September 21, 2010

Hunter S. Thompson demurs -- in style

If, like me, you have wondered about the quotes by celebrated authors splattered over the covers of less-celebrated authors’ books, telling you this book is the greatest I’ve read all year, you will enjoy this letter Hunter S. Thompson wrote to Ted Solotaroff of The American Review, demurring an invitation to provide such a quote. I found it in Fear and loathing in America: the brutal odyssey of an outlaw journalist 1968-1976, the second volume of his collected letters ("A wild ride!" -- Karen Craig).

--ellipses are HST’s, not mine

February 3, 1976
Woody Creek, CO
Dear Mr. Solotaroff…

I’ve spent about three hours trying to write you a letter to say why I can’t send the kind of “words of welcome” I suspect you want in re: Even cowgirls get the blues. But everything I’ve written so far would almost certainly sound rude and cynical & arrogant on your end, so I figure it’s best to just junk all the earlier drafts and tell you in this one, that I spent a few years as a part-time book reviewer and almost ten years, now, reading reviews of my own books … and on the basis of all that evidence, I think I’ll pass on the chance to render any judgement on other people’s books.

There are, of course, exceptions. When I first read Dog soldiers, for instance, I recommended it to friends with the assurance that I’d reimburse them for the price of the hardcover if they didn’t like it…and on the other end of the scale, where rancid bullshit lives, I am forced from time to time to comment on the Works of “Werner Erhard.”

In any case, I wish to hell you’d never sent me the galleys or proofs or whatever of Cowgirls – but since you did & I tend to trust yr. judgement for a variety of reasons that would take too long to list or even think about here I’m inclined to lend you the use of my name (since I assume that’s why you sent me this goddamn thing in the first place) to say – and to reproduce in any & all forms – any combination of English-language words amounting in total to less than 20, to say anything you deem fitting with regard to the merits of Cowgirls. You can say, for instance: “A weird & stunning work,” or “Sooner or later a book like this was bound to be written.” And sign my name to anything you compose.

I just got back home from 3 wks in Miami & LA, and I’m not in the mood to read a book that begins with an apology by the author for his use “throughout this book” (of) “third person pronouns and collective nouns in the masculine gender” – or any other gender, for that matter… And I also opened the book, as in my wont with unknown manuscripts, to a page somewhere in the middle: and in this case I hit on pages 160 and 161, where I found the style & tone or whatever of the writing to be not in my taste… which doesn’t mean this is anything but a wonderful book; but that’s your business, since I assume you’re somehow involved as an editor, and because of that and what I’ve heard about you I figure you’re in a far better position to judge this book than I am… and for that reason I’ll trust your judgement (in twenty (20) words or less) to say anything you want about the book, and to use whatever you want to say in my name for any purpose you think is right; I can’t imagine that anything I’d say would make the slightest difference in any way, but if you think it might, seize this opportunity & kick out the jams. For any & all legal, promotional & esthetic purposes, I hereby appoint you my spokesman for any combination of up to 19 words you can lash together.

          For good or ill;
          & Good luck,
          Hunter S. Thompson

 Incurably curious as I am, I wanted to know if Mr. Solotaroff took him up on the offer. The American Review has long since ceased publication (it folded not long after Even cowgirls get the blues came out, in fact), leaving no digitized traces. But surely a pithy 19 words-or-less endorsement by Hunter S. Thompson would have found its way onto the cover or the frontispiece of the book itself? Where could I find a 1976 copy of Even cowgirls get the blues?

The only person I could think of who would have kept his all these years was my older sister’s first boyfriend (I bet I’m not the only person this is true for). But presumably he is still living in Los Angeles -- not necessarily still with long hair and vaquero boots but quite possibly -- and our last encounter was in the pre-email era, so that didn't take me very far.

Who else could I try? Aha! A collectible Even cowgirls get the blues on a page of 50 iconic covers in the AbeBooks website’s Rare Book Room. A nice dustjacket with no quotes, no 'Search inside me'. Yeah, you know, collectible, as in quaint.

As long as I was there, I took a quick look at the AbeBooks price for a first edition ($1000 signed by the author, so I guess the market won’t be flooded by graying pony-tailed guys in vaquero boots selling their copies to buy a condo in Hawaii for their impending retirements – or maybe they have flooded the market, and the price used to be 5 times as much) and then headed down into my Old Faithful fabulous Central City Library basement, where I found a Bantam trade paperback bearing a 16 word testimonial from... hold on, one Thomas Pynchon. “This is one of those special novels – a piece of working magic, warm, funny, and sane.”

If you know anything about Hunter S. Thompson you can see how alien that would be to him. Warm, funny and sane?

If you don't know anything, or not enough, I recommend:

Buy the ticket, take the ride: Hunter S. Thompson on film. A documentary on DVD with lots of actors, some authors, and one really cool sheriff talking about Hunter S. Thompson, along with some good HST in first person. Includes Harry Dean Stanton singing Danny Boy to HST's memory.

Fear and loathing in Las Vegas

The Gonzo papers anthology

Ancient Gonzo wisdom : interviews with Hunter S. Thompson / edited by Anita Thompson.

The proud highway : saga of a desperate southern gentleman, 1955-1967 (the preceding volume to the one I am reading)

The kingdom of fear : loathsome secrets of a star-crossed child in the final days of the American century (the volume after the one I am reading)

Fear and loathing in America : the brutal odyssey of an outlaw journalist, 1968-1976, the one I am reading, with an Author’s Note from Hunter S. Thompson which ends like this:

“The period covered in these letters (1968-1976) was like riding on top of a bullet train for eight years with no sleep and no wires to hang on to. (Is that a dangling participle?) Never end a sentence with a preposition. Never get off a train while it’s moving. These are only a few of the rules I have learned & carefully broken in my time.”

I also like the homage to HST which John Dolan, American poet and author who resided in New Zealand during the final years of the "American century" (as HST liked to call it), wrote for the online version of “The Exile -- Mankind’s only alternative since 1997” called “A Hero of Our Time Hunter S. Thompson 1937-2005”.

Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 03:30
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