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Why Hunter S. Thompson loved The Grateful Dead

A massive figure with matching opinions, Hunter S. Thompson is one of the most widely revered writers of all time. So many have tried and failed to imitate the effortless cool of his prose and the surreal, narcotic comedy that underpinned his syntax.

The defining feature of Thompson‘s life was that he lived and operated by his own rules. In a sense, his life was the embodiment of the American dream, only it was lived with a countercultural perspective, a much different interpretation of freedom to many of his WASP countrymen. 

This is what bled into his work. As with any writer worth their salt, the pen, or keys on a computer or typewriter, were directly connected to their writer’s soul, and the words that they write come from a candid place, themselves. This place is where the individual rules, and where societal mores are cast-off in favour of pure character. As part of this comes an insouciance that can only be accounted for by sheer intellect. Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, all fit into this category.

Thompson typified the total individuality of an iconic writer. If you read any of his works, watch any of his interviews, or read biographies exploring his life, it is clear that the man was an iconoclast, and fittingly, iconoclasts are always the ones that help to drag society and culture into the next epoch by their genre-bending and constant rebuttal of societal norms. 

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His politics were right on the money, but also suitably skewed. His opinions were weighty but also leftfield and his life that informed them was a madcap adventure. Thompson continues to be one of the most fascinating modern figures even 16 years after his emphatic suicide and burial – which is a maddening tale of its own. His suicide note to his wife, Anita, read: “No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your age. Relax — This won’t hurt”.

Whilst it would be easy to concentrate on the serious, political side of Thompson, one of his most defining features as an artist and human being was his love of music. A huge fan of Bob Dylan, Miles David and The Rolling Stones, he also had a tremendous love for some other countercultural heroes: The Grateful Dead.

In a 1970 letter to Rolling Stone editor Dave Lombardi, Thompson explained his love for Jerry Garcia and the band very clearly: “If the Grateful Dead came to town, I’d beat my way in with a fucking tyre iron, if necessary, I think Workingmen’s Dead is the heaviest thing since ‘Highway 61’”. 

The thought of Thompson physically forcing himself into a Grateful Dead show is a brilliant one. A hippie but absolutely not a hippie, the idea of him being surrounded by a mass of shaggy-haired Deadhead’s is hilarious, and it makes you wonder if he ever actually got to catch the Dead live in action.

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