2005 Thomas P. Healy

Healy is a journalist in Indianapolis and can be reached at .




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

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

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!

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

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! -

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






Insomniacathon On-Line! is proudly supported by:

A Power Point in the Poetic Universe!  - Click and go to: -