Thompson remains confusing, jagged

August 08, 2004|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,Sun Staff

Hey Rube: Blood Sport, the Bush Doctrine, and the Downward Spiral of Dumbness: Modern History from the Sports Desk, by Hunter S. Thompson. Simon & Schuster. 243 pages. $23.

It's sad to see how far the good doctor of gonzo journalism has fallen.

I thought Hunter S. Thompson was pretty far gone the last time I saw him, in the early '90s, when he was flacking his latest book (Songs of the Doomed) and appeared at a bar in Fells Point filled with hundreds of howling drunks who paid $10 each to slur questions at him.

As was his habit, Thompson was hitting the Chivas Regal pretty good and was barely coherent as he rambled on about the Persian Gulf war, the evil George H.W. Bush, what a dope Michael Dukakis was and how Armageddon was right around the corner.

There was also something about him suing the government for violating his Fourth Amendment rights after drugs, sex and weapons charges against him were dropped.

The night ended with his locking himself in the men's room after a female columnist for The Sun asked him to sign a couple of hardback copies of his riveting first book, Hell's Angels.

I remember leaving the joint in the early morning hours wondering if someone had dropped a tab of psilocybin in my beer.

But that was then ...

Now, with Hey Rube, comes yet another collection of jagged and confusing Thompson columns, most with a sports theme culled from his rantings on, where he writes about sports, sex, politics, gambling, greed and whatever else comes to mind when he lurches behind the keyboard.

The columns begin in November of 2000, as the country wallowed in the voting fiasco in Florida and wondered who the next president would be. And they end last October, with the war in Iraq still raging and death haunting the streets of Baghdad and Fallujah and Thompson seething at the senselessness of it all.

Although the collection has a let's-empty-the-notebook feel to it -- as have most of his recent books -- there are the usual Thompson gems hiding in his trademark hyperbolic, pass-the-acid prose.

On the White House and the Iraq war: "That gang of born-again geeks wouldn't know a Message from a poison meat whistle, judging by the sum of all the ignorant, wrong-headed evidence seen thus far in this dismal conflict."

On his plan to speed up baseball by eliminating the pitcher: "Pitchers, as a group, are pampered little swine with too much money and no real effect on the game except to drag it out and interrupt the action."

On the Baltimore Ravens: "Watching the Baltimore Ravens play football is like watching scum freeze on the eyeballs of a jackass, or being stuck for six hours in an elevator with Dick Cheney on speed. The Ravens will pounce on you and gnaw you to death, which can take eight or nine days."

There is also a sweet, elegant tribute to an old friend, the late George Plimpton, with lines that only Thompson could summon: "George Plimpton kicked... He was a champion in everything he did. He was the finest advertisement for Harvard University since LSD-25, and he loved Calla Lilies, along with beautiful women and Bob Dylan and the finest Afghani hashish."

But the writing is too erratic, and Thompson seems to strain in too many pieces when he tries to link sports to the political climate of the day.

Basically, too much of Hey Rube reads like the work of a man who sat down at the word processor in the midst of a four-day bourbon-and-speed bender.

Once, Thompson could pull off that kind of writing and make it brilliant.

But those days seem long, long ago.

Kevin Cowherd is a features columnist for The Sun.

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