Hunter S. Thompson and Me

I hope that if you are reading my stories you understand who Hunter S. Thompson was.  I say was, as he departed this earth on February 20th, 2005 at the age of 67, by his own hand (which happened to have a .357 revolver in it!).  An act that surprised me then, but makes perfect sense now.  In classic Hunter S. fashion his funeral consisted of crowds of followers watching his ashes shot out of cannon atop a fortified column at his Colorado compound.  YouTube it, it’s a great video!  Very fitting for the man who lived life like the proverbial shooting star.  He once famously said “Some people will tell you that slow is good – but I’m here to tell you that fast is better.  I’ve always believed this, in spite of the trouble it’s caused me.  Being shot out of a cannon will always be better than squeezed out of a tube.  That is why God made fast motorcycles, Bubba…”  I do not know if I am endeared to him because he wrote of motorcycles often or simply because he was a cool writer, a ‘crazy’ cool writer.  An American literary legend.  Hemmingway had bravado, Twain had wit, Steinbeck had authenticity, Paine had common sense, Hunter S. Thompson had crazy.  Crazy has value.  My Dad used to say “if you gonna be dumb you better be tough”, well, in that chain of logic applied to Hunter S., I’d say “if your gonna be crazy, you better be cool crazy”.  Regular crazy is cheap like dog crap near a sidewalk, but cool crazy is rare like a knuckle sidecar.

My first recollection of Hunter S. (and I call him Hunter S. because that is what his friends called him and I wished we could have been friends) was when I was given a dog eared paperback in the late 70’s by a teacher fond of me and my desire to consume American lit.  It was “Hells Angels, The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaws Motorcycle Gang”.  Published by Random House in 1966 it was his story of close encounters with the Oakland Chapter of the Hells Angels motorcycle club.  My first glimpse of club life.  Probably my first glimpse of biker literature.  If you have not read this book, then put down your ‘50 Shades of Gray’, it will not help your libido, and pick up Hunter S.’s book, it will help you understand crazy.  And crazy is all around us, we must separate the crap from the sidecars.  Hunter S. spent a year (1965) embedded with the HA chapter and learned their sub culture, habits, lifestyle and code.  It earned him luke warm royalties and a good beating when all was said and done.  Not much for his trouble.  Well, besides an obsession with bikes we have this in common, luke warm royalties that is.

In college I read “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”, “The Rum Diary” and “Polo is my Life”, all good lit.  I felt a certain connection as a writer with Hunter S.  At that time in my life, he, like my beat up Honda CB 750, made me feel free and unencumbered by the dictates of “The Man”!  They both supported my inner rebel, even as I conformed to the norm of grades, work, church, and all the strictures I look back upon.  He made me feel independent, free, intellectual and mature despite me being none of these at the time.  So much so that I thought I’d tell him.  I’d pen a letter and reach out, writer to writer!  Early in life a lesson from my mother that has served me well is that a hand written personal note almost always gets noticed.  Back up 10 years again.  I’m upset by the media treatment of Richard Milhous Nixon.  My Mom encourages me to write Nixon to tell him so and express my concern, I was nine.  The nightly news beat him up regularly after Watergate before I even knew who Thompson was.  There began my writing career.  It was 1973.  I scribbled a ‘support’ letter to Nixon, licked an envelope my Mom gave me and walked to the Post Office to drop it myself.  No expectation of return mail was anticipated.  A simple act of perceived national pride by a young boy.  As God as my judge he wrote me back, Nixon!  My Mom has the letter.  Typed, but hand signed in dark black ink with poor slashing script.  Worth little, but revered by me in adulthood.  A hard bound volume of all the presidents to that date arrived with it in a brown box.  Return address: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC.  I’d wish I kept the box.  I have the book to this day in my nightstand.  It is with that hope of response that later in life I penned several letters to my literary hero, Hunter S.  Overly idealistic college kid, I suppose.  It was the early 80’s.  No response ever came.  I lived in New York City.  I moved a few times.  Maybe his response was lost.  Maybe he didn’t get around to writing me.  Maybe he never got my letters.  I moved on.   Faulkner, Yeats, Dreiser, Jefferson, …   Hunter S. diluted in my brain.  I moved on to other bikes too.  BMW, Ducati, Harley, the old Honda 750 faded and like the letters, was forgotten.

After maybe a million biker miles and a thousand biker stories I now know who I am as a writer.  I am not Oscar Wilde nor Poe nor T.S. Elliot and certainly not Hunter S.  I scratch travel thoughts and biker wit on paper and it makes me smile.  My writing conjures no demons for me.  It assuages them.  Hunter’s many demons were that which made him unconventional and anti-establishment and shepherded literary success (and ultimately self destruction).  HIS demons were those same forces that consumed him in the end.  The police investigation revealed that he was at home with his son Juan, his daughter in law Jennifer and his grandson Will when while in an adjoining room those present heard a bang which was first thought to be a book falling to the floor.  A metaphoric occurrence!  After a few minutes Juan investigated and found him dead, slumped over his typewriter with a gunshot to the head.  A single piece of paper with “February 25th, 2005” at the top rolled into his vintage selectric.  A typed entry pecked by Hunter on the sheet: “Counselor” was all he mustered before self expiration.  Perhaps it was his response to me – started, not finished.  I have been so referred to many times in my 25 years of lawyering.  Maybe he had sat down to write me back all these years later.  Though I doubt it.  But it warms my literary heart to think so, Bubba…!

Remember, ride strong, ride safe, and in the end, make sure you ride home.  Written by Steve Murrin, the ‘Original Biker Lawyer’

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