The Mindful Bard – Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Books, Music, and Film to Wake Up Your Muse and Help You Change the World

DVD: Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Theatrical Release: July 2, 2008

DVD Release: November 18, 2008

Starring: Gary Hart, George McGovern, Jann Wenner, Jimmy Buffett

Director: Alex Gibney

The Road to Notoriety is Paved With Cigarette Butts and Empty Wild Turkey Bottles

?Some people thought it was a very courageous act. It was a noble act. Get out when You’re on top! He wasn’t on top. He was nowhere near on top. But some people thought that. And some people thought it was a very courageous act. I think just the opposite. I think this is a time when a together Hunter Thompson could make a difference in this country.?

Thompson’s first wife, Sandy, regarding his suicide in 2005

It’s dusk and a huge party is going on in and around what looks to be a giant greenhouse. Well-dressed, attractive people are milling happily. A waitress serves champagne.

A huge double-thumbed fist is mounted on a massive upright pole. Fireworks shoot out of this fist and everyone cheers wildly; Hunter S. Thompson’s ashes have just been dispersed over the Rockies.

Thompson’s suicidal urges, which he had been discussing openly for years, appeared to be a desire not to be overtaken by death and a wish to be in control in spite of perilous inevitabilities, a mindset that marked his whole life and that propelled him and his cohorts into crazily dangerous situations.

His philosophical defence was the convoluted logic that if he didn’t see suicide as an option he couldn’t bear to go on living on such a screwed-up planet.

This film is a jewel, presenting a different facet depending on your viewing angle. It’s painfully accurate while laced with illuminating untruths. It’s a lot like Hunter S. Thompson’s writing.

If only the legend could have separated from the talent to allow the talent to flourish unimpeded. The substance of Thompson’s work was so much more solid (even if only because we can’t get his imagery and his plot lines out of our heads) than the vicissitudes of his private life; his work only suffered when his personal dilemma broke into it.

One drawback to Thompson’s popularity was that he was frequently worshipped for the most inane reasons, and I’m not just referring to those who reinforced his sickness by idolizing him for being a licentious, gun-toting booze hound.

When we know how brilliant some of his best insights were (his ability to judge human characters and cultural tides gave him a truly prophetic sensibility) It’s painful to watch Thompson’s gaggle of bohemian hangers-on cheering histrionically in response to the most vacuous of his remarks. (On marijuana laws: ?When you get a whole generation that grows up as felons, and they know the law is ridiculous and are told all this gibberish about it, that it drives you crazy and makes your brain soft and your feet fall off, even the police know It’s a silly law.?)

Although Thompson’s generation are renowned for having fallen far short of their ideals, don’t be quick to dismiss the capacities of those who participated in The Summer of Love. I am continually amazed by granola fogeys I’ve known, not only at the wealth of wisdom they have accrued but also at the tenaciousness of their desire to find solutions, to further their own creative development, and to recreate society even if this means falling on their faces again and again before they succeed.

The other day I ran into one of them at a thrift shop and we fell into a discussion of the possibility of a local art school. I suggested it be created as a co-operative. ?A co-op?? he gasped ?Won’t work. Too many people think they own it and can run it. And they can’t. Keep your leadership group small and do everything as equals.?

Yes, Thompson’s brain, had it not been first pickled and then annihilated, might have been useful in helping America get itself back together right about now. It could have rejoiced with the current administration and offered pointers on how to avoid sliding back into the old horrors.

Yes, I’d have to agree with Sandy, even if the only evidence is anecdotal.

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson manifests seven of The Mindful Bard’s criteria for films well worth watching: 1) it is authentic, original, and delightful; 2) it confronts, rebukes, or mocks existing injustices; 3) it renews my enthusiasm for positive social action; 4) it gives me tools enabling me to respond with compassion and efficacy to the suffering around me; 5) it harmoniously unites art with social action, saving me from both seclusion in an ivory tower and slavery to someone else’s political agenda; 6) it stimulates my mind; 7) it poses and admirably responds to questions which have a direct bearing on my view of existence.

The Bard could use some help scouting out new material. If you discover any books, compact disks, or movies which came out in the last twelve months and which you think fit the Bard’s criteria, please drop a line to bard@voicemagazine.org. For a list of criteria, go here. If I agree with your recommendation, I’ll thank you online.

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