Saturday, October 22, 2011

Remembrances of Things Weird: Hunter S. Thompson

Johnny Depp and I don't have a whole lot in common. One of us is a good-looking pseudo-swashbuckler over whom hot women melt all round the world. The other one's an actor. One thing Depp and I do share, however, is an appreciation for the late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson and his writings. Thompson's never far from my mind, and he has been even less so lately since my television started carpet-bombing me a few days ago with trailers for the upcoming release of Depp's new movie, "The Rum Diary". That movie, based on Thompson's 1961 novel of the same title, marks Depp's second portrayal of a character not far removed from the Good Doctor himself (the first being in the 1998 film version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas).

Thompson's writing generally, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas particularly, hugely influenced me in my youth. Not that my writing's anything like Thompson's -- I've never been able to loosen the leash on my insanity with nearly as much regularity and gusto as he could on his. I suppose under the totality of my circumstances that's a good thing, though I'm sure Thompson would cogently disagree.

I had the great fortune to meet Thompson on a couple of occasions. The last time was on a spring evening in the late '80s at a genteel cocktail reception hosted by Vanderbilt University to honor what was then Thompson's most recent book. One of us was inebriated, and the other was intoxicated, but it slips my mind who was which. In any event, we were enjoying a robust exchange of inappropriate ideas about politics and the arts until things suddenly swerved into savagery when I suggested the title of his latest release, Generation of Swine, was "too wordy." Amid the delicate tinkling of champagne flutes, Thompson loudly retorted through a blast of acrid cigarette smoke that I was too patently illiterate to read above a third-grade level, which he attributed to genetic issues on my part rendering me functionally ineducable. With suitable professional gravitas, I replied, "As your attorney, I advise you to drink either far more or far less before appearing at events attended by people. Any other choice makes you stumble around on the same squishy ground reserved for shameless pimps and delusional blowhards." This sent Thompson into a rage. He flapped his arms around like a giant, rabid bat and screeched at me, "You're way too young to be my attorney." Then he reached out and yanked the full beard I had at the time and added, "You're not even old enough to shave."

That was the precise moment when I knew beyond doubt one day I'd be a writer.

The vast majority of the foregoing is absolutely true; nothing but cold, hard facts. This is especially so of the parts I didn't make up. The warmer, softer quasi-facts I improvised to weave into a movie script I'm working on and will never finish that's peripherally about Thompson. Depp's dropping by next week to do a read-through, and then he's taking me to see "The Rum Diary."

I wouldn't miss it for the world.

“Life has become immeasurably better since I have been forced to stop taking it seriously.”
~~ Hunter S. Thompson  ~~

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