Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Thompson at bat

Aging gonzo genius tackles sports, Bush and dumb America

Posted By on Wed, Aug 11, 2004 at 12:00 AM

Hunter S. Thompson’s Hey Rube is targeted at a very specific audience and should be read in brief sprints by said audience in a very specific context: with drawers down on the toilet during NFL commercial breaks.

This is a first-rate bathroom read for the high-falutin’ sports fiend who remains as loyal to the (insert team name here) as he is to the waning cult of Hunter S. Thompson, the Grand Pooh-bah of gonzo journalism. To enjoy Hey Rube, it also doesn’t hurt if you’re inordinately fond of words like “whore,” “orgy” and “fleeced” (in that order or otherwise).

After the release last year of his memoir, Kingdom of Fear, more than one critic noted how Thompson had become a tired parody of his former self. Not unlike the last decade of Woody Allen’s filmic atrocities, Thompson was plagiarizing from his own canon and overdosing on hyperbole, using his talents to do the same thing he did 30 years ago, which is to blend invective and observation with personal digressions involving a swath of hallucinogens and venomous critiques of law enforcement on the local, state and federal level.

An assemblage of three years’ worth of his column, Hey Rube doesn’t disprove claims that Thompson has devolved into shtick. However, the book doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is — a bunch of diatribes hastily penned for fans who seek him out online. The typical rant usually begins with something sports-related and evolves into general madcap madness, largely involving the comings and goings at Thompson’s famous Owl’s Ranch compound in Woody Creek, Colo., just outside Aspen. The compound apparently serves as a sanctuary for celebrity gamblers.

Take “Hee Haw” to 7,000 feet and add some money, fame, and whiskey and there you have the world of Thompson. According to the book, Ed Bradley of “60 Minutes” fame has dropped by his ranch to fleece him out of a few grand on a Packers game bet and Johnny Depp has called from France to assess the state of post-9/11 America, while Benico Del Toro wants to bet double or nothing and Sean Penn is up for a triathlon. Naturally, “The Sheriff” is often at the door, most memorably in the wake of a seemingly random explosion that deep-fried several of Thompson’s notorious pet peacocks.

An unhealthy amount of text is devoted to Thompson’s prognostics on the forgotten games of the last three years of professional and college sports. The San Francisco 49ers, University of Kentucky’s basketball team, the Oakland Raiders, they all receive a considerable amount of love, rebuke and analysis. Should you be possessed of a Rain Man-esque recall for games of playoffs past, you’ll enjoy this book a whole lot more than those of us with more important factoids to commit to memory.

That said, Thompson’s digressions are often irresistible. How can you read leads like the following one and not want to scroll onward?

“Hot damn, it is Halloween again, and I am ready to get weird in public.” Now in his 18th year of AARP eligibility, one has to wonder just how weird this recluse is capable of getting. The paranoia, the partying, the spewing of venom at all relevant establishments, it’s all here.

All medicines are deadly and dangerous if taken repeatedly in large doses. A pound of aspirin can kill a busload of young athletes. A craving for fries can make you swell up and stink. Such a stench won’t be lost on readers who don’t follow Thompson’s advice, and instead read Hey Rube in long sittings. Be warned: It’s like sitting down to a dinner of wasabi.

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