My Man

Hunter Thompson, who would have turned 75 today had he not gotten extremely bored of himself in 2005, is up there with Garcia Marquez and J.D. Salinger in the line up of Brendan's Favorite Writers. I'm sure that for anyone who has ever talked to me ever, this will come as a huge surprise. He is, for sure, a major influence on my writing. But for some reason I have no real desire to talk about his writing today. He's generally appreciated as a premier prose stylist, and a quick Google search will most likely turn up a million different pages talking about his books as "raw," "insightful," hilarious," and perhaps "demented;' I may have written eight or ten of those pages.


Instead I'd like to talk about Hunter Thompson the person. Hunter Thompson the Young Man. As I've written before, somewhere and briefly, one my favorite works by Thompson is The Proud Highway, a collection of letters he wrote between the ages of 18 and 30 (1955-1967) from his days in the Air Force to the publication of Hells Angels, his first major breakthrough. You can earn a lot about writing by reading Thompson's works, and it turns out you can also learn a lot about being in your twenties by reading Thompson's letters from that age. I will note that of course not all lessons learned are positive, nor need they be. I can recognize the futility of destroying a vending machine at one of your first jobs. I can recognize the general shittiness of leaving your wife to care for your infant son while you carouse around with the Hells Angels and then bring them home to her to party and occasionally get into fights that are only resolved when you pull a shotgun.


However, I can also recognize that Thompson's refusal to stop working, his insistance that he had something worthwhile to say, were instrumental in his later success. That his willingness to do just about any assignment set him up for the combination of talent and providence that continually propelled him forward. He was always, always doing something.

I want to go to there.

From his letters:

"You'd be surprised at the things people will do in order to get their names or pictures in the paper." -- 1956

"A man has to BE something; he has to matter." -- 1958

"But you say, ‘I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.’ And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know — is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.” -- 1958

Those last two quotes are from the same letter; I typed up a good chunk of it a few months ago. He was just shy of 21 when he wrote it. One more quote for context:

"Platitudes are safe, because they're easy to wink at, but truth is something else again." --1959

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So, what do you think?