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Hullabaloo


Sunday, February 20, 2005

 
Rest In Peace You Brilliant Goddamned Beast


For some of us of a certain age, Hunter S. Thompson was our muse, our godfather, our Shakespeare. He spoke for us in a wierd sort of exaggerated drug addled way that defined the world. For some of us of a certain age who follow politics, his view of the game informs us in ways that we will never wholly shake off. "Fear and Loathing on The Campaign Trail" remains the seminal work of baby boomer campaign journalism. He took the genre, shot it up with mescaline and invited us all along for the ride.

I was just re-reading his collection of essays "Generation of Swine" about the political scene in the 1980's a couple of months ago. He saw it all then--- the bizarre up-is-downism, the hallucinatory nature of the modern media, the craziness of America in its days of dominance. I was struck, however, at how deeply uncynical he really was, how strangely hopeful and secure that the American people were simply too solid to be completely taken in by these people. The state of politics today must have made him feel like he was on a bad trip that would never end.

Skinner called from Washington last week and warned me that I was dangerously wrong and ignorant about George Bush. “I know you won’t want to hear this,” he said ‘but George is an utterly different person from the one he appears to be --- from the one you’ve been whipping on, for that matter. I thought you should know…”

I put him on hold and said I would call him back after the Kentucky Maryland game. I had given 5 points and Kentucky was ahead by 7 with 18 seconds to go…George Bush meant nothing to me at that moment. The whole campaign was like the sound of some radio far up the street.

But Skinner persisted, for some reason….He was trying to tell me something. He was saying that Bush was not what he seemed to be --- that somewhere inside him were the seeds of a genuine philosopher king.

“He is smarter that Thomas Jefferson., “Skinner said. “he has the potential to stand taller in history than both of the Roosevelts put together.”

I was shocked. “You lying swine,” I said. “Who paid you to say these things? Why are you calling me?”

“It’s for your own good,” he said. “I’m just trying to help you.” …. He took a call on one of his other lines, then came back to me in a blaze of disconnected gibberish.

“Listen to me,” he was saying. “I was with him last night, all alone. We sat in front of his fireplace and burned big logs and listened to music and drank whiskey and he got a little weepy, but I told him not to worry about it, and he said he was the only living voice of Bobby Kennedy in American politics today.”

“No,” I said. “Don’t tell me that swill, it’s too horrible. I depend on you for more than that.”

I laughed. It was crazy. Here was Gene Skinner --- one of the meanest and most cynical hit men in politics --- telling me that he’d spent the last two night arguing with George Bush about the true meaning of Plato’s Republic and the Parable of the Caves, smoking Dharum cigarettes and weeping distractedly while they kept playing and replaying old Leonard Cohen tunes on his old Nakamichi tape machine.

“Yeah,” Skinner said, “”he still carries that 250 with the Hallibuton case, the one he’s carried for years … he loves music, really high rock’n roll. He has tapes of Alice Stuart that he made himself on the Nak.”

Ye Gods, I thought. They’ve finally turned him; he’s gone belly up. How did he get my phone number?

“You hideous punk! Don’t call me anymore!” I yelled at him. “I’m moving to Hawaii next week. I know where you’ve been for the last two years. Stay away from me!”

“You fool!” he shouted. “Where were you when we were looking for you in New Orleans last week? We hung around for three days. George wanted to hook up with the Neville brothers. We were traveling incognito”…and now he was telling me that Bush --- half mad on cheap gin and hubris, with 16 states already locked up on Super Tuesday --- showed up at the New Orleans airport on Sunday night with only one bodyguard and a black 928 Porsche with smoked windows and Argentine license plates…

I felt sick and said nothing. Skinner rambled on; drifted from one demented story to another like he was talking to the Maharishi. It made no sense at all.

None of it did, for that matter. George Bush was a mean crook from Texas. He had no friends and nobody in Washington wanted to be seen with him on the streets at night. There was something queasy about him, they said --- a sense of something grown back unto itself, like a dead animal … it was impossible that he could be roaming about Washington or New Orleans at night jabbering about Dylan Thomas and picking up dead cats.

Yes there was something wrong about it, deeply wrong, even queer … yet Skinner seemed to believe these things and he wanted me to believe them.

Why? It was like hearing that Ivan Boesky had written “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” or that Ed Meese wakes up every morning and hurls a $100 bill across the Potomac.

I hung up the phone and felt crazy. Then I walked back to the hotel in the rain.

March 21, 1988


He had it nailed. This world is a lonelier place without him in it.



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