Glancing at the little yellow cylinder of pills to my side, I expect something to jump out onto the page. I’ve got my keyboard in front of me, an open word document and I can hear rain hitting the rooftop. It’s cold, but not too cold. It’s a nice room temperature to sit in. I’ve got my coffee and my cigarettes. Inside the translucent yellow container are a whole range of colours. Leo gave them to me in exchange for three grams of weed. So now I’ve got this bottle of painkillers, benzos, beta-blockers and sedatives. I threw in some blue pseudoephedrine just for some contrast. There was a point of MDMA in there but I snorted that one pretty quickly.
Lo and behold, I can’t write though. This feeling inside me seems to run along the logic that simply being around drugs will create product. This is some real Hunter S Thompson shit, man.
When Thompson blew his brains out with a shotgun, so did the spirit of counterculture gonzo. The movie adaption of Fear and Loathing became a massive hit and inspired thousands of predominately young teenage boys (myself included) to experiment with psychedelic drugs. Through the late 90’s and into the mid 00’s, psychedelic drug use shot up in the west. While not the sole driver, I’m confident that this movie had a large role to play. 30 years later, the beat generation still echoes amongst those who live within “cult” and alternative genres. It’s still all about Thompson, Kerouac and Burroughs (then proceeding to the next most common alt genre(s), Sci-fi/Fantasy.) At the time, nobody was documenting what these writers were documenting. Fair enough.
But given the unexpected influence that gonzo and beat had on writing in the west, there are underlying elements of permanence to their successes. Today still, people mythologize Hunter S Thompson even to a demi-god status. It ties hand in hand with aspiring writers, and drug use (two groups of things which historically have always interacted.) Everybody loves the idea of a brash, no-rules drug taking writer. Thompson is redeemed by his writing quality. The fact that he wrote well and was respected at the time [as a controversial figure] only reiterates his majestic status. I have met plenty of people who want to be Raoul Duke. In my budding years of experimentation with both drugs and writing, I was doing the same things. Partying and expecting the results to come. The results don’t come though, you just end up at the same place you were at before you went to the party.
To those who eat the myth, Hunter S Thompson is the pinnacle justification for drug use, because his simultaneous career success and drug use is historically documented via the fact of his own writing. We have tangible recorded proof that this man existed. Thompson is no longer a man but an idea. He is used as an ideological tool to defend liberty.
But is he relevant anymore?
The 60’s have ended. For twenty years, people reflected back on the sixties. The time has passed. Counterculture now still exists, but the meaning has changed. There is none of the apparent spirit of the 1960’s which every writer wrote about today in 2014 Australia. Drugs have been picked up and dropped by collective groups of writers dozens of times since then.
This lingering mythology of the beat generation is holding back writers now, I believe. Locking us into cyclical frameworks of creativity. Those writers who aspire to write in any “gritty” or “adventurous” way, documenting down and reflecting on personal experience. Hunter S Thompson traveled to Las Vegas to cover a motorbike race in the desert, but instead he took a litany of substances and wrote about that instead. That is what happens in Fear and Loathing. And I agree that within America at that time, it’s good that someone came along and wrote about what it was like in the seedy underbelly of America’s cities. What it was like to go on a 3 day drug binge and still somehow keep his job. People need their heroes. But that time has passed. Thompson was a reaction to a societal era, he is not a transcendental figurehead.
We need to stop putting so much focus on the drugs. The more one talks about them, the more one creates barriers between users and non-users, between legislation and non-legislation. The pharmaceutical industry is one of the dominant corporations across the OECD board. Public and even authoritative support for the War on Drugs is falling across the globe. In the face of this environment we need to change the counter-conversation”, which is becoming more and more repetitive and niche. Functional drug users are now an unspoken societal norm.
Thompson was a great writer who influenced me and hundreds and thousands of others, but the times have changed. A new conversation needs to begin.