And anyway, that “noble loser” stuff isn’t entirely true. As Jim Ridley points out in his Village Voice review of Gonzo, Thompson was a walking contradiction — “an iconoclast who relished winners as much as any football coach.” So one wonders what he’d have to say about a potential winner like Obama, whose press coverage has sometimes bordered on the hagiographic.
Thompson’s dreamy musing, in Campaign Trail ’72, that “If McGovern beats Nixon in November he will be in a position to do anything he wants either to or with the [Democratic-] party structure” does sound a lot like the Obamabots’ pie-in-the-sky hopes for their candidate as instantaneous transformative force.
But he was pragmatic, too: Gonzo mentions his admiration for the Kennedys’ abilities to appeal to our better natures but still “play hard at midnight.” In toppling the Clinton juggernaut, Obama has proven — so far — that he’s as hard-nosed as anyone.
Another thing Obama has going for him: he’s a Dylan fan. Thompson famously fell for Carter after hearing his 1974 Law Day address at the University of Georgia. In it, Carter remarked that one “source of my understanding about what’s right and wrong in this society is from a friend of mine, a poet named Bob Dylan. . . . I don’t think I ever realized the proper interrelationship between the landowner and those who worked on a farm until I heard Dylan’s record, [‘Maggie’s Farm’].”
Lo and behold, in an interview for Thompson’s old employer Rolling Stone, conducted by his old friend/foe Jann Wenner, Obama rattled off his iPod playlist: Springsteen, Jay-Z, and “actually, one of my favorites during the political season is ‘Maggie’s Farm.’ It speaks to me as I listen to some of the political rhetoric.”
If that wasn’t a tidy enough coincidence for Thompson (whose lifelong love-affair with “Mr. Tambourine Man” was legendary), an endorsement from the man himself — “We’ve got this guy out there now who is redefining the nature of politics from the ground up,” Dylan has said — probably would.
Carter’s Law Day address (a “king hell bastard of a speech,” Thompson called it) set the wheels in motion for a Rolling Stone cover story that, Brinkley says in Gonzo, “helped Jimmy Carter win [the 1976] election.” That’s power he wielded. He “was the most popular writer in the United States.”
As Thompson told Playboy in a 1974 interview featured in the new collection Conversations with Hunter S. Thompson (University Press of Mississippi), edited by Beef Torrey and Kevin Simonson, when he invented Gonzo, by accident, in desperation at deadline, “I was convinced I was finished.” Instead, readers ate it up like peyote buttons. “I thought, ‘Holy shit, if I can write like this and get away with it, why should I keep trying to write like the New York Times?’ It was like falling down an elevator shaft and landing in a pool full of mermaids.”
(“Gonzo,” of course, was coined by late Boston Globe writer Bill Cardoso — derived, reportedly, from Southie slang describing the last guy standing after a drinking contest.)