This is the beginning of an epic column, so please read and let me know your insights! More to come next week!
We were thirty minutes into the ceremony when the medicine began to take hold like a fever, washing my blood in a hot, nauseatingly ticklish wave. A distant sound: water rushing through metal pipes? I turned to monitor the young man beside me, hoping to perhaps get an assessment since we were similar in the time-dose continum, but he sat perfectly still in his mccaw-feather necklaces, his knees delicately folded in lotus.
One of the two Colombian “curanderos” (Spanish for healer) whistled a high-pitched incantation (referred to as an Icaro, a song that channels the spirits) through the dark room. His voice reached in and clutched my racing heart. The room began to buzz, but nobody seemed to notice. From the twisted chambers of my skull, I heard the faint, familiar mumbling of cackling voices.
Enter the Lords of Gonzo.
“WHAT the HELL is going on HERE?” The two cronies — Hunter Thompson and my father, John G. Clancy himself — cajoled, peering at the scene through my third eye. Circling my eyes crazily, I watched the candle-lit altar in the middle of the room dissolve into a pixilated mandala. Things were getting weirder by the minute, and of course my Gonzo comrades were on time to crash the party.
“What are all these FREAKS doing here, swaying in their seats like drunk autistic sailors?! DON’T JUST SIT THERE! DOOOO something, goddamnit!” Dizziness hit and I had the urge to stand up and dance. That’s when I knew it was really them, my Gonzo comrades—they never missed an opportunity to dance. As much as I wanted to stand, toast to the strange underworld we were entering, though, I felt an invisible cape hanging heavily over my shoulders, causing me to slouch like the Good Doctor. In an attempt to delay my impulse to make a scene and lash-out wildly, I gathered up my strength and slithered with wobbly knees and crooked ankles out of the room and into the harvest moonlit night.
BIRTH AS GONZO
There’s a moment in a taped phone call from 1969 where, conspiring new tactics to win the upcoming Sheriff election, my father shouts to Hunter: Do you think I CHOSE to be Radicalized like this?! Don’t you think we would have been happy as a plumbers, car salesmen for Christsake?!” Listening carefully now, I can relate to the desperate, seething glory in his voice. Because its true. Gonzo isn’t something you aspire to become. It’s something your soul chooses before it’s born, an odd tick that leads you towards revolution and uprisings and, if your not careful, complete madness.
It’s a rote story in my family: My father and Dr. Thompson were cronies and roommates in NYC when Hunter worked as a copy boy for Time Magazine. They raised hell together in San Francisco, sat together on the “council of the Aquarius”, and, despite their different paths, stayed friends until their death. Before I fell in love Hunter’s writing, I knew him as a strange uncle, someone with whom my father used to drink absinthe on frigid winter nights, share a cot on Perry Street, climb the Brooklyn Bridge on Fridays at dusk, light mangy couches on fire, join forces to elect as sheriff (“just 500 votes short, my father would mumble, “he should have taken my advice and cozied up more to the ranchers.”) Growing up, I associated Hunter with our peacocks (who we would often drive over to Woody Creek) and my father with plastic cigarette holders, Gonzo tales, and one helluva fiery soul.
When Hunter died, my family drove to Woody Creek for his last bash: the cannon blastoff. It was a deliciously eerie blend of Hollywood and home-town country: Colorado natives chuckled over memories of playing horseshoe and romping the jeep with the Good Doctor while buzzing production assistants rearranged giant Styrofoam boulders underneath the throbbing fifty-foot altar. Lyle Lovett crooned onstage and Bill Murray dipped a girl wearing a cowboy hat in a waltz on the dance floor; Josh Hartnett leaned on the bar aside Senator McGovern and waited for a drink.
Past the bodyguards and chandeliers, hundreds of fans lined the street on the outskirts of the property holding glow sticks, cardboard signs of the Gonzo fist, and blow-up dolls.
My father’s memory that night floats through me like a ghost. He and I shared a lot in common: writing, debating, laughing like lunatics with our necks craned up to the night sky. The thing we both loved the most though was dancing. At one point during a particularly fantastic bluegrass jig, my father turned to me on the dance floor, grinning madly. Thick grey hairs shot out of his ears and two long fang teeth dropped down from his smile, giving him a Warewolf look. “If you remember anything about us, just remember: we are warriors. It’s in your blood, it’s in your celtic genes. We are fighters.” With that, he raised his fists in the air and pumped his arms, twirling and kicking joyfully around the crowd. Not knowing it then, it would be the last real conversation I would ever share with him.
We kept dancing, and Hunter’s ashes were duly shot into a Colorado sky with low-hanging clouds that reflected the iconic fist like it was the Bat Signal. His ashes-and-gunpowder mix showered over the party like confetti. Exactly 40 days later, my father went out in his own blaze of glory. Driving past Ghost Ranch in New Mexico (Georgia Okeefe’s old stomping ground), he flipped his shiny black Mercedes at sunset. They said he died instantly. Being that my father acted as Hunter’s lawyer for many big deals, we nearly joked that HST really needed strong representation at The Pearly Gates and called his lawyer up for good council.
It’s really no surprise they chose to go out in a poof of ashes, my father and Hunter. After all, Football season had ended, as Hunter ominously wrote on a napkin as his suicide note, in a lot more ways than one. At that point in 2005, George W was two years strong into office and burning holes in history. Things didn’t look good. From the looks of the 2012 republican candidates, I don’t think they would have had it any other way. No, they bowed out with style, retired their masks just in time.