Saturday, October 30, 2010

Missing The Boat

There's a time and a place for everything, including Hunter S. Thompson (I have to admit, I always think the S in the middle there is one of those Homer Jay/J. Simpson things, along the lines of Harry S Truman, whose S stood for nothing, but I'm wrong - the S. in Hunter S. Thompson stands for Stockton). I'm reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas right now, and while I like it, I think I would have loved in high school. Now, I'm just sort of like, "Dude, enough with the ether and the mescaline and the knifeplay," although I do recognize that those things are sort of the point of the whole thing, and that it's kind of interesting in a corrupt-American-Dream sort of way.

But I get the sense that it's not for me. Written in 1971, back when American troops were busily losing the Vietnam War, and before the War On Drugs had been launched, the dizzy, lurching story of the Mint 400 features Raoul Duke, a Thompson stand-in, and his debauched attorney, as they try to survive a weekend fueled what Thompson describes as a "mobile police narcotics lab," in Las Vegas no less. It's mostly about how many drugs they can stuff in their maws, and how loopy they subsequently feel.

If I had read this ten years ago, back when drugs held a certain glamour, I would have been in awe of their dirty weekend. I had girlfriends who cried when Thompson died in 2005, since they had read his books in high school and seen their own drug consumption justified. If Thompson could gobble sheets of acid and still get played by Johnny Depp in the movie, then they, logic went, were pursuing art by doing stepped-on blow during weekend barbecues.

The same thing comes up with Requiem for a Dream, which I did actually see when I was sixteen. The climax features an amputation, an ECT session, and a double-ended dildo, and is all about how drugs are fun until they're really, really not. It was the alpha and omega of drug movies - a particularly stylish PSA about heroin and how crappy it'll make your life. The book, which is actually more upsetting, left me in a navy-blue funk for a week. The whole experience makes heroin seem awesome, until you're inevitably on the ward without an arm.

And on a much less drug-terror note, I finally saw Edward Scissorhands this summer, way, way too late. I loved it, because it's good, but if I had seen it when I was a kid, it could have taught me a ton about, you know, acceptance and difference and blah blah blah. Plus, Johnny Depp as Edward is just great, all tortured silence and ratty hair. I could have had a childhood kindred spirit in Edward Scissorhands's horribly messy 'do, instead of the Wakefield twins and their ridiculous heart-shaped faces and perfect blonde hair.

It's hard catching up on pop-culture references. Internet memes have a shelf life of weeks - once you've missed the boat on those, you're basically out of the running, joke-wise. Movies and TV shoes are a little more durable, but smoke-monster jokes are dunzo and "I am Jack's raging sense of inanity" are a dying breed. Not that it's impossible to cast your mind back to full stuff you loved a decade ago; more that, if you miss the moment, it's sort of hard to join in at a later date. You lose that head-space: things that were amazing to your younger self (the drug lore, the fight clubs, the dirty lays) morph into things that make us go "ew."

I remember the first time I saw The Matrix. I literally rewound the tape - this was back in the olden days, when movies didn't have chapters - and watched it again, straight through, barely breathing. It was so awesome, so epic, so punchy and green and blue and Keanu! It was awesome in a way that, twenty years from now, is going to be dated. Teenagers, looking for the thrills that thrilled their parents, are going to download that movie and watch it, wondering what all the fuss is about. Making it, not bad, but very much of its time - like Hunter S. Thompson, it'll be a kind of pop culture Mary Celeste, drifting along, influential and exciting but ultimately meant for a certain person in a certain moment.


  1. dude. I saw the Matrix a year after it came out on a bus to Quebec with my fellow grade 8's. I had to spend 6 hours pretending it did not just change my life, because I had "totally already seen it"

  2. Hunter S Thompson is much more time resistant that the matrix. Shoot yourself.

    1. It's less about what's more resilient throughout time, and more than there are things - like movies, books, albums and memes - that have a "you had to be there" sort of quality.

      I understand Thompson's point and purpose, and he's a fine writer, but his words didn't write themselves on my bones the way they could have if I was really into drugs and really impressionable.