Recently, I read Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary. It is an excellent book written during Thompson’s early days before he became the “Gonzo” journalist of wild and crazy fame later in his life. His writing in The Rum Diary reminds me of what I’ve thought about William Faulkner’s Mosquitoes – Thompson hadn’t “become” Dr. Hunter S. Thompson when he wrote it, just as Faulkner hadn’t “become” Faulkner when Mosquitoes was published.
Their eventual identities and writing styles were on the way and these books were the foundation.
Books and movies
I watched the movie based on The Rum Diary the day I finished reading the book. Bad mistake. The story in the book took a different tack in Johnny Depp’s movie version. I couldn’t get that out of my head when I watched the movie. Depp’s acting is great, the atmosphere lives up to the description in the book but I kept yelling at the TV, “No, that’s different from the book!”
Then, I let a couple of weeks go by and watched it again. This time, I really enjoyed it. Afterwards, I remembered what I already knew: books and movies are different animals. Both tell stories but are indigenous to their own domains and both have their merits. I am reminded of many other titles where the story of the book and the story of the movie are different but both very enjoyable. Forest Gump and To Have and Have Not come to mind. When the movie Jaws was released, a friend told me, “The book was about the people and the movie was about the shark.” I enjoyed them both, though I still believe the ending to the book was much better.
HST and a leap of faith
Getting back to Hunter S. Thompson, I remember reading some of his pieces in the Rolling Stone but I really got into his books in 1986, the year I decided to end my nine-to-five existence to pursue music and writing with no professional safety net. At a function during one of my last weeks working for the Mobile, Alabama Chamber of Commerce, I told artist Cindy Cunningham about my decision to jump the corporate ship and she said to me, “You know, Hunter Thompson says ‘when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.’” That phrase spoke to me and I immediately got a copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and devoured it. Then The Great Shark Hunt, Hell’s Angels and more.
Watch and read
I could never live the reckless life that Thompson did but his accounts helped inspire me to do things my own way. Someone said about Ernest Hemingway that his characters’ (and his own) exploits were a way for people stuck in routines that they would never leave to experience a little adventure. That’s me and HST in a nutshell. Couldn’t do it, but love to read about it. Attempting enough Thompson swagger to be comfortable with it, I’ve done my best to create, experience and write about adventures that fit me.
So now, I will watch movies “based on the novel by,” with more objectivity. And I keep on reading and watching.
Here I Go
Here I Go is a song based on the life of Hunter S. Thompson that I wrote in the mid-1990s with Walt Wilkins. Walt, now a very successful songwriter and performer, played guitar my Bayou Band then and we both were HST fans. I recorded the song and released it on an album called Red Blues. Here I Go.
Text and photos copyright 2012 by Les Kerr. Learn more about Les at www.leskerr.com