Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Hunter S. Thompson|The Proud Highway

                  I can’t think of a better title for a book based on a picaresque writer like Hunter S. Thompson than his collection of letters from1955-1967 called, “The Proud Highway.” This collection of letters, during his formative years as a budding journalist, reveal a man determined to stay on the road less taken no matter the danger or barrage of hurdles. In them, Thompson makes vitriol—spawned from his real life frustrations—come off as elegant prose.

Thompson to an oldgirlfriend (pg.136)

“The phone company isready to take out my phone and the light company is ready to cut off my gas andelectricity. I cashed a check in Florida for my bond and it bounced. Tomorrowone of my brothers will poison the other and my mother will confess to havingbeen a Communist spy for fifteen years. I paid half my rent with a check and itwill bounce. In a country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

                Nomadic is a word I’d use to describe Thompson’s, “Buy the ticket, take the ride,”approach to journalism. With those words he was saying that one has to live itin order to write it, if one seeks to find the truth in it. This ideology prompted him to roam town to town seeking gainful employment. He began a shortstint in Florida working for the Air Force, shortly, then bouncing over to the east coast—a stint as a copy boy at TIME in NYC—and after an experience or twoon the coast it was off to Puerto Rico, South America, the west coast andfinally mid-west. By freelancing, Thompson had freedom to travel but nary thefinance to enjoy it. Many publishers felt unsettled by his cynical prose andthere was a sense of frustration with the absurdity of it.

Thompson from Bogota,Columbia to a friend (pg.341)

“Being a free-lanceris impossible, of course; they are used to $100-a-day types who fly in and outwithout the faintest idea of who the president is or what it means. These arethe Alliance for Progress boys, deft technicians all. And then there are thesocial workers, vastly dedicated people who make a man feel degenerate if he can’tavoid a feeling that they are all phonies. It is like knocking the flag.

“Everybody is workingterribly hard on some Worthwhile Project, and for some queer reason it is depressing.They are hauling the indians out of the mud huts and putting them in huts madeof concrete blocks—then hiring $100-a-day photographers to take pictures of theprogress. They have imported ping-pong and the Twist to combat the Red Menace,and an unsalaried cynic with no coat or tie might just as well slink off tosome bistro and masturbate in a back booth.”

                Thompson lived a life without a safety net as he would often say, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.” He got his most challenging ride in 1965 when The Nation asked him to do a piece on the motorcycle gang Hell’s Angels. This would lead toThompson’s fringe association with the bikers, a book about them and hiseventual hospitalization from the association. Early on he ran the assignmentby his old friend Charles Kuralt feeling out the interest level by explaining his daring exposure.

Thompson to Kuralt(pg.498)

“Dear Charley,

It’s been a wild dayhere. At 6:30 this morning I finally rooted the last Hell’s Angel out of myliving room and went to bed, just as Sandy (His wife) was getting up for herfour-hour stint at the real estate office. I’m doing a piece on motorcyclegangs for The Nation—no money but plenty of kicks. Before I let them into thehouse that night I explained that I didn’t go much for fist-fighting, butpreferred to settle my beefs with a double-barreled 12-gauge shotgun. Theyseemed to grasp this concept and we got along fine; Sandy’s hysteria abated, Iwas a gallon of wine and a case of beer poorer, but in the end I think I gotthe makings of about five fine stories.”

                Thompson’s gamble with the Angels would pay off, but it would by one expensive ticket and one nasty ride. As he said in his novel Fearand Loathing in Las Vegas, “You can turn your back on a person, but neverturn your back on a drug.” For Thompson, the oft doped and drunk Angels had all the makings of an unstable drug. Apparently, he was away from his Angel contacts and went to take a few pictures on a last run when he was accosted. His recounting would be that an Angel hita woman in her face and Thompson called him a coward. Then next thing he sawstars and was almost beaten to death. He paid a high price for a journalisttrying to get the truth of a matter and felt betrayed by the devil he thoughthe knew.

Thompson to Hell’sAngels leader Sonny Barger (pg.585)

“In all, I had noreason to expect that sort of action—as I’m sure you realize—and in general itdisappointed me about the Angels.”

                WhatThe Proud Highway offers is the chronological account of how one of America’s most prolific journalists came to find his voice. From a wayward youth thatlanded him in the Air force, to a disillusioned stint as a copy boy at TIME, tothe Tropics and beyond, throughout his homeland, embedded with an outlaw-motorcycle-gangall the way to Woody Creek, CO, Thompson lived the life of a poet-warrior. Hisrogue lifestyle couldn’t help but infiltrate his prose and this becomes obviousafter reading twelve years of his personal reflections and missives. Thompson became battle-hardened traversing life’s battlefields clinging on to the onething he could never let go of, his pride.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Review| Marc Weingarten’s: The Gang That Wouldn’t Write Straight

By Derrick S. McCluskey

                It was refreshing to learn how a writer comes to find their voice. In Marc Weingarten’s: The Gang That Wouldn’t Write Straight, I was given specific methodologies on how pioneers, of what would be called the New Journalism movement, came to be. Weingarten begins by first explaining New Journalism as, “Journalism that reads like fiction and rings with the truth of reported fact.” I found this to be an enlightenment of the tried-and-true tradition of reporting the facts as they happened. So often in life the facts have very little to do with the truth of a matter.

            Weingarten’s first examples of rogue reporting were what he called the roots of the revolution: Jimmy Breslin, Truman Capote and Lilian Ross to name a few. There were many more, but for the sake of brevity I’ll stick to the ones I feel that I learned something useful from.  Jimmy Breslin was the man whose philosophy on reporting was to go in the opposite direction of the pack. He wasn’t concerned with winners and felt the story was with life’s losers. An example of Breslin’s ability to find a story was his covering of JFK’s funeral. He did a portrait on the gravedigger. My takeaway from reading him was that a writer can’t always be focused on the obvious. Often, there’s a bigger truth or meaning that can be mined from the peripheral of a story.

            Truman Capote took peripheral to another level when he went to cover the murder trial of two men who killed a family in Kansas. He compiled six years of interviews, namely getting the facts from the only eye witnesses: the murderers themselves. He spent so much time breathing in the facts of the story that he ended up turning the assignment into a best-selling novel, “In Cold Blood.” What was of note in his rendition of the facts was that he took the liberty to fill in the blanks with his own words. This led to what he called a “non-fiction novel.” Capote pulled this off because he was so meticulous with his six years of notes. I believe it was because of his bounty of facts that he was able to ethically improvise the holes.

            Holes were entirely absent; however, in Lilian Ross’s profiles. Ross wrote profiles of people by merely following them around for a couple of days and then reporting the events in story form. I was so interested in the way Weingarten showcased her talent that I went online and read her full profile of Ernest Hemingway in 1950. At the time the New Yorker released the profile, many readers felt Ross had betrayed the legend; yet, Hemingway himself was very happy with the piece. In it, Ross writes a captivating tale of meeting the renowned author at the airport in NYC and following him and his wife back to their hotel, the next day running errands with Hemingway. In her piece, Ross captures Hemingway’s mortality. I believe this is what Hemingway loved so much about the piece. At the time, I have to imagine he felt immense pressure to continue to be immortal and Ross was able to showcase his authenticity in her piece, “How Do You like It Now, Gentlemen?”

            Authenticity seemed to be the catalyst for this new form of journalism. There were many other writers showcased: Tom Wolfe’s onomatopoeia and motion prose, Joan Didion’s introspective take and Hunter S. Thompson’s, “If you buy the ticket, you might as well take the ride,” approach to storytelling. There are also many writer’s that I’m choosing to leave out, aware that I’m now on the verge of 600 words and I feel as though I’ve only just begun to recount this book. My overall impression is that this is a mandatory book for writers. With each example, Weingarten, tends to highlight the specific circumstances as to how each writer began to find their voice and carve their niche. For Wolfe, it was a car show that was too vibrant to be dulled down with a normal recitation of the facts. For Didion, it was an ability to capture the truth in life’s disorder. Thompson was trying to make writing a full-contact sport when he got his ending to, “Hell’s Angels.” Ultimately, all of these writers were simply trying to be honest with their words and true to the event.

            In the end it’s about telling a story and being accurate to the ultimate meaning of that story. Regurgitating facts is not always an accurate view of an event. Often, what defines the truth is a complete portrait of something that may use colors not present in the documented acts that factually occurred.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Man Claims Sloth Affliction, Not Dereliction

By Hannibal Rex

Walter Reed, a 38-year-old man from Chicopee, Mass was arrested for tax evasion; his defense, “sloth affliction.”

The case is scheduled to go before a jury next Monday. The Federal Government claims that Reed failed to pay taxes for the last five years.

“It’s like something has a hold of me. I can’t seem to accomplish anything, I let things slide, I have been afflicted with the ‘sloth’,” Reed spoke and went on to say, “It’s out of my control – I’m possessed!”

Reed is an employee of DEPEX Inc. and worked there as a mid-level supervisor for the last 12 years. “I used to pull parts and do inventories, but I worked my way up to management. Once my job slowed down, my life seemed to follow.”

Reed blames the company for failure to recognize his sloth. “They told me to manage people that were able to manage themselves. I had nothing to do?  They set me up for this.”

A representative from DEPEX, Chris Bedlam, spoke to Reed’s condition, “He’s a crackpot. Simple. He checked out of this job the same year we promoted him.”

“It’s a well known fact that most management is useless. In the factory world we call it ‘blue-collar retirement’,” Bedlam said with a look of disbelief.

Reed contends that it was his supervisor’s constant harassment that gave him the affliction.

“He (Reed’s supervisor) would constantly harass me with tasks that made no practical sense. He drove me to a breakdown,” Reed spoke with a scowl.

A cursory walk through the warehouse reminds you of the inner workings of a beehive. Each worker moves in concert --on a mission—to accomplish their task.

“I showed up each and every day to stare at the clock. It was mind numbing. I was happier being a worker. The tasks from my boss were mindless and sounded like babble – it drove me insane.”

Reed filed paperwork today in a suit against DEPEX Inc. claiming, “Sloth affliction from lack of purpose.” Though, his dereliction toward the government is another matter.