You might find Hunter S. Thompson and William F. Buckley an odd pair for me to mention in the same breath, least of all, the same paragraph or blog. But they both have been hanging out together in spirit in my life for many years. You see, they have both been idols or icons of mine since the 1970s. And both are now dead.
William F. Buckley is called the father of modern conservatism and succinct, political thought. He is the granddaddy of the political TV talk show with his PBS Firing Line program – a show I absorbed avidly whenever I could. Brilliant, amusing, satirical, prolific with a touch of the bizarre. He set a standard of conservatism ideology that has not been properly followed. But Buckley was no mere political mortal. He could and often did write about anything. At the end of one of his anthologies, Buckley wrote an essay about the death of his mother. In a perfect piece of work, musical, deep and cleaved together with precision, it embodied all those elusive elements that combined form great works of art. (I have read a Kinky Friedman essay on near the same subject, and he also caught this lightning in a jar. You know it when you see and read it.) When you saw Buckley on television? Grab a pen and paper. Line for line, moment-to-moment his every word had the potential to become a worthy lifelong quote. You’ll want to note how he asked for a cup of coffee.
“It had all the earmarks of a CIA operation; the bomb killed everybody in
the room except the intended target!” – William F. Buckley
Hunter S. Thompson was the chief sperm donor of “Gonzo Journalism,” a subjective, first person narrative that involved the reporter’s actions and thoughts interwoven with the subject of the article or book. He was whacked out. Whacked out! NOTHING was taboo to him as he spoke, burped-up or vomited observations and tirades about sports, politics, sex and…well…what else is there? Hunter was a very dangerous man. He spoke, lived and wrote with danger. In my mind I found a poetic genius lurking in there, and not too deep below the surface. He was world famous for a reason. My favorite times were when TV Host Charlie Rose would spend an hour with him on the “Rose Show” every year or so. Many people will remember Thompson from the version Johnny Depp portrayed in the movie, based on the book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Whacked out trip! But there was much more to this typewriting Hemingway on acid. He too, often produced perfect, cleaved pieces of artistry.
“When things turn weird, the weird turn pro.” – Hunter S. Thompson
Literary magic – this kind of lightning in a jar is an art as diverse as the Sistine Chapel in Italy or graffiti in Philadelphia. Good is good. Great is great. Lightning. How can the names Buckley and Thompson be uttered in the same breath? Admired by me? Two of a kind? They both wrangled and wrestling with the lightning. They often won.
Thompson died a few years back. His ashes were blasted over Colorado from a freakin’ cannon. Then Buckley died. His body will be ensconced in a traditional family grave surrounded by good dead Catholics and statues. The world is a poorer place because they no longer walk among us. Perhaps they represent two extreme ends of a continuum to me? I don’t know, but, Lord, I miss them so. I deeply mourn their passing every day. I miss those electric jars.