Honesty rare as Doctor’s legend ends (Ben Bass column)

I liked Hunter S. Thompson, but it wasn’t like he was my favorite writer. Maybe I just never did enough ether. Still, I found myself terribly upset when I learned early Monday morning that he had committed suicide. Much more than I thought I’d be. I was downhearted about it all day, and I’m still melancholy as I write this column days later.

Though Thompson clearly was nuts, I never expected him to commit suicide. There was no sad streak in his writing; it was outraged, yes, but always humorous and often optimistic. You got the sense that he felt a deep, honest connection to the average reader. At the very least, we loved life, sex, booze, gambling and football, and the Doctor felt he could tell it to us straight. He believed in us. We were an underground army of the sane.

The political lackeys, the government agents, the hypocrites and liars, Nixon and Bush, they weren’t real people. They lived in a limbo of disingenuousness and bad faith, and deserved mockery at best. The real people knew, and one day they would take over; as one journalist legendarily said, “after the revolution, we’ll all write like Thompson.”

I remember reading Thompson’s election article in Rolling Stone last fall. I hadn’t read Rolling Stone in years, but I needed to hear what the Doctor had to say. I remember his optimism, how he called John Kerry “one of us,” and how sure he was of victory because Bush wasn’t like most Americans: he “hates music, football and sex, and he is no fun at all.”

Sadly, he was wrong. Bad faith, disingenuousness and hypocrisy are no longer only the languages of the politicians. They are the only languages that much of America understands.

For those who came of age in this era, the victory of inauthenticity was already taken for granted. We’d come to accept the wasteland. But Thompson, who had maintained his caustic optimism for so long, didn’t realize, not until Nov. 2. That day his vision of a zany, honest America –mostly full of real people he could understand — evaporated, and he couldn’t go on without it. I think the way he gave up jolted more than a few of us who had surrendered in less dramatic ways over the past few years.

A writer friend of mine called suicide Thompson’s birthright, reasoning that he only knew how to live as a younger man and just didn’t have any desire to go on as an old one. This is a happier ending, but I can’t bring myself to believe it. If Kerry were president, Hunter S. Thompson would be sitting on his Colorado porch this very morning, happily drinking and firing shotguns at golf balls with Bill Murray, just like he ought to be.

Perhaps he just felt too old to go on fighting. But Thompson was a betting man, never one to ignore the odds; I can’t help but feel that he thought the fight was lost. From the bottom of my heart, I wish you’d stuck around a little longer, Good Doctor, to see if maybe, now or in four years, we might at least be able to beat the spread.

Ben Bass is a Weinberg senior. He can be reached at [email protected].