Posted by Jesse Jarnow

The latter was reported on Page 6 of the New York Post at the behest of the publicist recently hired by the magazine for which I was writing. "I wish I could make a fool out of myself and not see it reported the next week in Time," Thompson grouses on the '77 disc. But I'm not sure if he really means it. For whatever other drugs he consumed, Thompson was a stone ego freak, and it must have pained him -- to some degree -- to no longer be the enfant terrible of his peak years.

Besides Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the only other allusion I've seen to adrenochrome -- the quasi-mythical extract of human adrenal gland gobbled by Duke and Gonzo -- is in Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception. It is, he writes, "a product of the decomposition of adrenaline, [and] can produce many of the symptoms observed in mescaline intoxication. But adrenochrome probably occurs spontaneously in the human body. In other words, each one of us may be capable of manufacturing a chemical, minute doses of which are known to cause profound changes in consciousness." And -- after all -- what is adrenaline but pure, chemical ego? And -- journalistically speaking -- what is ego if not Gonzo?

It wasn't the drugs -- at least, the consciously consumed ones -- that got in the way of his work, it was Thompson himself. As he told me at Elaine's: "drugs are no excuse, being drunk is no excuse. If that's how you're gonna operate in the world, don't try to blame it on some weird shit." My old roommate said that Thompson never lived up to the potential of Vegas -- an impressive first novel, no doubt -- and Campaign Trail '72. Did Thompson realize it? Maybe. The word "atavistic" looms large in Vegas: animal instincts. If Thompson realized he was done, I think it might've been on that level, bum leg and all. The Action was over.

Thompson's heroes were brawling, swaggering literary men like Ernest Hemingway -- whose tone he copped for his "lost" first novel, The Rum Diary -- a deeply troubled soul who blew his brains out in an Idaho garage. In that sense, Thompson joins a well-established -- if not exactly fine -- tradition. He's dead either way, but I can't come to think of his final act as particularly depraved. And even though I recognize it's fucking stupid, I keep coming back to the idea of it as honorable. Not objectively speaking. Not any old suicide is honorable. But, well, as my current roommate said, it's a very samurai way to go out and, besides, nobody could possibly argue that Thompson didn't speak his piece.

He did. Loudly. Beautifully. Thompson will be remembered for the sum total of his work -- that is, the drug-snorting, gun-toting caricature he became -- rather than the creative process that led him there, the journalistic skills he honed, and the straight hippie transcendence he sought. His suicide will only add to the myth. He was a massive writer long before he discovered acid and the Gonzo persona and probably would've been writing for the New York Times even if Fear and Loathing hadn't happened. While I wonder if he inspired more people to start writing or to drop acid, I don't wonder about which figure Thompson would be more proud of. Not for a second.

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