April 18, 2012

Summing up the career of Hunter S. Thompson, graphically

Filed under: Books, History, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

At BoingBoing, Mark Frauenfelder reviews Gonzo: A Graphic Biography of Hunter S. Thompson by Will Bingley and Anthony Hope-Smith:

180 pages isn’t much room to examine a life in minute detail. Instead, Bingley tells a story (as if it were written, quite convincingly, by Thompson himself) of Thompson’s frantic search to find meaning in the turbulent era he lived in. Bingley’s story is about a passionate, rebellious genius who sprinted too fast at the beginning of a long-distance race, collapsed early, and spent his remaining decades burnt-out, crawling bewilderedly.

The book’s forward, written by Thompson’s longtime editor, Alan Rinzler, is especially revealing. Rinzler believes that Thompson could have been the “heavyweight champion of American letters,” but his self-destructive behavior, which got worse with each passing year, ruined that opportunity.

[. . .]

After Lono, says Rinzler, “Hunter’s substance abuse, writer’s block and brief attention span were increasing exponentially. He’s slip out to see his dealer and come back so tanked he couldn’t think straight.” Thompson’s work became a series of “repetitious, mediocre, regurgitated articles and books and collections he allowed to be issued and reissued over the last 30 years of his life.”

The Curse of Lono was the last book by Thompson I read, but I don’t doubt Rinzler’s assessment of the quality of Thompson’s books that followed. (Thompson’s awful “Hey Rube!” columns for an ESPN website were enough to keep me uninterested in his newer books). But his earlier work, especially Hell’s Angels, is so good that I will always admire Thompson as a heavyweight contender who showed a very promising start.

I eagerly read much of Thompson’s early work (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, The Great Shark Hunt, Hell’s Angels, and The Curse of Lono) in the early-to-mid 80’s, but tapered off soon after that. Several years ago, I picked up a remaindered copy of Hey Rube: Blood Sport, the Bush Doctrine, and the Downward Spiral of Dumbness Modern History from the Sports Desk and it was the literary equivalent of Rome after too many Goth and Vandal sackings: you could still see some great bits and pieces, but everything else had been broken, burned, hacked, and slashed.

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