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Words, Words, Words

A catalog of my comments and thoughts on books, reading, and writing as well as anything I come across that seems interesting. I used to sell other people's words at an independent bookstore but now I hope to get by on selling my own.


Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 - Hunter S. Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson’s Gonzo take on the 1972 presidential election was such an obvious choice for this year I thought I’d have to start bribing some young journalism majors who snagged it for class back in September months before we really thought the chaos would endure past Iowa and New Hampshire. I’m sitting on a pile of to-read books and put in an order for one of the few copies at the Free Library of Philadelphia figuring by the time it worked its way through everyone who wanted some context for the apocalyptic panic gripping our country’s leading television correspondents and party leaders I’d be in the market for a new read and it might even align with the conventions which could get into some very ugly business.


I don’t harbor a belief that any voice from the past would have kept this election on the rails—and I have to imagine Thompson would just be lumped in with the heated rants writ large—but when the dust clears in 2017 who else could describe the freakish and ugly nature of the 2016 election? Who else will have the language to describe “Bernie bros,” Clinton’s duplicity, the Republican clown car, and everything and anything about Donald J. Trump?


Few memories of the 1972 election survive. The 1968 Democratic convention was much more dramatic and even the crook Nixon was old news, he’d already been in power four years and things kept chugging along. Two Rolling Stone  writers emerged with new insights on the process even during what seems to be a pretty tame election. What would a gonzo journalist make out of 2016?


Somehow Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72 makes this all seem familiar, even Trump... almost even Trump. Before he even gets out of the primaries, which is really most of the action is in '72, we see all the molds in which we cast candidates to this day: The Shameless Politico, the Radical Bigot, the True Believer, the Zodiac Killer, the Ibogaine Freak. At times it seems eerily prescient and has made me question my  own stances in the election—not the big obvious stuff like opposing a guy who has taken multiple op-eds out against innocent men suspected of a brutal crime and one against them even after they were proven innocent but about what we can or should aspire to—and how I look at the politics and the process. Plus, when he levels an insult he commits.


“Hubert Humphrey is a treacherous, gutless old ward-heeler who should be put in a bottle and sent out with the Japanese Current. The idea of Humphrey running for President makes a mockery out of things that it would take too long to explain or even list here.”


The 40th Anniversary Edition comes with a helpful introduction which, good as it is, I can't help but think it a shame that we need Matt Taibbi to explain that Thompson isn’t a mere drug-addled frat-boy sent to freak out the squares, but an original voice with insights that are important to explore. A letter from your younger self except more clever, more cutting, more daring and, perhaps for those reasons, less able to just cope with the compromises we have deemed necessary for the adult world. Maybe that’s what draws him to McGovern.


What’s the importance of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72? Same as any historical book, perspective. Seeing the pitfalls ahead, and maybe making it a bit easier to know that shit has gotten strange and dark before. We should stand up to it, but we don’t have to panic. Also it’s hilarious and well written. It does feel long for what it is, but then it’s a collection so that can’t be helped (it originally ran serialized in Rolling Stone during the election).

Read. Enjoy. If your city has better sense than Philly and it is hard to get, it will still be valuable later. Thompson's guy lost so there is a whole lot on coping and several post-mortem interviews. Good luck in November.  Unless you’re voting for Trump. The man has been scum my entire life.