Hunter S. Thompson RIP

Today was a sad day.

Almost simultaneously, I learned of two pieces of bad news. One, the first, that Strictly Sex with Dr. Drew, which was set to make its debut on the Discovery Health Channel in the very near future, was indefinitely put on hold. Production has frozen, along with, or so I feared and I assumed, my job. However, I can continue to breathe doom-free air and thank my lucky stars that I can continue tape logging for another one of the production company’s shows. The Turnaround is CNN’s first crack at the reality TV revolution. A little late in the game, Ted, but this show has got success written all over it, because, sure enough, it’s a show about success. The Trump brand has sold well lately. Add to the formula the following ingredients: unflagging entrepreneurial spirit that appeals to the society of ownership, small business development incentive, free publicity, good will toward competitor…and you’ve got a winner. The premise: take a struggling, small independent business (gym, restaurant, design company, etc.), bring in the most successful leader in the industry, and, um, well…turn it around! Right now I’m working on the restaurant episode. A small, cozy, somewhat legendary breakfast restaurant in Chicago is treated to a full body makeover, courtesy of the biggest restaurateur in town and his large troupe of “specialists.” So even though I was really looking forward to a new sexucation from Dr. Drew, it might have to wait a little while…assuming they decide to continue the show, which, in this business, is no sure bet. But just watching the casualties depressed me. I felt so bad. Producers, writers, coordinators, editors, all packing up boxes, hugging one another, thinking morbid thoughts aloud. One guy waved this HUGE dildo in the air and proclaimed: “Everybody listen up! At lunch we will be auctioning off the giant dildo!” Laughter followed, but it paled in comparison to what it sounded like last Friday, when they left for the weekend with the promise of another week of stress ahead of them. But shows are cancelled suddenly, without warning, jobs evaporated...happens all the time.

I remember back when I was working at William Morris, the entire TV department would get an email each time a show was cancelled. As I read about underperforming shows like Push, Nevada and Skin getting slashed from the lineup, I couldn’t help feeling sad about all the people who now had to find new jobs. These were people, from showrunner to extra to PA, who had put so much time and effort into a show only to wake up one morning to find it vanished into thin air. Just last Friday, Strictly Sex was taping with a live studio audience. Now, it’s certified recent memory, only vacated cubicles remain, the ghosts of the lively personalities who once inhabited them likely resurfacing on the credits on the next hot new reality show.

I’m starting to feel my age in this industry. That’s making me all the more happy that I will be leaving it soon. Case in point: Coach Carter, the Samuel L. Jackson high school basketball movie, was a true story pitched and passed repeatedly as a TV MOVIE while I was a Willy Mo, and it was not only greenlit, but also produced as a FEATURE and released less than two years down the road. All the reality TV shows that were dissed and dismissed back then are also getting play…like Celebrity Fit Club, which I saw an ad for last night on VH1. And come on, Rob Lowe as Dr. Vegas? I remember wanting to toss that pilot script in the toilet after my agent’s client recommended I read it. At this rate, Mary Martin is going to make it on the air. Someday, my friends and silent strangers, I’ll tell you all about the one and only Mary Martin, the passionate ambulance chaser of TV movies, and my experience fielding thirty calls a day from her…and her uncanny ability to annoy me often escalating to the point where I would see her number on the caller ID, neglect to answer it, and then immediately get fooled into picking up when she called on a phone with an unknown ID. Apparently, no one told her about the value of going easy on the assistant to get to the agent. But when you’re desperate for success…

At any rate, getting back to the uncertain future, it was very sad today watching the Strictly Sex team file out of the building one last time, especially since they didn’t even know it would be the last time this morning. What can I say? There’s no business like show business.

Almost two whole minutes after I heard that Strictly Sex had died, some PA at the adjoining cubicle blurts out, almost like passing the baton, in a water-cooler kind of tone, to someone walking past, “Did you hear Hunter S. Thompson died?” I jammed my finger in the pause button on the VCR, threw off my headphones, and poked my head above my computer. “What? How?” I must have given him the concerned look of death because he almost jumped. Sorry about that. It’s just…Hunter S. Thompson? One of my favorite frantic stream of consciousness journalists of all time? Who put the notoriously tumultuous 1960s and ‘70s in a marred, swollen, jacked up time capsule magnified by the lens of one of his many twisted personas? Who let rabid observational analysis mediate the moments that no one cared to understand and demolished the over-hyped nonsensical counterculture monuments into media-created oblivion? THAT Hunter S. Thompson? “He shot himself,” said the PA, who, without being able to read my mind, knew no details and offered none. I channeled and got the 411 basics, but that was hardly satisfying. The news lingered with me all day. It was only after managing some solemn memorializing and appreciation with another Hunter S. Thompson fan co-worker that I felt much better. Had I the comfort of such a conversation with a fellow Elliot Smith fan the day he died, wow, I would have gotten through that a lot easier. But now, speaking of Elliot Smith, I’ve arrived in front of my computer tonight with the desire to re-read some articles from my copy of The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time, just like I couldn’t help listening to Elliot’s entire anthology in the days following his suicide, worrying myself wondering why he did it and appreciating the life he did lead as much as I could. They say you can’t go back in time, but I want to know why my favorite, most passionate heroes choose to rid themselves of this world with a bang instead of decaying into that accidental sunset we call dying. A few months ago, Spin published an article that really went deeply into Elliot Smith’s drug problems and posed the thesis that he killed himself NOT because he was on drugs, but just the opposite, because he was clean and couldn’t face the world without the chemicals clouding his painful childhood memories. Articles like this that attempt to answer questions about suicide may not provide solace or logical explanation, but they do help fans feel closer to a brilliant life right before it ended. I’m interested to read Hunter S. Thompson’s version of this very sad day. After all, the reason I love his writing so much is because it was so very personal. Whether the subject was politics, sports, madness, or all of the above, he infused his personality into every word, the sentence structures bounced with enthusiastic overblown description and detached disregard. He might not have been all there, but you felt like you were, high as fuck, captivated in his state of mind, brain mashed like potatoes if that was the case, but did it didn’t really matter now, did it? Through the sunglasses and under the breath exhaled from the cigarette holder, social justice could be done, little people taking matters into their own hands, and fucking with the regulations, a modern day Robin Hood scenario taking hold but never quite materializing in a world with too many Prince Johns. He was modest, unapologetically crazy, inconsequential, and ready to see what anyone had to offer his jumbled impression of words, which will forever offer a hustle on historical events that, lucky for us, he had witnessed and lived to pour out in uncompromising prose. Ever since I took my first hit of Hunter S. Thompson, I’ve always wanted to be a Gonzo journalist, and even if I don’t come close, I still can aspire to the heights of his daily rush, on a daily basis.

I’ll leave you with a sample of Hunter S. Thompson’s more personal work. It speaks for itself and lifts right out of the Author’s Note in The Great Shark Hunt for this occasion.

“I feel like I may as well be sitting up here carving the words for my own tombstone…and when I finish, the only fitting exit will be right straight off this fucking terrace and into the Fountain, twenty-eight storeys below and at least 200 yards out into the air and across Fifth Avenue.

Nobody could follow that act.

Not even me…and in fact the only way I could deal with this eerie situation at all is to make a conscious decision that I have already lived and finished the life I planned to live – (thirteen years longer, in fact) – and everything from now on will be A New Life, a different thing, a gig that ends tonight and starts tomorrow morning.

So if I decide to leap for the Fountain when I finish this memo, I want to make one thing perfectly clear — I would genuinely love to make that leap, and if I don’t I will always consider it a mistake and a failed opportunity, one of the very few serious mistakes of My First Life which is now ending.

But what the hell? I probably won’t do it (for all the wrong reasons), and I’ll probably finish this table of contents and go home for Christmas and then have to live for a hundred more years with all this goddamn gibberish I’m lashing together.

But, Jesus, it would be a wonderful way to go out…and if I do it you bastards are going to owe me a king-hell forty-four-gun salutr (that word is ‘salute,’ goddamn it—and I guess I can’t work this elegant typewriter as well as I thought I could)…

But you know I could, if I just had a little more time.

H.S.T. #1 R.I.P.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home