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five years without gonzo

February 20, 2010

A man, a legend, a myth, a hero, a villain, a writer, an icon. Hunter S. Thompson is all of these things. And now as we mark the fifth anniversary of his death I think it is worthy to pause and appreciate the sum of all those parts.

Hunter S. Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson 1937-2005

Beyond the truly classic works that he has left behind, Thompson himself is part of the fabric of 20th Century America. An appreciation and understanding of both his life and his work deeply enriches the context of the rock & roll scene. Thompson was the rock star of the journalism world. He challenged the establishment, he found a righteousness in the doctrine of the Sixties counterculture, he rode the crest of that mighty wave. I absolutely think the holy trinity of Thompson’s work should be required reading for everyone: Hell’s Angels, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, and Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. All three display Thompson’s uniquely profound understanding of the American Dream and are at turns – like the flawed Dream itself – hilarious, uplifting, maddening, demented, and deeply disturbing.

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. ThompsonA fantastic crash course on Thompson is the 2008 documentary Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson. This film is excellent because it provides not only a biography of Thompson, but it places him in the larger context of the society and the time he was a part of. Lengthy sections of the film are devoted to the trajectory of American politics since the Sixties and they are intrinsically important to telling Thompson’s story. There are interviews with an incredibly diverse range of heavy hitters, a testament in itself to the transcendent quality of his work. Any film that can get commentary from both Pat Buchanan and Jimmy Buffett is probably a film worth seeing. And the real glue for me in this film is the music – it is expertly used to enhance the story and set the mood. Gonzo is a fitting tribute to one of the great characters in the pantheon  of American history.

musicnotesThe songs played at Thompson’s funeral: Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” and Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man

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