Hunter S. Thompson’s Letters to His Enemies ~ Atlantic

Hunter Thompson The " Gonzo " Journalist Sits At His Desk In His Rocky Mountain Cabin.
PAUL HARRIS / GETTY

If letters made sounds when we opened them, sounds expressive of their contents—if, from the freshly unsealed envelope, there rose a lover’s sigh, or an alcoholic belch, or a rasping cough of officialdom—the letters of Hunter S. Thompson would have released, I think, a noise like nearby gunfire. Like the crackle of some endless small-arms engagement. Pop, pop, pop, deep into the night.

I’ve been diving lately into the Thompson correspondence, via Douglas Brinkley’s superb two-volume edition (The Proud Highway and Fear and Loathing in America), because I’m looking for answers. Answers to what? How about: to the huge, throbbing interrogative that is America at the end of 2019. What is happening? Where’s it going? How do you live in it?

The mid-’60s to the mid-’70s—that was Thompson’s lean and scowling journalistic prime. “This fucking polarization,” he laments to one correspondent, “has made it impossible to sell anything except hired bullshit or savage propaganda.” But he was unstoppable. While researching his book about the Hells Angels, he rode with his subjects for about a year, getting a quasi-ritualistic stomping from them at the end of it; he was assaulted by Chicago cops at the Democratic National Convention in 1968; under wild duress, he composed the immortal hallucination that is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; he covered the Watergate hearings. And while he didn’t perfectly or lucidly see the future—didn’t see us, didn’t see now—he didn’t exactly need to, because in his head he was already here.

The Thompson of the letters is not especially likable. He is hard, compulsive, vengeful, nastily funny, and distended with the grandiosity of true desperation. An extraordinary proportion of the correspondence is concerned with money: claiming expenses, running from creditors, dunning and being dunned. American Express cancels his card; Thompson responds with sulfurous hauteur. “You bastards … You swine … My position today is the same as when this stupid trouble began. I’ll pay the bill if my card is reinstated.”

Friends and enemies are hailed in the same lewd, far-end-of-the-bar voice. “Dear Tom …” he writes to Tom Wolfe. “You worthless scumsucking bastard.” This is endearment. “Dear Sidney …” he writes to Sidney Zion, a co-founder of Scanlan’s magazine. “You worthless lying bastard.” This is abuse. (He goes on to tell Zion: “In ten years of dealing with all kinds of editors I can safely say I’ve never met a scumsucker like you.”) And if he starts to repeat your first name with menacing intimacy—“You interest me, George.”—you’re in trouble.

You could say that he had some very bad work habits. Or you could say that, over the course of a decade’s writing and reporting, he basically donated his nervous system to America. Pre-1974 Thompson was mostly on Dexedrine; after 1974 he was mostly on cocaine. Booze was a constant. Many of the letters have an early-morning-comedown feel: the whitening window, the excess of reality. “Why bother to make it right when nobody knows the difference anyway?” Drugs have their uses, but he saw with terrible clarity the bargain he was making, “willfully trading,” as he wrote to the Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner, “time Now for time Later.”

He had a fastidious horror of the mob, be it a circle of leering bikers, a rank of advancing cops, or a throng of inflamed Republican delegates. In one letter he recalled watching Barry Goldwater address the Republican National Convention in 1964, and “actually feeling afraid because I was the only person not clapping and shouting.” Part of his brief, as he saw it, was to track this incoming American atavism. “The Shits are in,” he wrote after John F. Kennedy’s assassination. He loathed Richard Nixon, although he made a friend of arch-Nixonian Pat Buchanan (“We disagree so violently on almost everything that it’s a real pleasure to drink with him”).

So the fissures ran deep, in his time as in ours. From the core, from the White House, disruption emanated. My hack brain keeps wanting to write “the parallels are uncanny”—but that’s not it. These are not parallels; this is the same story. Thompson’s letters impart the lesson: Decades later, this is the same America—the America of the raised nightstick, the shuddering convention hall, the booming bike engine, the canceled credit card, and the impossible dream.

LEONARD COHEN ON PREPARING FOR DEATH

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In 2016, David Remnick spoke with the masterly songwriter as he looked back on his career and life.

Released on 11/7/2019

Leonard Cohen: A Final Interview

Leonard Cohen, who died this week, was one of our greatest songwriters—Bob Dylan told Cohen that he considered him his nearest rival—and is a figure of almost cult-like devotion among fans. He began as a poet in the vein of Allen Ginsberg and Frank O’Hara before releasing his first album, in 1967. Suffering from terrible anxiety, not much tamed by alcohol and drugs, he conquered his fear of performing onstage after decades of Zen practice. David Remnick sat down with Cohen this summer at his home in Los Angeles to discuss his career, spiritual influences, triumphant final tours, and preparing for his end. “I am ready to die,” Cohen said. He was already suffering from a number of health problems. “At a certain point, if you still have your marbles and are not faced with serious financial challenges, you have a chance to put your house in order. It’s a cliché, but it’s underestimated as an analgesic on all levels. Putting your house in order, if you can do it, is one of the most comforting activities, and the benefits of it are incalculable.”

Remnick’s Profile of Cohen offers a look into the introspection of the musician’s final days:

Stephen Colbert Reveals How He Knows the Latest Trump Denial Is True ~ NYT

Credit…CBS

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On Thursday, The Washington Post reported that Attorney General William P. Barr declined President Trump’s request to hold a news conference in order to say that the president had not broken any laws in his July call to Ukraine. Trump angrily tweeted in response, denying there was any truth to the story.

“Bill Barr refused to publicly defend the president? Something is seriously wrong. That’s like Nicolas Cage turning down a movie role.” — STEPHEN COLBERT

“In a series of rage tweets this morning, he wrote ‘A fake Washington Post con job.’ ‘Totally untrue and just another fake news story,’ ‘lowlife reporters,’ ‘pure fiction’ from a ‘garbage newspaper.’ He said this ‘never happened’ and there were ‘no sources,’ which means it definitely happened and there are multiple sources.” — JIMMY KIMMEL

“Of course, there’s only one way to make sure a story about Trump is true, and that’s if he rage-tweets his denial: ‘Bill Barr did not decline my request to talk about Ukraine. The story was a fake Washington Post con job with an ‘anonymous’ source that doesn’t exist. Just read the transcript. The Justice Department already ruled that the call was good. We don’t have freedom of the press!’ I’m not sure what to make of that last sentence. Is that a complaint or is that a new executive order? [imitating Trump] ‘We don’t have freedom of the press. Write that down. While we’re at it, we’re also getting rid of that one where we can’t covet other people’s wives. Have you seen that chick Jared’s with? Exactly my type.” — STEPHEN COLBERTSIGN UP

Overlooked No More: Annie Londonderry, Who Traveled the World by Bicycle

She cycled away from her Boston home and into stardom, leaving a husband and three small children for a journey that came to symbolize women’s independence.

A cabinet card of Annie Kopchovsky, better known as Annie Londonderry, who set out in her early 20s to bicycle around the world.

 

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The decade before the 20th century began saw an explosion in bicycle sales and cycling in general. The so-called “safety bicycle,” with wheels of equal size and a chain mechanism that allowed pedaling to drive the back wheel, along with the arrival of the pneumatic tire, had transformed cycling from an acrobatic and somewhat perilous enterprise into a pleasurable, less hazardousand even utilitarian recreation. Bicycles were mass produced as men increasingly used them to commute to work.

Especially significant was that women, for the first time, took to the activity, relishing the freedom it gave them from the restrictions of a homebound existence. Corsets and billowy skirts even gave way to bloomers so that women could ride comfortably. The bicycle was very much a part of the early women’s movement.

“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling,” the suffragist Susan B. Anthony said in an 1896 interview in The New York World with the pioneering journalist Nellie Bly. “I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel. It gives woman a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. It makes her feel as if she were independent. The moment she takes her seat she knows she can’t get into harm unless she gets off her bicycle, and away she goes, the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”

‘Saturday Night Live’ Welcomes Kristen Stewart and a Hero Dog

This week’s episode began with a rare cameo-free cold open, which spoofed Elizabeth Warren.

Credit…NBC
  • No surprise celebrity cameos were required this time. The opening sketch of this weekend’s “Saturday Night Live,” hosted by Kristen Stewart, gave the spotlight to one of the show’s own cast members — in this case, Kate McKinnon, in her recurring role as Senator Elizabeth Warren. The sketch found her at a 2020 presidential campaign event in Iowa after proposing a $20.5 trillion health care plan.

 

First, McKinnon had a few general remarks for her crowd. “Look at me,” she said. “I am in my natural habitat: a public school on a weekend. And I just housed a Nature Valley bar in the hallway, so I am jacked up and ready to pipe off.”

She offered her condolences to Beto O’Rourke, who announced that he was dropping out of the presidential race. “Thank you so much for running a great campaign and sticking around long enough to call me punitive,” McKinnon said. “I was so badass. Let me know how my dust tastes, all right?”

She also offered a tongue-in-cheek encouragement to President Trump, who recently said he was changing his primary residence from New York to Florida.