In an October 1957 letter to a friend who had recommended he read Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, Hunter S. Thompson wrote, “Although I don’t feel that it’s at all necessary to tell you how I feel about the principle of individuality, I know that I’m going to have to spend the rest of my life expressing it one way or another, and I think that I’ll accomplish more by expressing it on the keys of a typewriter than by letting it express itself in sudden outbursts of frustrated violence. . . .”
Thompson carved out his niche early. He was born in 1937, in Louisville, Kentucky, where his fiction and poetry earned him induction into the local Athenaeum Literary Association while he was still in high school. Thompson continued his literary pursuits in the United States Air Force, writing a weekly sports column for the base newspaper. After two years of service, Thompson endured a series of newspaper jobs—all of which ended badly—before he took to freelancing from Puerto Rico and South America for a variety of publications. The vocation quickly developed into a compulsion.
Thompson completed The Rum Diary, his only novel to date, before he turned twenty-five; bought by Ballantine Books, it finally was published—to glowing reviews—in 1998. In 1967, Thompson published his first nonfiction book, Hell’s Angels, a harsh and incisive firsthand investigation into the infamous motorcycle gang then making the heartland of America nervous.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which first appeared in Rolling Stone in November 1971, sealed Thompson’s reputation as an outlandish stylist successfully straddling the line between journalism and fiction writing. As the subtitle warns, the book tells of “a savage journey to the heart of the American Dream” in full-tilt gonzo style—Thompson’s hilarious first-person approach—and is accented by British illustrator Ralph Steadman’s appropriate drawings.
His next book, Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72, was a brutally perceptive take on the 1972 Nixon-McGovern presidential campaign. A self-confessed political junkie, Thompson chronicled the 1992 presidential campaign in Better than Sex (1994). Thompson’s other books include The Curse of Lono (1983), a bizarre South Seas tale, and three collections of Gonzo Papers: The Great Shark Hunt (1979), Generation of Swine (1988) and Songs of the Doomed (1990).
In 1997, The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967, the first volume of Thompson’s correspondence with everyone from his mother to Lyndon Johnson, was published. The second volume of letters, Fear and Loathing in America: The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist, 1968-1976, has just been released.
Located in the mostly posh neighborhood of western Colorado’s Woody Creek Canyon, ten miles or so down-valley from Aspen, Owl Farm is a rustic ranch with an old-fashioned Wild West charm. Although Thompson’s beloved peacocks roam his property freely, it’s the flowers blooming around the ranch house that provide an unexpected high-country tranquility. Jimmy Carter, George McGovern and Keith Richards, among dozens of others, have shot clay pigeons and stationary targets on the property, which is a designated Rod and Gun Club and shares a border with the White River National Forest. Almost daily, Thompson leaves Owl Farm in either his Great Red Shark Convertible or Jeep Grand Cherokee to mingle at the nearby Woody Creek Tavern.
Visitors to Thompson’s house are greeted by a variety of sculptures, weapons, boxes of books and a bicycle before entering the nerve center of Owl Farm, Thompson’s obvious command post on the kitchen side of a peninsula counter that separates him from a lounge area dominated by an always-on Panasonic TV, always tuned to news or sports. An antique upright piano is piled high and deep enough with books to engulf any reader for a decade. Above the piano hangs a large Ralph Steadman portrait of “Belinda”—the Slut Goddess of Polo. On another wall covered with political buttons hangs a Che Guevara banner acquired on Thompson’s last tour of Cuba. On the counter sits an IBM Selectric typewriter—a Macintosh computer is set up in an office in the back wing of the house.
The most striking thing about Thompson’s house is that it isn’t the weirdness one notices first: it’s the words. They’re everywhere—handwritten in his elegant lettering, mostly in fading red Sharpie on the blizzard of bits of paper festooning every wall and surface: stuck to the sleek black leather refrigerator, taped to the giant TV, tacked up on the lampshades; inscribed by others on framed photos with lines like, “For Hunter, who saw not only fear and loathing, but hope and joy in ’72—George McGovern”; typed in IBM Selectric on reams of originals and copies in fat manila folders that slide in piles off every counter and table top; and noted in many hands and inks across the endless flurry of pages.
Thompson extricates his large frame from his ergonomically correct office chair facing the TV and lumbers over graciously to administer a hearty handshake or kiss to each caller according to gender, all with an easy effortlessness and unexpectedly old-world way that somehow underscores just who is in charge.
We talked with Thompson for twelve hours straight. This was nothing out of the ordinary for the host: Owl Farm operates like an eighteenth-century salon, where people from all walks of life congregate in the wee hours for free exchanges about everything from theoretical physics to local water rights, depending on who’s there. Walter Isaacson, managing editor of Time, was present during parts of this interview, as were a steady stream of friends. Given the very late hours Thompson keeps, it is fitting that the most prominently posted quote in the room, in Thompson’s hand, twists the last line of Dylan Thomas’s poem “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night”: “Rage, rage against the coming of the light.”
For most of the half-day that we talked, Thompson sat at his command post, chain-smoking red Dunhills through a German-made gold-tipped cigarette filter and rocking back and forth in his swivel chair. Behind Thompson’s sui generis personality lurks a trenchant humorist with a sharp moral sensibility. His exaggerated style may defy easy categorization, but his career-long autopsy on the death of the American dream places him among the twentieth century’s most exciting writers. The comic savagery of his best work will continue to electrify readers for generations to come.
. . . I have stolen more quotes and thoughts and purely elegant little starbursts of writing from the Book of Revelation than from anything else in the English Language—and it is not because I am a biblical scholar, or because of any religious faith, but because I love the wild power of the language and the purity of the madness that governs it and makes it music.
HUNTER S. THOMPSON
Well, wanting to and having to are two different things. Originally I hadn’t thought about writing as a solution to my problems. But I had a good grounding in literature in high school. We’d cut school and go down to a café on Bardstown Road where we would drink beer and read and discuss Plato’s parable of the cave. We had a literary society in town, the Athenaeum; we met in coat and tie on Saturday nights. I hadn’t adjusted too well to society—I was in jail for the night of my high school graduation—but I learned at the age of fifteen that to get by you had to find the one thing you can do better than anybody else . . . at least this was so in my case. I figured that out early. It was writing. It was the rock in my sock. Easier than algebra. It was always work, but it was always worthwhile work. I was fascinated early by seeing my byline in print. It was a rush. Still is.
When I got to the Air Force, writing got me out of trouble. I was assigned to pilot training at Eglin Air Force Base near Pensacola in northwest Florida, but I was shifted to electronics . . . advanced, very intense, eight-month school with bright guys . . . I enjoyed it but I wanted to get back to pilot training. Besides, I’m afraid of electricity. So I went up there to the base education office one day and signed up for some classes at Florida State. I got along well with a guy named Ed and I asked him about literary possibilities. He asked me if I knew anything about sports, and I said that I had been the editor of my high-school paper. He said, “Well, we might be in luck.” It turned out that the sports editor of the base newspaper, a staff sergeant, had been arrested in Pensacola and put in jail for public drunkenness, pissing against the side of a building; it was the third time and they wouldn’t let him out.
So I went to the base library and found three books on journalism. I stayed there reading them until it closed. Basic journalism. I learned about headlines, leads: who, when, what, where, that sort of thing. I barely slept that night. This was my ticket to ride, my ticket to get out of that damn place. So I started as an editor. Boy, what a joy. I wrote long Grantland Rice-type stories. The sports editor of my hometown Louisville Courier Journal always had a column, left-hand side of the page. So I started a column.
By the second week I had the whole thing down. I could work at night. I wore civilian clothes, worked off base, had no hours, but I worked constantly. I wrote not only for the base paper, The Command Courier, but also the local paper, The Playground News. I’d put things in the local paper that I couldn’t put in the base paper. Really inflammatory shit. I wrote for a professional wrestling newsletter. The Air Force got very angry about it. I was constantly doing things that violated regulations. I wrote a critical column about how Arthur Godfrey, who’d been invited to the base to be the master of ceremonies at a firepower demonstration, had been busted for shooting animals from the air in Alaska. The base commander told me: “Goddamn it, son, why did you have to write about Arthur Godfrey that way?”
When I left the Air Force I knew I could get by as a journalist. So I went to apply for a job at Sports Illustrated. I had my clippings, my bylines, and I thought that was magic . . . my passport. The personnel director just laughed at me. I said, “Wait a minute. I’ve been sports editor for two papers.” He told me that their writers were judged not by the work they’d done, but where they’d done it. He said, “Our writers are all Pulitzer Prize winners from The New York Times. This is a helluva place for you to start. Go out into the boondocks and improve yourself.”
I was shocked. After all, I’d broken the Bart Starr story.
What was that?
At Eglin Air Force Base we always had these great football teams. The Eagles. Championship teams. We could beat up on the University of Virginia. Our bird-colonel Sparks wasn’t just any yo-yo coach. We recruited. We had these great players serving their military time in ROTC. We had Zeke Bratkowski, the Green Bay quarterback. We had Max McGee of the Packers. Violent, wild, wonderful drunk. At the start of the season McGee went AWOL, appeared at the Green Bay camp and he never came back. I was somehow blamed for his leaving. The sun fell out of the firmament. Then the word came that we were getting Bart Starr, the All-American from Alabama. The Eagles were going to roll! But then the staff sergeant across the street came in and said, “I’ve got a terrible story for you. Bart Starr’s not coming.” I managed to break into an office and get out his files. I printed the order that showed he was being discharged medically. Very serious leak.
The Bart Starr story was not enough to impress Sports Illustrated?
The personnel guy there said, “Well, we do have this trainee program.” So I became a kind of copy boy.
You eventually ended up in San Francisco. With the publication in 1967 of Hell’s Angels, your life must have taken an upward spin.
All of a sudden I had a book out. At the time I was twenty-nine years old and I couldn’t even get a job driving a cab in San Francisco, much less writing. Sure, I had written important articles for The Nation and The Observer, but only a few good journalists really knew my byline. The book enabled me to buy a brand new BSA 650 Lightning, the fastest motorcycle ever tested by Hot Rod magazine. It validated everything I had been working toward. If Hell’s Angels hadn’t happened I never would have been able to write Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or anything else. To be able to earn a living as a freelance writer in this country is damned hard; there are very few people who can do that. Hell’s Angels all of a sudden proved to me that, Holy Jesus, maybe I can do this. I knew I was a good journalist. I knew I was a good writer, but I felt like I got through a door just as it was closing.
With the swell of creative energy flowing throughout the San Francisco scene at the time, did you interact with or were you influenced by any other writers?
Ken Kesey for one. His novels One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion had quite an impact on me. I looked up to him hugely. One day I went down to the television station to do a roundtable show with other writers, like Kay Boyle, and Kesey was there. Afterwards we went across the street to a local tavern and had several beers together. I told him about the Angels, who I planned to meet later that day, and I said, “Well, why don’t you come along?” He said, “Whoa, I’d like to meet these guys.” Then I got second thoughts, because it’s never a good idea to take strangers along to meet the Angels. But I figured that this was Ken Kesey, so I’d try. By the end of the night Kesey had invited them all down to La Honda, his woodsy retreat outside of San Francisco. It was a time of extreme turbulence—riots in Berkeley. He was always under assault by the police—day in and day out, so La Honda was like a war zone. But he had a lot of the literary, intellectual crowd down there, Stanford people also, visiting editors, and Hell’s Angels. Kesey’s place was a real cultural vortex.
So you head down to the library, pick up some books with titles like "How To Teach Yourself Japanese In Just 5 Seconds A Day While Driving Your Car To And From The Post Office" and "Japanese For Complete And Total, Utter Fools Who Should Never Procreate". Hey, you already know a few words from your manga collection/girlfriend/anime. Excited and impressed with your new knowledge, you begin to think: "Hey. Maybe, just maybe, I could do this for a living! Or even major in Japanese! Great Idea, Right?
WRONG.I don't care how many anime tapes you've watched, how many Japanese girlfriends you've had, or books you've read, you don't know Japanese. Not only that, majoring in the godforsaken language is NOT fun or even remotely sensible. Iraqi war prisoners are often forced to major in Japanese. The term "Holocaust" comes from the Latin roots "Holi" and "Causem", meaning "to major in Japanese". You get the idea.
And so, sick of seeing so many lambs run eagerly to the slaughter, I have created This Guide to REAL TIPS for Studying Japanese. Or, as is actually the case, NOT studying it.
This should be obvious.
Despite what many language books, friends, or online tutorials may have told you, Japanese is NOT simple, easy, or even sensical (Japanese vocabulary is determined by throwing tiny pieces of sushi at a dart board with several random syllables attatched to it). The Japanese spread these rumours to draw foolish Gaijin into their clutches.
Not only is it not simple, it's probably one of the hardest languages you could ever want to learn. With THREE completely different written languages (none of which make sense), a multitude of useless, confusing politeness levels, and an absolutely insane grammatical structure, Japanese has been crushing the souls of the pathetic Gaijin since it's conception. Let's go over some of these elements mentioned above so you can get a better idea of what I mean.
The Japanese Writing System
The Japanese writing system is broken down into three separate, complete, and insane, parts: Hiragana ("those squiggly letters"), Katakana ("those boxy letters") and Kanji ("roughly 4 million embodiments of your worst nightmares").
Hiragana is used to spell out Japanese words using syllables. It consist of many letters, all of which look completely different and bear absolutely no resemblance to each other whatsoever. Hiragana were developed by having a bunch of completely blind, deaf, and dumb Japanese people scribble things on pieces of paper while having no idea why they were doing so. The resulting designs were then called "hiragana". The prince who invented these characters, Yorimushi ("stinking monkey-bush-donkey"), was promptly bludgeoned to death. But don't worry, because you'll hardly use hiragana in "real life".
Katakana are used only to spell out foreign words in a thick, crippling Japanese accent, so that you'll have no idea what you're saying even though it's in English. However, if you remember one simple rule for katakana, you'll find reading Japanese much easier: whenever something is written in katakana, it's an English word! (note: Katakana is also used for non-English foreign words. And sound effects, and Japanese words). Katakana all look exactly the same, and it's impossible, even for Japanese people, to tell them apart. No need to worry, because you'll hardly ever have to read katakana in "real life".
Kanji are letters that were stolen from China. Every time the Japanese invaded China (which was very often) they'd just take a few more letters, so now they have an estimated 400 gazillion of them. Kanji each consist of several "strokes", which must be written in a specific order, and convey a specific meaning, like "horse", or "girl". Not only that, but Kanji can be combined to form new words. For example, if you combine the Kanji for "small" and "woman", you get the word "carburetor". Kanji also have different pronounciations depending on where they are in the word, how old you are, and what day it is. When European settlers first came upon Japan, the Japanese scholars suggested that Europe adopt the Japanese written language as a "universal" language understood by all parties. This was the cause of World War 2 several years later. Don't worry, however, since you'll never have to use kanji in "real life", since most Japanese gave up on reading a long, long time ago, and now spend most of their time playing Pokemon.
Politness Levels have their root in an ancient Japanese tradition of absolute obedience and conformity, a social caste system, and complete respect for arbitrary hierarchical authority, which many American companies believe will be very helpful when applied as managerial techniques. They're right, of course, but no one is very happy about it.
Depending on who you are speaking to your politeness level will be very different. Politeness depends on many things, such as age of the speaker, age of the person being spoken to, time of day, zodiac sign, blood type, sex, whether they are Grass or Rock Pokemon type, color of pants, and so on. For an example of Politeness Levels in action, see the example below.
Japanese Teacher: Good morning, Harry.
Harry: Good Morning.
Japanese Classmates: (gasps of horror and shock)
The bottom line is that Politeness Levels are completely beyond your understanding, so don't even try. Just resign yourself to talking like a little girl for the rest of your life and hope to God that no one beats you up.
The Japanese have what could be called an "interesting" grammatical structure, but could also be called "confusing", "random", "bogus" or "evil". To truly understand this, let's examine the differences between Japanese and English grammar.
Jane went to the school.
Same Sentence In Japanese:
School Jane To Went Monkey Apple Carburetor.
Japanese grammar is not for the faint of heart or weak of mind. What's more, the Japanese also do not have any words for "me", "them", "him, or "her" that anyone could use without being incredibly insulting (the Japanese word for "you", for example, when written in kanji, translates to"I hope a monkey scratches your face off"). Because of this, the sentences "He just killed her!" and "I just killed her!" sound exactly the same, meaning that most people in Japan have no idea what is going on around them at any given moment. You are supposed to figure these things out from the "context", which is a German word meaning "you're screwed".
When most Americans think of Japanese people, they think: polite, respectful, accomodating. (They could also possibly think: Chinese). However, it is important to learn where the truth ends and our Western stereotyping begins.
Of course, it would be irresponsible of me to make any sweeping generalizations about such a large group of people, but ALL Japanese people have three characteristics: they "speak" English, they dress very nicely, and they're short.
The Japanese school system is controlled by Japan's central government which, of course, is not biased in any way (recent Japanese history textbook title: "White Demons Attempt To Take Away Our Holy Motherland, But Great And Powerful Father-Emperor Deflects Them With Winds From God: The Story Of WW2"). Because of this, all Japanese have been taught the same English-language course, which consists of reading The Canterbury Tales, watching several episodes of M*A*S*H and reading the English dictionary from cover to cover. Armed with this extensive language knowledge, the children of Japan emerge from school ready to take part in international business and affairs, uttering such remarkable and memorable sentences as "You have no chance to survive make your time", and adding to their own products by inscribing English slogans, such as "Just give this a Paul. It may be the Paul of your life" on the side of a slot machine.
Secondly, all Japanese people dress extremely well. This fits in with the larger Japanese attitude of neatness and order. Everything has to be in its correct place with the Japanese, or a small section in the right lobe of their brain begins to have seizures and they exhibit erratic violent behavior until the messiness is eradicated. The Japanese even FOLD THEIR DIRTY CLOTHES. Sloppiness is not tolerated in Japanese society, and someone with a small wrinkle in their shirt, which they thought they could hide by wearing a hooded sweatshirt over it (possibly emblazoned with a catchy English phrase like "Spread Beaver, Violence Jack-Off!"), will be promptly beaten to death with tiny cellular phones.
Lastly, the Japanese are all short. Really, really short. It's kind of funny. Not ones to leave being tall to the Europeans or Africans, however, the Japanese have singlehandedly brought shoes with incredibly gigantic soles into style, so that they can finally appear to be of actual human height, when in reality their height suggests that they may indeed be closer in relation to the race of dwarves or hobbits.
Japanese culture is also very "interesting", by which we mean "confusing" and in several cases "dangerous". Their culture is based on the concept of "In Group/Out Group", in which all Japanese people are one big "In" group, and YOU are the "Out" group. Besides this sense of alienation, Japan also produces cartoons, and a wide variety of other consumer products which are crammed into your face 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Japanese also like cock fighting monsters that live in your pants, taking baths with the elderly, and killing themselves.
Japanese food is what some people would call "exotic", but what most people call "disgusting", or perhaps, in some areas, "whack". Japanese food evolved in ancient days, when the main staple of the diet was rice. People got so sick and tired of eating rice, in fact, that they ate just about anything else they could find, from seaweed to other Japanese people. This has led to the creation of such wonderful foods as "natto", which I believe is a kind of bean but tastes like battery acid, and "Pocky", which is a stick with different frostings on it, the flavors of which include Sawdust and Strawberry.
Despite this variety of foods, however, the Japanese have succeeded in making every single thing they eat, from tea to plums, taste like smokey beef.
As if learning the language wasn't hard enough, Japanese classes in America tend to attract the kind of student who makes you wish that a large comet would strike the earth. There are a few basic types of students that you'll always find yourself running into. These include The Anime Freak, The Know It All, and the Deer Caught In Headlights.
The Anime Freak is probably the most common, and one of the most annoying. You can usually spot a few warning signs to let you identify them before it's too late: they wear the same exact Evangelion shirt every day, they have more than one anime key chain on their person, they wear glasses, they say phrases in Japanese that they obviously don't understand (such as "Yes! I will never forgive you!"), they refer to you as "-chan", make obscure Japanese culture references during class, and usually fail class. You have to be extremely careful not to let them smell pity or fear on you, because if they do they will immediately latch onto you and suck up both your time and patience, leaving only a lifeless husk. Desperate for human companionship, they will invite you to club meetings, anime showings, conventions, and all other sorts of various things you don't care about.
The Know It All typically has a Japanese girlfriend or boyfriend, and because of this "inside source" on Japanese culture, has suddenly become an academic expert on all things Japanese, without ever having read a single book on Japan in their entire lives. You can usually spot Know It All's by keeping an eye out for these warning signs: a cocky smile, answering more than their share of questions, getting most questions wrong, questioning the teacher on various subjects and then arguing about the answers (a typical exchange: Student: What does "ohayoo" mean?,Teacher: It means "good morning", Student: That's not what my girlfriend said...), being wrong, talking alot about Japanese food and being wrong, giving long, unnecessarily detailed answers which are wrong, and failing class.
The Deer Caught In Headlights are those students who took Japanese because either a.) they thought it sounded like fun, b.) they thought it would be easy, or c.) they just need a couple more credits to graduate. These students wear a mask of terror and panic from the moment they walk into class till the moment they leave, because all they can hear inside their heads is the high pitched scream their future is making as it is flushed down the toilet. They are usually failing.
Although many of Japanese-language students are smart, funny, hard working people, none of them will be in your class.
If you can get past the difficulty, society, and classmates, you will probably find Japanese to be a fun, rewarding language to learn. We wouldn't know, however, since no one has ever gotten that far. But hey, I'm sure you're different.
Author's Note:This whole essay, although sprinkled with truisms here and there, is a joke and should be taken as one. I'm actually a Japanese major myself, and even if I've given it a bit of a hard time, I love the Japanese language, and I think everyone should give it a try.
You should just be ready for a whole lot of pain.
HAPPY LANGUAGE LEARNING!
- Dan Barrett