“If you’re going to be crazy, you have to get
paid for it or else you’re going to be locked up.”
– Hunter S. Thompson
The fallout after the failure of the Hippie Experiment? Well, it was never going to be easy. That the voice of hope would come from a paranoid drug-fuelled nihilist with a bottomless love for the promise of America was, however, an apposite blessing. And so it is that Hunter S. Thompson takes his place in the SydArthur Festival as the literary renegade for whom W. Blake’s ‘road of excess’ quite literally led to the palace of wisdom. By drugging to the very edge of human capabilities, Thompson tore away every remaining psychic shield that had defended him from his own Western Culture. Then and only then was Thompson – by now naked, mewling and defenceless – able to confront those ‘difficult truths’ facing post-1960s America. His ruminations were not some self-pitying apologia but funny, brutally satirical, deeply insightful and, ultimately, so very useful to a traumatised generation who – when Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was published in 1971 – had not yet even realised just how badly they would need the death of their dream to be crystallised, let alone by a member of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws AND the National Rifle Association.
For a brief but critical time, Thompson was the voice of the anti-establishment – so iconic that he was even turned into a cartoon character in the seminal comic strip Doonesbury. But more to the point, so iconoclastic was he that he turned himself into a real-life cartoon character – a deliberate move to insert and thrust himself into the centre of the action in order to personally seek and tell the truth. And, as we know from the likes of Charles M. Schulz, have not some of the greatest pearls of wisdom come from cartoons? Thompson’s pioneering Gonzo journalism was self-parodying and self-sacrificing, a visionary artistic innovation that redefined satire and, for Thompson, would result in his becoming an unlikely successor to Mark Twain and a Great American Novelist in his own right.
A freedom-seeking Lone Ranger, Hunter S. Thompson steadfastly refused to tow any party line. And like his 17th-century Ranter brethren, Thompson was his own Pope, presiding over himself as an autonomous individual, fully prepared to confront the Beast from all sides. A great moralist in spite of himself, he was a rum character with upstanding principles.