Abbey and Thompson: Tribal Relations

Hunter Thompson

“Dr. Jeckyl” Hunter S. Thompson, Shooting / Woody Creets, Colorado / 1968, Photo By Bob Chamberlain

Part 1

A few years ago, my friend Ken Wright invited me to speak at a gathering at Maria’s Bookstore in Durango commemorating the 20th anniversary of Edward Abbey’s passing. It is a matter of record — rather than just yet another example of my faltering memory — that I attempted to decline. Understand, please: It does not take much to convince me to visit Durango, one of my favorite towns and the only place I know that successfully mates the alpine aesthetic with the Southwest/desert aesthetic. But to speak to a gathering of Abbey aficionados about, well, Abbey? That was a bit off-putting for several very compelling reasons, not the least of which being that, compared to the Abbey faithful, I am particularly unversed in Holy Scripture. I mean, I read several of his books like 30 years ago and am of course basically familiar with the man, his philosophies and his work via devotee osmosis. But, do I raise my arms toward the heavens while gyrating and singing praises of Cactus Ed? Sorry.

Not to worry, though, Ken assured me, all I’d have to do was wing it for a few minutes and mention that Abbey and I had once shared an enjoyable chitchat (about, of all things, Mountain Gazette) (I was tripping on acid at the time, which made the chitchat a bit more eventful in my mind that it likely was in Abbey’s mind) and everything would work out just fine.

So, OK, I make the eight-hour drive to Durango, hook up with a couple of cohorts in journalistic crime, consume a few pre-event beverages, show up at Maria’s at the appointed time, notice that the place is packed, settle in, consume another couple beers and only then eyeball the official program — where (and here I think it’s fair to say my bloodshot orbs popped out of their sockets) I learn the name of the featured speaker: Me! Fuck! You have got to be goddamned kidding!

Ahead of me are four other speakers, all of whom spend 10 or so minutes bearing knowledgeable witness about Abbey and the profound, DNA-level effect Abbey’s writings have had on their lives. They could all quote Abbey passages by heart! They all had tears in their eyes! Members of the audience, all of whom looked, from my inebriated vantage point, like they had just gone on a shopping binge at abbeyattire.com, were, likewise, tearing up and nodding their noggins contemplatively, reflectively and knowingly.

And I’m sitting there in the figurative green room soiling my decidedly non-abbeyattire.com skivvies. It was like one of those horrible dreams, where you’re on a stage, about to perform in a band in front of a large audience, but you don’t know any of the songs. You don’t even know how to play whatever instrument it is you’re holding.

To make matters worse, Art Goodtimes, who is now MG’s poetry editor, but who, until that point, I had never met, whispers into my ear words to the effect that he had talked to several people prior to the event about how much they were looking forward to hearing me speak about Abbey.

You want to talk about a mind that suddenly found itself racing, though, given all the beer I had consumed, “racing” at that juncture was decidedly a relative term.

Then, inevitably, the last of those four pre-M. John speakers starts winding down and Ken stands before the crowd and introduces me with a bit more fanfare than I deserved. As I took my place to a round of very courteous applause, I still did not know what I was going to say. Usually, I am a very prepared public speaker. Not this time. This time, it was pure extemporaneous discourse at its most rudimentary, delivered with a decided slur.

Fortunately, my ass was at least partially saved by the fact that this was not the first Abbey event I had interfaced with. Several years prior, I attended (as an audience member only) some sort of memorial service for Cactus Ed (maybe it was the 15th anniversary of his passing) at Ken Sleight’s astounding ranch outside Moab. (Ken is the person upon whom the Seldom Seen Smith character was at least partially based in “The Monkey Wrench Gang.”) There was some conceptual contretemps between the organizers. From what I remember (and forgive me if I don’t have this quite right), the event was supposed to have been a somewhat informal assembly, wherein numerous of Abbey’s old drinking and poker cronies would sit around the campfire telling Abbey stories. Somehow, it morphed (or was co-opted, depending on whose version you lean toward) (I lean toward neither) into a fundraiser for the Glen Canyon Institute, with an admission fee and a set agenda of speakers — some of whom barely knew Abbey — and such. This morph affected me personally not one whit. I had a great time and very much enjoyed hearing various Abbey tales related by the lofty likes of Katie Lee, Ken Sanders, Jack Loeffler, David Peterson and, most of all, the incomparable John Nichols, who is simply one of the most entertaining public speakers it has ever been my pleasure to enjoy.

What I brought with me from Ken Sleight’s ranch — besides a rum-induced hangover — was a keen awareness of Abbey-based sectarianism. More than that, as one of my friends — a Moab resident with a finger on the sociological pulse of all things Slickrock Country based — observed, the event was defined by intra-Abbey fractures. The Old Testament Abbey-ites versus the New Testament Abbey-ites. The Abbey fundamentalists versus the born-again followers of Cactus Ed. The drinking and poker-playing apostles versus the worshipful newbies. Though I did not comprehend the specifics, it was clear, even from the comfortable sidelines, there was some bad blood circulating in the heart of the Abbey tribe.

“Tribe” — that was the operative word/concept, and it sprang forth from my lips as I stood there, borderline speechless, in front of those Abbey fans at Maria’s Bookstore in Durango.

I began by relating some very hastily concocted (read: on the fly in very surreal real time) observations about the notion of tribalism as it relates to writers and their fans. I then asked those gathered if they knew the name of the only other contemporary Mountain Time Zone-dwelling writer whose work/persona resulted in the same kind of life-defining/re-defining influence that Abbey inspired, the kind of influence that makes people drop out of school, quit their job, leave Providence or Utica, buy a beater pick-up truck and head West sans plan.

Foreheads scrunched, but no answer was forthcoming.

I gave a hint: Recently passed away.

Dozens of hyper-literate faces contorted and mental gears turned.

Lived in Colorado for more than 30 years.

Nothing.

I was a bit surprised, because the name was so obvious that, when I finally answered my own question, people slapped themselves on the forehead.

Hunter S. Thompson was another writer whose power and influence was so inspiring that people, untold thousands of people, changed the way they looked at their lives and went about living as a result of that power and influence. With Hunter, fans, especially those aspiring to be writers, modified the cadence of their narratives, both literary and personal. People began to believe that, unless you drank huge quantities of alcohol and ingested significant quantities of recreational drugs, there’s no way you could ever truly be a wordsmith. The first person jumped headlong into the world of journalism, with every entry-level reporter from Findlay, Ohio, to Whitefish, Montana, trying desperately to cover school board meetings the way Hunter would. “We were somewhere around the approval of the agenda when the drugs kicked in.” Words like “screed, ”“gig,” “greedhead” and especially “gonzo” hit the lexicographic mainstream like a freight train. People started dressing in Hawaiian shirts, drinking Wild Turkey, even if they hated it, and venturing forth hajj-like to the Woody Creek Tavern in hopes of touching the hem of Hunter S. Thompson’s Bermuda shorts.

As I have already indicated, it was thus with Abbey also. Though I do not believe Abbey had as much stylistic influence over aspiring writers, he certainly greatly inspired the subject-based choices of many slingers of prose. “Nature” writing lost a lot of its nerdistic spin as a result of Abbey. You no longer needed to just opine about the beauty of mountains, deserts and rivers (though that still had to be part of the equation, often ad nauseum); you could also now write about drinking beer and chainsawing billboards amidst the beauty of the mountains, deserts and rivers! It may be hard to conceive now, but that was a big stylistic breakthrough, certainly as much as of a stylistic breakthrough as Hunter Thompson’s self-immersion within stories that, from the perspective of the old school, really had nothing to do with him.

Abbey’s influence was also gravitational, in that people actually packed up and moved to the places he wrote about, to the point that many folks now believe Abbey unwittingly contributed to the Californication of the West by way of his effusive verbiage. (Certainly, there was some of this with Hunter, but not as much.) Like Hunter, people adjusted their personal styles to mimic Abbey’s. They wore clothing that looked like what Abbey wore. They drove vehicles that would meet with Abbey’s approval. They tossed beer cans out of truck windows because Abbey did. They shot their TV sets, just like Abbey. I have over the years often wondered if Abbey had written and/or said that people ought to wear tutus and bang their heads against a brick wall, if we wouldn’t have suddenly found our emergency rooms filled to overflowing with perplexingly attired concussion victims. Likewise, if Hunter had written that he was now smoking Pepto-Bismol paste, I wonder how long it would have been before every Bloody-Mary-bearing hipster in Aspen was walking around with bright pink lips and a minty cough.

I asked the crowd at Maria’s that night if they knew of any other writers who boasted such tribal followings. Certainly, none in the Mountain Time Zone, at least not in our generation. Even expanding the search parameters yielded only a few possibilities. Some felt that perhaps Hemingway and his Lost-Generation cohorts had significant lifestyle-based followings that perhaps reached tribal-esque proportions. And maybe Salinger influenced a tribe of Holden Caulfield wannabes, though, by definition, a Caulfield wannabe would not be enthusiastic enough to form tribal bonds. Certainly, the Beat writers had near-tribal followings that moved along the road toward the same points-West that Kerouac and Cassady followed, but that was a bit before my time (though not by much). Contemporary to my aging corpus delecti would maybe be the late Bruce Chatwin, whose “In Patagonia” and “The Songlines” inspired a sub-generation of erudite, mostly Continental travelers with likely contrived interests if Sotheby-ish historic arcania to start buying and bearing Moleskine notebooks as they wound their way through the bleak Argentinean steppes and the parched Australian Outback.

And that was about all I could come up with.

So, the question, then, that begs asking is: What was it about Edward Abbey and Hunter S. Thompson that resulted in these tribal followings?

Before delving into the difficult process of attempting to answer that question, I guess I should point out that, more than any other publication, Mountain Gazette existed/exists at the nexus of the Abbey and Thompson camps. Abbey wrote literally dozens of pieces for the Gazette in the 1970s. To this day, we count among our bylines people who were some of Abbey’s closest friends — Bowden, Lee, Peacock, Loeffler, Peterson, among others.

And, though Hunter only ever wrote three pieces for us (all after our resurrection) (and even that’s something of an exaggeration, as those three pieces were all piles of disjointed notes that were frantically pasted together with deadline looming), the Hunter camp is intertwined into our ink-stained circulatory system even more than Abbey’s was. The man we list in our staff box as our Guardian Angel Emeritus, the man responsible for the very existence of Mountain Gazette, George Stranahan, sold Hunter the land that became the infamous Owl Farm outside Woody Creek. Stranahan used to own the Woody Creek Tavern, and, upon many occasions, helped Hunter out fiscally. MG’s second editor, Gaylord Guenin, was very close with Hunter, as were Curtis Robinson — who partnered with Stranahan and yours truly to resurrect the beast you now hold in your hands — and the late-Donna Dowling, Curtis’ wife, who was responsible for coming up with the idea for the compilation volumes of Hunter’s letters. Curtis was a regular at Hunter’s Monday Night Football gatherings and attended his final, cannon-based send-off into the hereafter.

Thus, I believe we have some karmic right, if not obligation, to presume to entertain, if not answer, the question already posed: What was it about Edward Abbey and Hunter S. Thompson that resulted in tribal followings? Tribal followings that continue to grow, 24 years after the passing of Abbey and seven years after the passing of Thompson.

I mean — and there is no tactful way to say this — I know of very few people, even the staunchest members of Thompson’s and Abbey’s respective camps, who would contend they were the best writers (whatever that means) of their generation and/or area. Yet, while there is no shortage of fans of Wallace Stegner, Cormac McCarthy, E. Annie Proulx, Terry Tempest Williams, Jim Harrison or Wendell Berry, I don’t believe we have throngs of groupies picking up and moving to Henry County, Kentucky, because Berry lives there or adjusting their clothing styles to meet those of Harrison when he’s wintering in Patagonia, Arizona.

Part 2

It might be interesting, if not illuminating, to compare and contrast some subject/writing-based perspectives of Abbey and Hunter, who, from what I have gathered, never met each other. Consider this a warm-up exercise for the real meat of the story.

Television

One of the most-famous photos of Abbey was of him posing, self-satisfactorily, rifle in hand, next to a TV that he had just shot to death. Thompson was a notorious TV addict, with newscasts and sporting events being his on-air drugs-of-choice.

“How to Overthrow the System: brew your own beer; kick in your Tee Vee; kill your own beef; build your own cabin and piss off the front porch whenever you bloody well feel like it.”

— Abbey

“The TV business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.”

— Thompson

“There are times, however, and this is one of them, when even being right feels wrong. What do you say, for instance, about a generation that has been taught that rain is poison and sex is death? If making love might be fatal and if a cool spring breeze on any summer afternoon can turn a crystal blue lake into a puddle of black poison right in front of your eyes, there is not much left except TV and relentless masturbation. It’s a strange world. Some people get rich and others eat shit and die.”

— Thompson

“The room was very quiet. I walked over to the TV set and turned it on to a dead channel-white noise at maximum decibels, a fine sound for sleeping, a powerful continuous hiss to drown out everything strange.”

— Thompson

Vehicles

I once sat on the hood of Abbey’s old pick-up truck, and Mountain Gazette once ran a story about his old Cadillac being auctioned off on eBay (there were no bids). Despite the anti-car-ism displayed in many of his wilderness-based writing, Abbey seemed very Cactus-Ed image conscious regarding his rides: Beat-up, gas-guzzling and large. Hunter was more of a performance guy. He liked fast. The opening scene in “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas” establishes some common ground with Abbey, in that it takes place in a Caddy. The one time I ever saw Hunter drive off into the sunset, it was on a motorcycle.

“The longest journey begins with a single step, not with the turn of an ignition key. That’s the best thing about walking, the journey itself. It doesn’t much matter whether you get where you’re going or not. You’ll get there anyway. Every good hike brings you eventually back home. Right where you started.”

— Abbey

“My concept of death for a long time was to come down that mountain road at 120 and just keep going straight right there, burst out through the barrier and hang out above all that . . . and there I’d be, sitting in the front seat, stark naked, with a case of whiskey next to me and a case of dynamite in the trunk … honking the horn, and the lights on, and just sit there in space for an instant, a human bomb, and fall down into that mess of steel mills. It’d be a tremendous goddam explosion. No pain. No one would get hurt. I’m pretty sure, unless they’ve changed the highway, that launching place is still there. As soon as I get home, I ought to take the drive just to check it out.”

— Thompson

Religion

“Whatever we cannot understand easily we call God; this saves wear and tear on the brain tissues.”

— Abbey

“God is a sound people make when they’re too tired to think anymore. There has got to be a God; the world could not have become so fucked up by chance alone.”

— Abbey

“I have never seen much point in getting heavy with stupid people or Jesus freaks, just as long as they don’t bother me. In a world as weird and cruel as this one we have made for ourselves, I figure anybody who can find peace and personal happiness without ripping off somebody else deserves to be left alone. They will not inherit the earth, but then neither will I… And I have learned to live, as it were, with the idea that I will never find peace and happiness, either. But as long as I know there’s a pretty good chance I can get my hands on either one of them every once in a while, I do the best I can between high spots.”

— Thompson

Weapons

Here we have common ground. Abbey certainly seemed to enjoy his rifles. Hunter, of course, was into anything that boasted significant firepower.

“The tank, the B-52, the fighter-bomber, the state-controlled police and military are the weapons of dictatorship. The rifle is the weapon of democracy. Not for nothing was the revolver called an ‘equalizer.’ Egalite implies liberte. And always will. Let us hope our weapons are never needed — but do not forget what the common people of this nation knew when they demanded the Bill of Rights: An armed citizenry is the first defense, the best defense, and the final defense against tyranny.”

— Abbey

“America… just a nation of two hundred million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns and no qualms about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.”

— Thompson

“Do I have any illegal weapons? No. I have a .454 magnum revolver, which is huge, and it’s absolutely legal. One day I was wild-eyed out here with Johnny Depp, and we both ordered these guns from Freedom, Wyo., and got them the next day through FedEx. Mainly, I have rifles, pistols, shotguns; I have a lot of those. But everything I have is top quality; I don’t have any junk weapons. I wouldn’t have any military weapon around here, except as an artifact of some kind. Given Ashcroft and the clear blueprint of this administration to make everything illegal and everything suspicious — how about suspicion of being a terrorist sympathizer? Goddamn, talk about filling up your concentration camps. But, yeah, my police record is clean. This is not a fortified compound.”

— Thompson

Wilderness

No doubt, the preservation of the wild world was a large part of Abbey’s shtick. He could scarcely pen a paragraph without including some ode to nature untrammeled. Hunter was more against development, especially if there was greed involved, which there almost always is. He campaigned against the expansion of the Aspen Airport, using the wonderful slogan, “There is some shit we won’t eat.” One of his platforms during his unsuccessful run for sheriff of Pitkin County was tearing up the asphalt in downtown Aspen and restoring it with sod.

“Why this cult of wilderness?… because we like the taste of freedom; because we like the smell of danger.”

— Abbey

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.”

— Abbey

“It will be the policy of the Sheriff’s office savagely to harass all those engaged in any form of land-rape. This will be done by acting, with utmost dispatch, on any and all righteous complaints. My first act in office — after setting up the machinery for punishing dope-dealers — will be to establish a Research Bureau to provide facts on which any citizen can file a Writ of Seizure, a Writ of Stoppage, a Writ of Fear, of Horror … yes … even a Writ of Assumption … against any greedhead who has managed to get around our antiquated laws and set up a tar-vat, scum-drain or gravel-pit. These writs will be pursued with overweening zeal … and always within the letter of the law. Selah.”

— Thompson

Music

Abbey, a flute player, wrote quite a bit of his love of classical music, while Hunter was more of a rock-and-roll guy.

“Music clouds the intellect but clarifies the heart.”

— Abbey

“Grand opera is a form of musical entertainment for people who hate music.”

— Abbey

“I feel the same way about disco as I do about herpes.”

— Thompson

“Music has always been a matter of Energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel. I have always needed Fuel. I am a serious consumer. On some nights I still believe that a car with the gas needle on empty can run about fifty more miles if you have the right music very loud on the radio.”

— Thompson

Women

Both Hunter and Abbey were considered serous ladies’ men, though Abbey wrote more about women than did Hunter. Abbey was married five times, Hunter twice. I’ve met both Hunter’s widow, Anita, and Abbey’s, Clark. They both seemed like very nice and — dare I say it? — normal ladies.

“A pretty girl can do no wrong.”

— Abbey

“Sex without love is as hollow and ridiculous as love without sex.”

— Thompson

Sports

Serious differences here.

“Football is a game for trained apes. That, in fact, is what most of the players are —retarded gorillas wearing helmets and uniforms. The only thing more debased is the surrounding mob of drunken monkeys howling the gorillas on.”

— Abbey

“Baseball serves as a good model for democracy in action: Every player is equally important and each has a chance to be a hero.”

— Abbey

“I am more than just a Serious basketball fan. I am a life-long Addict. I was addicted from birth, in fact, because I was born in Kentucky.”

— Thompson

“There is a progression of understanding vis-à-vis pro football that varies drastically with the factor of distance — physical, emotional, intellectual and every other way. Which is exactly the way it should be, in the eyes of the amazingly small number of people who own and control the game, because it is this finely managed distance factor that accounts for the high-profit mystique that blew the sacred institution of baseball off its ‘‘national pastime’ pedestal in less than fifteen years.”

— Thompson

Politics

Here I fear to tread, because I both Abbey and Thompson zealously resisted categorization. I’m sure there have been doctoral dissertations penned about this. From the sidelines, it seems fair enough to say they were both individualists who loathed the centralization of political power and the corruption that centralization spawns. While Abbey would keep his distance from politics, Hunter jumped headlong into its midst, especially if there was any change of free booze.

“A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.”

— Abbey

“Anarchism is founded on the observation that since few men are wise enough to rule themselves, even fewer are wise enough to rule others.”

— Abbey

“Civilization is a youth with a Molotov cocktail in his hand. Culture is the Soviet tank or L.A. cop that guns him down.”

— Abbey

“Grown men do not need leaders.”

— Abbey

“The brutal reality of politics would be probably intolerable without drugs.”

— Thompson

“All we have to do is get out and vote, while it’s still legal, and we will wash those crooked warmongers out of the White House.”

— Thompson

“I miss Nixon. Compared to these Nazis we have in the White House now, Richard Nixon was a flaming liberal.”

— Thompson

“Politics is the art of controlling your environment.”

— Thompson

Intoxication

Abbey and Thompson were known to imbibe.

“A drink a day keeps the shrink away.”

— Abbey

“I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.”

— Thompson

“Good people drink good beer.”

— Thompson

“Crack is ruining the drug culture.”

— Thompson

Part 3

The previous section was more than just a gratuitous excuse to incorporate a slew of Abbey and Thompson quotes into this story. It serves — at least I hope it does — as Exhibit A regarding why these two particular writers have fan bases that almost resemble cults. Both Thompson and Abbey were masters of provocative bon mots, easily quotable one-liners that were more than just pithy examples of wit; rather, they were distilled versions of operational literary and lifestyle philosophy, palpable quips that were far more than the sum of their meager syllabic parts. When it comes to cult establishment and maintenance, nothing beats easily quotable material that can be transferred to T-shirts and posters, and both Thompson and Abbey were in a league of their own — and not just by contemporary Mountain Time Zone standards. I’ll put Abbey’s and Thompson’s aphorisms up against those of Will Rogers, Dorothy Parker, Ambrose Bierce and maybe even Mark Twain any day of the week.

There is, of course, much more to it than that; there is the substance of the quotes, the context of those quotes and what those quotes represent relative to the two men who transcripturally birthed them.

The above-listed quotes show several personality characteristics that I believe are critical components of the tribal mentality that defines the followers of Cactus Ed and Dr. Gonzo.

• Both these men had big balls. They were not just in your face at a safe literary distance; they were brave, even confrontational out in the real world. Sure, they each wrote some shit just to get a rise out of people, but they also wrote shit that needed saying, shit that few other people had the stones to put on paper. Abbey spoke in favor of wolf reintroduction to ranchers in rural Montana. Thompson hung with the Hell’s Angels. At the same time, they both enjoyed agitating the ants’ nest. Provocation was not just a moral calling for these two literary icons; it was also a form of recreation.

• They both redefined literary genres. For Abbey, it was the “nature” writing label he apparently disliked so much. For Thompson, it was mainly political reporting. Neither arena was ever the same again once Abbey and Thompson got done with them. I guess it can now be argued from the safety of temporal distance that their genre-bending/expanding was short-lived enough that, today, it might be referred to as “influence” rather than “redefinition.” But, as one who is old enough to remember the impact of these gentlemen, as one who can remember days when newspaper reporters still had to refer to themselves as “a visitor” in their own stories, I can’t stress enough the near-tectonic shift that Thompson and Abbey caused on literary styles we now consider status quo. Sure, both of them had their styles co-opted to the point of dilution by others, but that was not their fault.

• They both were creators of fiction and non-fiction, though, with Thompson, with the exception of “The Rum Diary,” the line was a bit more blurry than it was with Abbey. This versatility gave both writers the chance to cover more potential groupie ground. Many are the fans who count “Desert Solitaire” as their favorite Abbey book, while many are the fans who prefer “The Monkey Wrench Gang.” Many Hunter fans prefer “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas” — which even the Good Doctor admitted was mostly a work of fiction, while others prefer the more non-fictiony “Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.”

• Both of them were as much literary figures/characters as they were writers. The biographers of both Cactus Ed and Dr. Gonzo have spent considerable verbiage dissecting this pre-requisite for the cultish followings that gathered, and gather still, at their feet. I personally do not believe that either Thompson or Abbey set out with the idea of establishing their literary alter egos. Neither employed marketing firms to hone their image. Neither, to my knowledge, launched any lines of “Fear & Loathing” luggage or “The Monkey Wrench Gang” action figures. Still, at a certain point in their careers, Edward Abbey became, in the eyes of his followers, Cactus Ed, and Hunter Thompson became Dr. Gonzo. And these alter egos are perhaps the most crucial underpinning of the tribalism that separated Abbey and Thompson from writers of equal critical standing, from, say, John Nichols and William Eastlake.

Of course, not every writer wants a literary persona, especially if it comes with a cult following. Most don’t. But both Abbey and Thompson seemed to wear the trappings of Cactus Ed and Dr. Gonzo well. At least until those trappings became frayed. Abbey said he was done writing about the Southwest. Maybe he had simply run out of material. Maybe he had grown tired of always having Cactus Ed along for the ride.

And Hunter … shit .. can you imagine having to live up to the image of a man who snorted coke for breakfast? At least Abbey could still maintain his Cactus Ed image by simply walking through the desert and muttering something about development being like cancer cells. In order to keep Dr. Gonzo alive and kicking, Hunter had to maintain a physiologically unsustainable lifestyle, which he apparently did, until that fateful day in February of 2005. Of course, even his most ardent admirers will admit that his writing suffered greatly as a result of Dr. Gonzo’s inebriated presence. It’s painful to read in the various biographies how difficult it had become for Thompson to write anything. I guess, though, from the perspective of a devotee, all that is necessary is that, once upon a time, Hunter S. Thompson wrote a book called “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas.” That alone raises him to mythic proportions.

It is too easy to dwell upon endings, about Hunter being shot out of a cannon and about Abbey being carried off into the desert.

While those endings are certainly fitting, when it comes to the tribes that follow them both, the scripture was writ in stone well before those emblematic journeys into whatever’s next.

Edward Abbey and Hunter S. Thompson, though undeniably themselves influenced by the lives, works and thoughts of others before them, were their own men. They created iconic essays, articles and books on their own terms, and, as a result, their legends grew to the point that those legends defined them in the eyes of many. They blazed trails that every artist would do well to tromp upon, if only to understand that everything you create ought to be brave and honest.

But I think both Thompson and Abbey would want people to remember that influence and emulation are two entirely different things.

After that, a whole slew of us left Maria’s Bookstore and walked across Main Avenue to the El Rancho and drank more beer.

Read about Fayhee’s list of things we have won and lost since 1972.

 

17 Comments

  • Blue Eyes says:

    Well done M. John Fayhee. I’ve been married to an Abbey/Thompson wannabe for 28 years. I feel a lot better about that after reading your piece. Happy 40th Anniversary MG.

  • Willis says:

    This is…brilliant. Nice work! Some of my favorite authors of all time, it never occurred to me striking similarities. I think that you could also through Kerouac and Steinbeck into the mix without hurting too many peoples’ feelings. As always, great work MJF – keep writing em and we will keep reading em!

  • Willis says:

    …and be through I of course meant throw – better late than never!

  • Henry H. says:

    Great comparison! I noticed the change in “outdoor” writing the other day. Having grown up reading Field and Stream and Outdoor Life, I was amused by a story written in a flyfishing magazine I flipped through in Barnes and Noble. Abbey’s tone was all over it (beer included).

  • peter o whitmer says:

    Dear MG,
    A good friend and Aspenite referred me to your 40th Anniversary Edition. Congratulations! And, should anyone, by some strangeness in the ether, be interested in the origin of HST’s ‘Death Wish’ of driving the dynamite and Wild Turkey-filled car straight out over the steel mills of Birmingham, AL, it can be read in its enireity in my biography of Hunter, When The Going Gets Weird.
    Print Version: page 230.
    Kindle Version [fewer dead trees] Location # Hmmmm … well, it is the last page of Chapter 18, ” ….. As in Magic.” Search for the word “jaguar XK 120″ or “XK 140″
    And enjoy, as we all did these two greats, and the article about them!
    Gracias!
    POW

  • Matt says:

    jesus we get it, you like to drink beer, fayhee. i don’t give a shit. good writing though, aside from that.

    • M. John Fayhee says:

      This just in from Fayhee (who, he says, at least uses his full name in print) (and, he says, he knows how to capitalize words that need capitalization) to Matt: Fayhee says he doesn’t give a shit that you don’t give a shit. (Actually, that’s the PG version … he said even worse stuff than that.) But he thanks Matt for the “good writing” part. He adds that he now needs a beer.

  • kerry says:

    Hi in the august 2012 addition there was a book review about a man who mapped, explored navigated all of the rivers west of the Mississippi….. or something like that. It was supposed to be released this month. I had saved the review but it has now been misplaced. Anyone out there know the name or author of the book? I want to get it for my Dad.
    Thanks

  • M. John Fayhee says:

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