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Upend a bottle of whiskey, come out swinging

Thursday, March 3, 2005

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Written by Erinn White

Following the bizarre life of Hunter S. Thompson and his recent death, the announcement that his ashes will be shot from a cannon, as per his last wishes, is no real surprise.

The man, after all, was a bit unusual. Like the story of how I came to love him.

Finding Generation of Swine on a parental bookshelf taught me something wonderful that I was not learning in grade school: power was a thing to be despised. Also, that words are strength, they make the shakes and rattles and quakes that disrupt a normalized version of the terrible world we inhabit.
Credit is due to Thompson for giving modern journalists the gift of the word “I.” He was the first among us to know that a story is more real and more fierce when a journalist admits and accounts for their place in -- and contribution to -- the story. A writer is not, after all, a machine. Our stories are writing themselves into the pages of our homes, workplaces, schools and newspapers in a regular and daily way. The least that a journalist, with as much power as we hold, can do is fess up.

It’s also given generations of writers license to (re)insert themselves into their stories, where we belong and where we are at home.
In a statement, Thompson's widow and his son said: "Though we will miss him bitterly, we understand his decision. Let the world know that Dr. Hunter S. Thompson died with his glass full, a fearless man, a warrior."
Thompson showed us our cultural sense of fear and loathing, and we know, because of him, that a journalist is a fighter who must show no fear. Today, newspapermen are commodities bought and sold like hotcakes. Thompson, barely gone, will spin in his grave as many aspirants among us are bought and sold by big networks, big government, and big corporations.

It’s a shot to the heart. I mean no disrespect to the man who may well be remembered as a gunshot suicide. Just as many may remember the man who gave us Doonesbury’s Raoul Duke and a pathological fear of bats in the desert. But to recall only these things does his contribution a disservice.

Because at heart, Thompson was in search of freedom. One can easily imagine him barricaded in, at war with an establishment that hated and continues to spread a global hatred of real freedom. For whatever his guns, fights with biker gangs, tiffs with politicians, and campaigns for sheriff were worth, they remain for me an emblem of the kind of freedom he sought through writing.

Thompson said, "Freedom is something that dies unless it's used". And whatever else, Thompson’s writing is freedom. This is a goodbye to him uttered with a real sense of loss. It is also a hello to the generation of writers who inherit the generation of swine, those who know their own power, and how to use it for change.


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