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Oakland 2004 Carijama parade

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February 16, 2008

Seemed To Work
Saturday. I received a copy of Gonzo, the life of Hunter S. Thompson this week and, although my reading habits have degenerated over the years, I've read some of the sections. It seems Mr. Thompson more than wrote of his world, he - well, what can I say? - actually lived many of his off the wall adventures. Drugs, long nights, more drugs, more long nights. Jan Wenner, founder and editor of Rolling Stone whatever his irons in the Thompson fire, seems to confirm it: Thompson was something else. I've always assumed the writing came from somewhere inside, the drugs and alcohol and the rest not unfamiliar to him, but the writer allowing himself a certain flowering of imagination, a certain, well, stretching of the truth.

It seems I'm wrong. If not wrong, at least not understanding what “Gonzo” is about. Something like Hemingway and the rest, you actually had to dodge bullets and drink Greek wine until you died or nearly died if you wanted to write. How strenuous. How, um, high the tariff. What's writing about? Bullets, terror, drugs, throwing the dice? Why not a certain facility with words all wrapped around a couple of marijuana cigarettes smoked in the privacy of your own home with the doors locked? Why this need to skirt the abyss? I had similar thoughts when I found myself in the army.

Still, as old as I am, these considerations are no longer relevant. I'm not starting out, I'm not even pretending to starting out on the road to writerhood, on the road to, well, On The Road. And actually, what am I really saying here? Thompson, like Kerouac, was a writer who, when you read the book, you wanted to meet. That was never my ambition. Maybe go so far as Tom Wolf, still alive and kicking I believe, making do with a white suit. No need for bullets, no need for interminable upper nights, downer days and acid flashbacks, a white suit and a decent turn of phrase providing enough visibility to keep the book sales up without shutting down the body.

Where did that come from?

There's a certain “jolt” when you read something good by a writer like Thompson. The Wenner book is a collection of short reminiscences by a large number of people who worked or hung out with Thompson, Johnny Depp, for example, wrote the introduction, but they're able to bring back, if not the writing itself, then the “kick”, the “flavor” of when you read it for the first time. The editors, who were given the first draft chapter of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to read, described their reactions: the laughter, the absolute buzz.

That was my memory of first reading it in San Francisco, working as I was in a three piece Brooks Brothers' suit at an impossibly inappropriate job down on Sansome Street and here out of the blue is this guy who's changed the world with his words. My world, anyway. That's a real high and for all of my complaining that I'm not reading anymore, it's nice to get an unexpected taste, a memory, a shot of adrenaline that found me pacing the apartment with my head in an earlier time and place.

So you recommend it?

I've bought other books about Thompson since his death. This one, for whatever reason, seemed to work.

Added later. Saturday nights, even though every day is or can be a Saturday night when you're retired, still holds a little magic. For some reason I went through some of the old negatives and in the process cleaned up the area around the computer, moving books I've had on the floor to one of the new book cases, moving the jewel cases and their CD's off the kitchen counter and into, again, open space in the book cases, freeing up space, making my work area more, um, comfortable. Oh, and I replaced the three small incandescent bulbs in the cheap assed chandelier with 23 watt fluorescent bulbs, 5000K daylight fluorescent bulbs, which are probably too bright, but give me a lift. Pretty good for an old guy on a Saturday night, don't you think?

The photograph was taken at the 2004 Carijama parade with a Nikon F5 probably mounted with a 135mm f 2.0 Nikkor lens on Ektachrome 100.