Late the night the mojo wire brought word of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s body, I finished off a bottle of pretty average single malt. Finished, which is to say drained the last glass from a liter that had been in the cabinet since September.
The heedless bastard nearly killed me, and lord knows how many of my generation, but he sure could write.
Starting out, you run to the strong voices, not the subtle ones, and there must be failed writers everywhere crippled by imitations of Hemingway and Faulkner, Kerouac and Bukowski, Thompson and Wolfe. And, where I’m from, Tom Robbins.
With any luck, I hold the only copies of Northwest Skier which remain from my own Hunter S. Thompson binge. There was one particular piece involving a 1961 Ford pickup with a Volkswagen three-speed, rush-hour traffic, a young pro skier and his wife, and dinner for twelve or eighteen in the slowly turning Space Needle restaurant, where the food never has been any damn good but I didn’t know how to order anyhow, and the wine was free. And some other things, but never mind.
I survived, and learned better. I never had the constitution to pursue Thompson’s peculiarly romantic chemical indulgences (romantic as in the 19th-century poets; I can’t imagine there was anything alluring about it in the flesh), nor the physical size and gall to visit odd corners of the third world and report, nor the luck to work in pro wrestling. At least they won’t make a movie about my life.
But Hunter S. Thompson could write, before he became a caricature of his own creation, and some after. Oddly enough, the piece that convinced me once and for all of his gifts was an old and minor rumination, collected in The Great Shark Hunt, on the passing of Hemingway.
And so, over my scotch in the silence of a nearly dark house, I re-read Thompson on Hemingway: “He was an old, sick, and very troubled man…So finally, and for what he must have thought the best of reasons, he ended it with a shotgun.”
Sometimes you don’t know why you know things, I guess.
And, no, I don’t have a transition out of that. But I do have a few happier notes to play, as well. Some time in the last few months we landed subscriber number 10,000. We’d have made a bigger deal of it, but with the ebb and flow of renewals it got complicated and we got busy and let the moment slip.
In the scheme of big-time publishing, ten thousand paid subscribers generally gets you shut down. But it means a lot to me — to us — because we’ve reached that number without renting a single mailing list, without hiring a single direct-mail consultant, without dumbing down our content. It means that you are reading (and hopefully subscribing to) No Depression because you somehow stumbled on it somewhere and liked it.
I am deeply grateful for your support. We all are.
Speaking of dumb content, an apology to this issue’s cover subject, John Prine. Last issue, in a review of the new Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver album, I gave the songwriting credit for “Hello In There” to Prine’s late friend, Steve Goodman.
I know better. Honest to goodness I know better. I’d like to say it’s a hangover from the New Journalism days in which the truth of an idea was more important than the facts, but it’s not.
I’d like to say that misplacing a songwriting credit when discussing a song about Alzheimer’s had poetic justice or some such, but it doesn’t.
It never works to be so sure you’re right without looking to be sure.
So I went into the back room and dug out that vinyl copy of Goodman’s 1973 album Somebody Else’s Troubles, one of the first hundred or so albums I bought, one of those records I lived with for a long time. Sure enough, it’s the first track — “The Dutchman” — that I’ve confused with “Hello In There”. Goodman didn’t write that one, either. (Someone named M. Smith did, and now I’ve gotta figure out who that is.)
Point being, Prine and Goodman and Hunter S. Thompson have been able to write words that ring in our memory still. It’s why I’ll miss Thompson, why I still miss Goodman’s music, and why I’m so delighted we have a chance to salute Prine’s first album of new songs in a long while.