Happy Birthday, Hunter S. Thompson

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Before today, I never realized that literary hero Hunter S. Thompson and my own mother shared a birthday. Not the exact same day, mind; they were born 13 years apart. Although both of these wonderful people are gone, their presences loom large in my life every single day.

If it wasn’t for the influence of Thompson’s chaotic life and rule-obliterating work, I doubt I’d be a writer today. To say that he has influenced the course of my life is to say that the sun helps flowers grow. It is beyond self-evident; it is a bedrock, fundamental given about my own experience in this world. When I read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas at the age of seventeen, I unwittingly chose a path that led to where I am today, for better or worse. I choose the former, because I couldn’t imagine a life lacking the enrichment of his words.

Hunter himself was famously partial toward Bob Dylan’s eternal classic, Mr. Tambourine Man so I’ve chosen to share it here in celebration of his life, his work, and his unfathomable influence on my own tastes, philosophy, and writing.

Thompson’s greatest gift was his insistence, through madness and fear and pain, on cutting right to the truth. He minced no words. He pulled no punches. He colorized and heightened his stories, but no matter how much style he applied, the core truth of the matter was always top priority. It never seemed like a choice; this was simply how he was built.

A lot of people misunderstand the central dilemma at the heart of Thompson’s work: how someone could embellish and distort reporting to the point that it became nearly fiction, yet manage to amplify the kernel of truth hiding at the center of it all. Thompson wielded his typewriter like a cudgel against the face of shared cultural lies. He treated journalism like the fiction that it is, and wrote accordingly.

He placed himself into his work, sharing the visceral, tangible experiences he held as a modern man thrust into the wretched vortex of politics. Instead of pretending to hold some imagined impartial stance, Thompson spoke to the inexorable truth that he witnessed.

His bravery in the face of the overwhelming insanity of the American Dream was something we all should aspire to. His lust for life and passion for the extreme was something we should all shudder in awe of, if not exactly emulate.

Too many people see the film version of his most famous book and want to roar off on their own drug-fueled adventure, failing to see the bruised heart at the center of the story. To them, Thompson is an avatar of unbridled hedonism. They have always been tragically wrong.

He was our purveyor of unflinching truth, delivered with the triumphant laugh of a man who’s found living, breathing absurdism behind the mask of polite society. It’s fitting then, that Mr. Tambourine Man was supposedly his favorite song.

Here are the lyrics:

Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come following you

Though I know that evenings empire has returned into sand
Vanished from my hand
Left me blindly here to stand but still not sleeping
My weariness amazes me, I’m branded on my feet
I have no one to meet
And the ancient empty street’s too dead for dreaming

Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come following you

Take me on a trip upon your magic swirling ship
My senses have been stripped
May hands can’t feel to grip
My toes too numb to step
Wait only for my boot heels to be wandering
I’m ready to go anywhere, I’m ready for to fade
Into my own parade
Cast your dancing spell my way, I promise to go under it

Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come following you

Though you might hear laughing, spinning, swinging madly across the sun
It’s not aimed at anyone
It’s just a escaping on the run
And but for the sky there are no fences facing
And if you hear vague traces of skipping reels of rhyme
To your tambourine in time
It’s just a ragged clown behind
I wouldn’t pay it any mind
It’s just a shadow you’re seeing that he’s chasing

Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come following you

And take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time
Far past the frozen leaves
The haunted frightened trees
Out to the windy bench
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky
With one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea
Circled by the circus sands
With all memory of fate
Driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow

Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come following you

One thought on “Happy Birthday, Hunter S. Thompson

  1. Pingback: What I’m Into This Week (7/17 – 7/23) | Optimistic Underground

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