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THE DAY HUNTER S. THOMPSON DIED

by

Wade Lipham



It was seven o'clock in the morning and I was still tired, pulling on my blue jeans in a cloud of unknowing, maybe even putting them on backwards. My father -- who has been staying over -- looked at me and said, "I just heard Hunter Thompson died."

I didn't really buy it at first, folks. Maybe old Dad was playing a joke on me, or maybe Hunter Thompson was playing a joke on the media, or maybe the newspeople were playing a joke on the world. I said, "What happened?"

My dad said, "They say he got drunk, took heroin and cocaine and shot himself with a shotgun."

And what's strange is, the first thought I had was: he did love firearms.

***

We've just lost the man who probably did more to make "journalism" an art that anyone. Norman Mailer and Truman Capote may have invented fact-fiction, or whatever the hell it was they called it, but it was Hunter Thompson who combined the notion of fiction (ie. characters and "made up situations") with non-fiction (ie. politics and counter-culture and drugs) and made it 'gonzo' and American, something everybody who follows after him has to think about, whether they practice it or not. It doesn't really matter whether it was Hunter on Muskie's train in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, '72-'74 or even if it happened: it expressed the singular instant which traditional journalism would have missed. A dangerous philosophy in the hands of some, but HST always made it work.

Today I was set to perform with the Armani Bluesmen, a group of local blueshounds who play at bars like Mozart's Folly and The Hole In The Wall. I had already packed my Telecaster and my imitation Armani suit when the phone rang. Picking it up, still reeling from the double blow of waking up too early and Hunter Thompson's death, I was greeted by Bill, our lead singer.

"Dude," he said, "Did you hear about Hunter Thompson?"

"I sure did," I said. "It's a tragedy."

"Of the first order, my man. So for our set tonight I want to do something in memory of Hunter. Write a song about him."

And then Bill hung up in his drunken haze, still recovering I suppose from the perverted debauchery of the night before. Write a song? Good Lord, I thought, I'm not a songwriter, I just play the guitar. Breaking open a Pepsi (caffeine, caffeine, caffeine), I prepared.

***

The Great Hunter Thompson Hunt is one of the finest unofficial author websites on the internet, a veritable library of all things Hunter S., including but not limited to an incredible bibliography, a coming together of fine articles on the man and a rogue's gallery of Hunter's friends and enemies. Maintained by Christine Othitis, it's a work to behold. So go behold it, in memory of the man himself.

I mention it because it was one of the launching points for my discovery of Hunter Thompson. After having become a regular reader of his column, I did a fateful search for Hunter on Yahoo (my search engine of choice in those days, before the monstrous behemoth of internet exorbitance Google consumed everything) and discovered TGHTH and began to wonder, which book should I read first?

Little did I know that my reading of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail would lead me to a failed bid for a city council chair and attempted assassination by angry sanitation workers. But it also led to a greater understanding of the debacle that was the '04 election, and showed me why Kerry lost. I said to my dad as he was losing Ohio, "The youth vote strikes again."

Between the two verses which went:

Hunter Thompson died today
Hunter Thompson died today
Hunter Thompson died today
Feel like I should kneel down and pray

The man died like he lived
The man died like he lived
If that ain't how I want to die
I don't know what is

I imagined an incendiary guitar solo, but I just couldn't seem to coax the mournful wail from my Telecaster. I called to my father, who was still hanging out in the living room, to try his hand at it. As he played around with the age old blues stylings, I got on the phone to the mayor's office to see about arranging a parade in Hunter Thompson's honor.

I said, "What do you mean, the mayor doesn't take my calls anymore?"

I had entirely forgotten about the sanitation scandal of '00.

***

Two hours ago -- AKA 11:00 PM -- I arrived at Mozart's Folly where I promptly checked my amplifier and tested out 'Hunter Thompson Died Today Blues' into the house PA system. It went relatively well, and the bartender Mike seemed somewhat satisfied, though he did ask, "Who's Hunter Thompson?"

When the rest of the band arrived we shot through our set, but I couldn't seem to get the picture of HST I had seen that morning out of my mind. It was a simple, black and white image of him wearing a Hawkeye Pierce fishing hat and smoking a cigarette in his trademark cigarette holder, leering in that HST manner into the camera. There's nothing as tragic and depressing as when an iconoclast dies. It reminds me us that no matter how much we rage against the dying of the light, it takes us all. Of course, after this realization, you can still get drunk.

My mourning and soberness must have combined at the magic moment because I finally got the scorching blues sound I hungered for during the song. I wrung myself out to dry, and crashed at a booth in the back.

Hunter Thompson was and is a part of one of my 'golden' moments: a perfect and shining Spring when I was in love and had found a direction for my life. His humor (specifically a story in his column about dropping hungry fleas down a political enemy's chimney) struck me as the perfect chime at a nearly perfect moment in my life. I've never forgotten how hard he made me laugh: that's what being an author is all about, I guess: touching your readers.

Nearly sleeping in that back booth I could have sworn I saw Hunter Thompson and his buddy George Plimpton throwing back shots at the bar. Then, realizing how saccharin and sentimental that was, I almost got diabetes.

So here I am, one in the morning, trying to scribble down the details of the day Hunter S. Thompson died. Technically, that day's already over. He was a great writer if not a great man, an American original, the type of iconoclast only this country can produce, the true genius of the-fire-in-the-belly.

There's only way to sign off. Until next time, sports fans. Until next time, Hunter.







ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Wade Lipham is an author and poet living in Fort Worth, Texas. He's one of those dern kids that want to be the next Bill Faulkner. Or else Thomas Pynchon. But who's keeping count?




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