photo & text by nacrowe
recently came across the documentary FOR NO GOOD REASON (SONY PICTURES CLASSICS, 2012) which loosely follows the career of the legendary BRITISH painter/visual artist RALPH STEADMAN through a series of interview with JOHNNY DEPP. with little surprise, much of the oxygen in the room is taken up with talk of his famous collaboration with AMERICAN writer and GONZO journalist HUNTER S. THOMPSON who passed away less than a decade before its filming. but not all of it.
what this film made me appreciate was the full context of STEADMAN's work and how bitingly political much of it was. its as if he took the turbulent, introspective psychological machinations of FRANCIS BACON's work and projected it outward onto a corrupt AMERICAN political apparatus that was not expecting that level vitriol and outright bile. what is also just as interesting is STEADMAN's questioning of the purpose of his work, since these warmongering capitalist structures have perpetuated themselves unabated through a new generation, his efforts to change the world inevitably failing. that lingering question is something that all artists, protestors and community organizers deal with at some point, if not constantly.
in the post-TRUMP (or perhaps pre-TRUMP empire) era it is a concern that feels particularly prescient and of-the-moment. what can art do in the face of raw power? his paintings are visceral and unwaveringly detailed to the pain and suffering of the war-torn, malnourished and forgotten victims of war as only someone like GOYA could attest beforehand in centuries past.
for what purpose if no one is listening? if no one cares outside of their own self-interest? there must be a good reason to create, provoke and progress. i just dont know it yet.
photo & text by nacrowe
i know people get caught up in the drugs culture immaculately encapsulated in HUNTER S. THOMPSON's epic FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (RANDOM HOUSE, 1971). and for good reason, its a legendary book that practically celebrates the liberating aspects of "expert" drug use in a pre-crack world before gangs and professionalized cartels, foreign and domestic, trafficked in and ravaged the urban landscape ablaze with SENSELESS VIOLENCE and PROFITEERING. for me the real freedom in this modern day ODYSSEUS epic series of travels, both external and internal, real and manufactured, as experienced in the character of RAOUL DUKE is in the writing.
HUNTER S. THOMPSON is a singular writer along the lines of his heroes ERNEST HEMINGWAY and F. SCOTT FITZGERALD. in this narrative he channels the naivety and abandon of the 60s counterculture while simultaneously critiquing the straight world for its procedures, deadlines and responsibility and the PSYCHIC DEATH therein. i appreciate the fact that THOMPSON abandoned a discernible character arc with a no lessons really learned, more a series of experiences and situations with no goals or sense of resolution or knowledge gained.
in lieu of no discernible character arc or traditional plot resolution it would not be correct to state that there is no action, my understanding is that it is all internal. as a reader we are led into the mind of a character that is on the verge of psychosis, the string linking his INTERNAL and EXTERNAL REALITIES being breached and reconfigured. we are led to question our understanding of this world through the eyes of a classic unreliable narrator, except maybe in this warped world the perception of drug fiend is how we can see things clearly for what they are. DUKE's hallucinations of bats and casino lounge lizards mating on full display are maybe harbingers of true existential threats where our fellow sentient beings are out to club and devour each other as the natural order has ad infinitum.
for me these hallucinations dovetail with my understand of the nature of literature, wherein an author's writings are cosmically transmogrified in our mind to create visions and understandings that are palatable yet wholly ephemeral. in essence the written word creates hallucinations and our interpretations of such create meaning. this is very much on display when THOMPSON at the conclusion of FEAR AND LOATHING muses about where the trajectory of his beloved generation went and how its psychic energy crested and receded, only to leave its memory imprinted on those who were there. much like our experience reading this novel.
one of my favorite books of all time. its depth, tone and inventive use of language has had me revisit it several times since engulfing it the summer before my freshman year of high school. highly recommended.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
when most think of GONZO journalist and famed american writer HUNTER S. THOMPSON, my guess is that usually some mental image appears of an indulgent eccentric that did everything in excess: women, drugs and firearms. this largely self-perpetuated caricature (even literally a character in the DOONSEBURY comic strip) as a crackpot by some belied a public image that never quite did his intellect justice.
it is my argument that added to the above list should be two further things he did in excess: freedom and empathy. it were these two indulgences that helped inform his ability to become a singular writer in the vein of era-defining authors like JACK KEROUAC and F. SCOTT FITZGERALD.
he cared deeply as only an author could for the words of the united states constitution, which he held sacrosanct, and chose to pursue those freedoms allotted to us as AMERICAN citizens. THOMPSON can almost be seen as a high priest of the constitution and for him running for public office, shooting his firearms and even the act of writing were all part of his adoration at the altar of the ENLIGHTENMENT and specifically THOMAS JEFFERSON, ALEXANDER HAMILTON and JOHN LOCKE-ian liberal political philosophy. what i am trying to express is that THOMPSON was a deeply moral thinker who cared very much about those very freedoms he pursued to excess.
this is why his suicide was so truly upsetting due to the fact that he likely felt the constitution he so held in high esteem was being trampled upon by charlatans like GEORGE W. BUSH and his cronies in DONALD RUMSFELD, DICK CHENEY, ALBERTO GONZALEZ and KARL ROVE among others. its hard to imagine how he would have felt about the current TRUMP ADMINISTRATION which makes BUSH and his ilk feel like the JV team of nefarious corruption. it is truly shocking how defiled and divided our national name has become in the last few years.
had he survived my hop is that THOMPSON would have continued to use his pen in the tradition of JONATHAN SWIFT or THOMAS PAINE. his absence is still deafening nearly 15 years after his death. can't think of anyone who has taken on the challenge which is depressing. almost as depressing as the thought of how few AMERICANS actually read, instead glued to their cable news bubbles or worse, social networks.
perhaps we as a nation have lost the power to think for ourselves. perhaps the language of the spectacle is the only thing that unites us. the idea of the communal event around the hearth of the tv. as a former english teacher myself, i question regularly the importance of the written word in an era where communication is devalued. perhaps it is better that THOMPSON didn't live long enough to witness the rise of the EMOJI and GIF and the TWEET. perhaps he is a different era.
the more i think about it the more depressed it makes me. so i'll stop now.