Archive for August, 2001

Saturday, August 11th, 2001

Hunter S Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson, gonzo journalist, pisshead, druggie, gun enthusiast and fuck-up is revered as one of the most “revolutionary” writers of the modern American era, one who dared to turn on their head such staid journalistic notions as actually bothering to attend the event you were supposed to write about, veracity, deadlines and personal integrity.

Rereading Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, it’s clear that only a sort of timid awe for those who veer beyond the pale, soar like latterday turbo-charged Nietzschian ubermenschen above the conventions of morality, consideration for others and (pah!) self-restraint, can explain the esteem in which this toxic, paranoid libertarian is held. Fear And Loathing . . . which first appeared in Rolling Stone in 1971 depicts in the first person the adventures of Thompson alter-ego Raoul Duke and his loathsome sidekick, the un-named Samoan attorney, whom Thompson tolerates “in spite of his racial handicap” (Thompson is alive to racial differences and “characteristics”. Elsewhere, he is greatly exercised that a bartender is a “Jew”). Elsewhere again, when a car hire agent offers him the choice of a Mercedes, Thompson screams, “Do you think I’m a goddamn Nazi”?)

Out of his box on a trunkload of various “dangerous” drugs, Thompson fails to carry out his first assignment – covering the Mint 400 motorcycle race but does get it sufficiently together to attend a Drugs Prevention conference and scoff at the unhip speakers’ misguided notions of junkie terminology. That apart, the book is a catalogue of close scrapes with the law, confrontations with members of the square world (who have a habit of mutating into polar bears) and squalid drug-induced misbehaviour, the worst of it committed by Thompson’s attorney. He attempts to pimp a girl by pumping her full of drugs, pulls a blade on a bartender and loudly draws attention to the fact that he and Duke are illegally squiffled at every inconvenient moment – in a packed lift, for instance.

The attorney does, however, provide a convenient fiction for Thompson. Onto him, he offloads responsibility for the worst excesses committed here, morally washing his hands of him but always landing up back together with him for the promise of a thrill ride into oblivion. Duke’s encounters with other human beings are steeped in paranoia – bartenders (especially the female ones) cops, hotel receptionists, carboys and the various menials lucklessly obliged to deal with this pair of arseholes are referred to variously as “pigs”, “psychotics”, “Nazis”, “pigs” ,”evil pimps” , “Nazis”, “pigs”, and “Nazis”.

He makes occasional, dark references to Nixon, hinting that he is cruising recklessly through the shadows of a looming police state and dwells with constant fretfulness on his probable imminent arrest for possession. Yet what’s mystifying about Fear And Loathing is with what tolerance the authorities treat this pair. When Duke is caught speeding with a Budweiser in his hand and a 12-pack in the back, the policeman benignly suggests he go sleep in a lay-by. Waved on, Duke expresses his gratitude by calling the cop a “pig” . . .

Fear And Loathing is unfunny. It could have been hilarious, if intended as self-satire or told from a dry, third-person dry perspective but that would be counter to the wet stream-of-consciousness, intoxicated, splurging New Journalism imperative. Fear And Loathing is boring. Not because, after 30 years, it’s “tame” – it’s wild. Wild and boring. Thompson’s endless litanies of narcotics booty and drug-induced oscillations indicate a frightening intake level but read like a pharmacy stock-take or list of gout symptoms, impressive and exciting only to the gullible and stupid. Even Thompson, in passing, asserts that Timothy Leary was wrong to imply that drug intake led to a “light at the end of the tunnel”. It leads nowhere but the toilet bowl.

For Fear And Loathing to grip, we would have to be rooting for this prototype pair of Beavis & Butt-Heads but as they career down the Vegas-bound highway, beaked up on a cocktail of booze, mescaline, grass, etc, taking potshots from their handguns, you’re urging some psychotic pig Nazi scumbag paranoid pig uptight Nixon ass-kissing Nazi law enforcer to pull them up and thrown them in the hole before they mistake some roadside child for an iguana and blast his head off.

After this, Thompson, the immortally unforgivable fuckwit, was packed off to Zaire to cover the Ali/Foreman fight, the greatest sporting event EVER and failed to leave his hotel. He should have had his journalistic credentials publicly snipped for such negligence but, this being New Journalism, such staggering reluctance to do your actual job is deemed the stuff of legend. Today, Thompson lives behind high walls of paranoia, with his guns for company, a pest to his neighbours. You pray he doesn’t land up in the hoosegow after blasting his postman to death because he suspected Nixon had sent him to spy on him. Moron.

Thursday, August 9th, 2001

The Clash

Have a pop at The Clash? Well, fair enough, Give ‘Em Enough Rope certainly gave us enough rope, their final album Cut The Crap failed signally to follow the exhortation of its title and “I’m So Bored With The USA” rebounded on them when they were instantly and conspicuously seduced by the place the moment they set foot in New York. Still apart from that . . .

Apart from that, they were rubbish. Truly. A band who made a combative, posturing virtue of their fierce ordinariness – not unlike present-day spawn Manic Street Preachers. Honest pub rock Joe Strummer, a man who unselfconsciously took verbal potshots at “toffs”, “pretentious intellectual bollocks” and other more puzzling creations of his own overdriven loathing such as the “vegetable chewing pussies” whom he lambasted in one of his later interviews in Uncut. What he espoused, then, was a rock’n’roll that was raw, basic but also inelegant, mentally unchallenging, anti-feminine and free of any hint of broccoli. And anyone who queried this aesthetic was quite literally shitting on the working classes.

On “White Riot”, The Clash complain that, unlike their admirable brick-throwing black contemporaries, “White people go to school/Where they teach you to be thick.” This is a slight not just on the teaching profession in general, who are waging a daily war against the bonehead chic propounded through street culture by the likes of The Clash for whom intellectual aspirations equal ponciness. It’s also an implied slur on the staff of Epsom – yes, Epsom Boarding School, where in spite of their best efforts it was evidently as much as they could do to teach the schoolboy Strummer to spell C-A-T, so addled was his mind with fantasy notions of rock rebellion.

These fantasies took the form, with The Clash, of an “English Civil War”, in which a bandit culture of tommy-gun wielding bankrobbers, buccaneers and City Rockers waged war against the “suits” and scoffing businessmen who wanted to make plastic robots out of the masses to do their bidding. “Remote Control” encapsulates this utter failing to understand the complex workings and make-up of England and repression. So often, The Clash’s political agenda amounted to little more than the cry of the frustrated, self-pitying yob. On “Complete Control”, they moan that at every hotel “we was met by the law” – as if to suggest that this was ridiculous overkill on the part of the authorities and that they were just a bunch of musicians who intended to cause as little trouble as Coldplay. However, none of this exactly squares with the sentiments of “White Riot”. You could hardly blame Plod for being a bit wary.

That said, the police might have had the sense to realise that the ramparts of the UK establishment were hardly under threat from four pimply geezers who could barely organise a meeting in a hotel lobby, let alone a revolution and who, if necessary, could be taken out in a pre-noon raid. Trouble with Strummer was that he imagined that his Arthur Mullard-style clarion vocal cry was the authentic voice of the decent working class, a breed of anti-intellectual but Nicaraguan politics-loving, jailbreaking, Prince Far I-appreciating anti-American Levi’s jeans-sporting violent pacifists. Yeah, right. Strummer’s belligerent bellow, if heard echoing down the tube station at midnight, isn’t the sort to reassure, say, a single travelling woman on the platform that she’s about to be joined by the Salt Of The Earth. Sure enough, it made sense when, during the 1998 World Cup, Strummer made public his good feelings at seeing “our boys” giving Johnny Foreigner a hiding in the violence that preceded most England games. Joe’s people.

Most of The Clash’s crimes, however, were musical. They espoused a rock’n’roll liberation theology but their music is actually about as “liberating” as being locked in the bogs at Dingwalls. Sure, their bog-rudimentary chords seemed momentarily refreshing to a generation overfed with Yes triple albums but today, next to The Sex Pistols’ raucous falling wall of rock and Lydon’s scathing vocal broadsides, The Clash sound like low-IQ ex-squaddies doing karaoke versions of old Bay City Rollers songs. Indeed, next to street-fighting, nihilist Brit-rock predecessors like The Stones and The Who, The Clash pale into feebleness. Granted, they did expand into reggae, funk, dub etc after London Calling but compared to similar excursions on the part of their post-punk contemporaries, from PiL to Joy Division, The Banshees to Talking Heads, The Clash’s efforts were boorish, ham-fisted. “White Man At Hammersmith Palais” is clumsy, clumsy white reggae while “Hitsville USA”‘s pitiful Motown parody sounds like a Phil Collins rough demo.

Everyone secretly knows The Clash were lyrically facile, musically ugly, embarrassing rebel rock poseurs. It’s only the liberal guilt that Strummer and co succeeded in inculcating in the rock “intelligentsia” that has prevented anyone from actually admitting it.