Hunter S. Thompson
By: Joshua Glenn | Categories: HiLo Heroes

HUNTER S. THOMPSON (1937-2005) scorned the ideologies and discourses of older and younger generations alike — yet he wasn’t a cynic. His elders found him too anti-authoritarian: he was discharged from the Air Force in ’58 because “his rebel and superior attitude seems to rub off on other airmen,” which is how he ended up working as a journalist in San Francisco as the Sixties (1964-73) were starting. Thompson had little use for his juniors, either: in a May ’67 New York Times Magazine story, he praised New Left activists and absurdist Diggers while deriding the vacuous optimism of groovy Boomer hippies. But he wasn’t a liberal or a leftist; he was enough of a libertarian gun nut to admire, for example, biker gangs. (His ’66 book Hell’s Angels ended with him getting stomped by his new pals.) In 1970, a Boston Globe Magazine editor used “gonzo” — a South Boston term of admiration for a guy who’s blotto but still on his feet — to describe Thompson’s Scanlan’s Monthly story (written in a quasi-fictional first-person singular) about the Kentucky Derby. Thompson used the term, and perfected the style, in one of the funniest picaresques ever: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; serialized in Rolling Stone in ’71, it criticized the squandered opportunities of the Sixties. His last great work, the much-imitated Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 (1973), made the same criticisms. Like the America he loved and served, Thompson went downhill after the Sixties — slowly, for a decade or two, then rapidly. Five years ago, he shot himself at his rural Colorado “fortified compound.”

ALSO BORN THIS DATE: Thomas Kuhn.

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Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based semiotic culture and brand analyst. He is editor/publisher of HILOBROW and the Radium Age science fiction imprint HILOBOOKS. In addition, Josh is co-author of several books, including (with Mark Kingwell and the cartoonist Seth) THE IDLER'S GLOSSARY and THE WAGE SLAVE'S GLOSSARY, the object-oriented story collections TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY and (with Rob Walker) SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS, and (with Elizabeth Foy Larsen) the family activities guides UNBORED, UNBORED GAMES, and the forthcoming UNBORED ADVENTURE. In the ’00s, Josh was an editor and columnist for the BOSTON GLOBE's IDEAS section; in the ’90s, he published the high-lowbrow zine/journal HERMENAUT.