John Paul-Pryor describes the romanticism amongst the madness of the legendary journalist’s typewriter
At first, it might seem somewhat unlikely that the gun-toting, drug-loving gonzo journalist, author and political commentator Hunter S Thompson has much in common with Keats, or Baudelaire. But simmering away at the heart of his writing is a similar romantic vision of the world, as he himself acknowledged in an interview with Spin Magazine: “…I’m a romantic junkie born to the love and adventure ethic – cursed and burdened and stooped all my life from carrying the albatross of the ‘Romantic Sensibility’ – like Shelley and Keats and Lord Byron and Big Sam Coleridge and Keith Richards and Bob Dylan. Let me plan a killer dinner party… and let me invite all these guys.”
Hunter’s predilection for all sorts of outlawed pursuits and innate distrust of authority mirrors that of the likes of Baudelaire and Gainsbourg, and there is a striking similarity to Keats in the fact he also lost his father in his formative years. His taste for documenting the dark heart of the American dream could also very well be compared with Baudelaire’s taste for describing the Parisian underworld.
“Sex without love is as hollow and ridiculous as love without sex”
“There was a dark side to Hunter. He was a lord of the underworld, which can be exciting and creative, but also hard to be around,” his widow Anita Thompson told the The Observer in 2005. “He could be cruel, and not just to me. He was always honest; that could be painful.”
It appears that, like all romantics, Hunter was a man of two distinct sides – a creature given to both the darkness and the light. Perhaps it is a testament to his romantic nature that he married his wife of just a few years so late in life, despite outcry from some of his circle.
It was a decision that exhibited a penchant for romantic letter writing that also recalls Keats: “At first, I didn’t want to get married. It was working very well living together… There were a couple of people in our circle who were not happy about it; I didn’t want to upset them. Hunter said it was pure jealousy. It was a territorial thing, and I worried about it because the dynamics around here were so delicate.
”But then he wrote me the most beautiful love letter, and so I said, ‘Of course, any time you want.’ In his heart, he was old-fashioned. The way he put it was that it was predetermined before we met.”
Seemingly, for all the machismo that defined Hunter’s writing, there was a profoundly romantic side to him. After all, the photograph of his beaten face peering from above his trusty selectric typewriter – upon which he penned classics such as Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas – was taken after he had defended a woman from a savage beating at the hands of The Hell’s Angels.
And let us not forget that while Keats expressed a wish to be as steadfast as his bright star, Hunter fully realized the ambition – his ashes were famously shot into the starry firmament on an enormous peyote-button-shaped rocket… exploding into the night sky with impossible beauty.