Art is Long and Life is Short

If you visit my other home, you know I’m pretty unhappy about Hunter Thompson leaving this vale of tears.

I’ve been reading everything I can find about him over the last week. Here’s the best remembrance I’ve read so far, and this one’s the most complete. I can’t say anything that others haven’t said. Hunter was the best political journalist I know of, and the fact that he and I hail from the same state is the merest coincidence.

So I’ve been re-reading The Great Shark Hunt. If you’re one of the benighted few who’s never read HST, get this book. It’s the best overview. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a biggie. George McGovern’s political director, Frank Mankiewicz, called Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail “the most accurate and least factual” account of the 1972 Presidential election. But The Great Shark Hunt is the best example of Hunter’s range that I know of.

Particularly heart-rending is the Author’s Note, which begins with a quote from Joseph Conrad: “Art is long and life is short, and success is very far off.”

Well… yes, and here we go again.

But before we get to The Work, as it were, I want to make sure I know how to cope with this elegant typewriter—(and, yes, it appears that I do)—so why not make this quick list of my life’s work and then get the hell out of town on the 11:05 to Denver? Indeed. Why not?

But for just a moment I’d like to say, for the permanent record, that it is a very strange feeling to be a 40-year-old American writer in this century and sitting alone in this huge building on Fifth Avenue in New York at one o’clock in the morning on the night before Christmas Eve, 2000 miles from home, and compiling a table of contents for a book of my own Collected Works in an office with a tall glass door that leads out to a big terrace looking down on the Plaza Fountain.

Very strange.

I feel like I might as well be sitting up here carving the words for my own tombstone… and when I finish, the only fitting exit will be right straight off this fucking terrace and into The Fountain, 28 stories below and at least 2000 yards out in the air and across Fifth Avenue.

Nobody could follow that act.

Not even me… and in fact the only way I can deal with this eerie situation at all is to make a conscious decision that I have already lived and finished the life I planned to live—(13 years longer, in fact)—and everything from now on will be A New Life, a different thing, a gig that ends tonight and starts tomorrow morning.

So if I decide to leap for The Fountain when I finish this memo, I want to make one thing perfectly clear—I would genuinely love to make that leap, and if I don’t I will always consider it a mistake and a failed opportunity, one of the very few mistakes of my First Life that is now ending.

But what the hell? I probably won’t do it (for all the wrong reasons), and I’ll probably finish this table of contents and go home for Christmas and then have to live for 100 more years with all this goddamn gibberish I’m lashing together.

But, Jesus, it would be a wonderful way to go out… and if I do it you bastards are going to owe me a king-hell 44-gun salutr (that word is “salute,” goddammit—and I guess I can’t work this elegant typewriter as well as I thought I could)…

But you know I could, if I had just a little more time.



[ handwritten initials, HST ]

HST #1, R.I.P. 12/23/77

Rest In Peace, Hunter #2. Perhaps the first peace you’ve known, but goddamn well deserved. If only you’d seen how many people love you. How many reporters say you inspired them to report. How many writers say you’re the best. How many people look up to you and admire your work. How many writers say you were one of a kind, inimitable, beyond understanding. How many people say We need you now.

But perhaps your greatest gift to us was to remind us, at the critical time, what’s really important. If only we can hear you.

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