I don't remember, exactly, how old I was when I discovered Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. My fallible brain tells me it was somewhere around the eleventh year of my life, wandering around the Thousand Oaks library and spotting a cover with "Hell's Angels" written all over it in large, orange block-letters. I knew from the title of the book that I wasn't going to check it out, there was far too much religious dogma at home to be caught with such a title, so I hid in a corner of the library and began to read the "Strange and Terrible Saga."
It took me a few weeks to finish because I only went to the library for one hour every Friday, but when I turned that last page on that Friday afternoon, I knew I was infected. Infected with a whole new sense of Pride, Purpose, and Patriotism. I knew that whoever this Thompson fellow was, he certainly wasn't going to take any sort of shit from anybody anytime, and I wanted a piece of that action.
It was around this time that the early onset of Teenage Rebellion was setting in, so I took a dive into the Deep End and planted myself on the murky bottom of the You Just Don't Understand Me pool. I was no longer scared of the consequences of bringing home the words of the good Doctor and I would purposefully leave his books out in the open, casually daring anybody to tell me otherwise.
Nobody noticed, of course, and all of the great arguments that played out in my head never happened. I guess that parents eventually learn to leave their little weird reader kids alone.
My love affair with the Doctor didn't end but the flames of passion burned down to coals and life got in the way as I became an adult and tried to make sense of The World and my place in it. Our relationship was rekindled in 1997 when The Proud Highway came out and suddenly I felt like a little kid again, filled with a sense of wonder and dread about these letters and what they meant to the man that wrote and received them. I inhaled The Proud Highway faster than a junkie can suck down an eightball, and when that wasn't enough for my fix, I went back and reread everything I could get my hands on. Luckily for me there was a bit of a resurgence of Thompson's popularity because the Fear And Loathing movie was becoming a reality, so the bookstores were all stocked with his backlist and I worked at a bookstore. I would place a copy of Hell's Angels or Fear And Loathing or Better Than Sex into the hands of anybody foolish enough to get close to me.
It is Sunday, July 18, 2010, on what would be the 73rd birthday of Hunter Stockton Thompson. I started the day with some Kentucky whiskey, raising my glass not to Heaven but just to the sky in general. I feel that the good Doctor is not in Heaven or Hell but, rather, some slice of somewhere that he had to build himself, carved out of the rock with the sheer determination that only an old Dopefiend has. The World that Thompson left behind isn't a better place, the politicians aren't less corrupt, and the air is probably a bit more difficult to breathe. Thompson, like anybody else, couldn't change the world. He could change people though and, even though we never met, he certainly changed me.
Happy Birthday, Hunter, you are gone but never forgotten.
("Hunter On Ducati" via RalphSteadman.com.)