Other luminaries who were allowed into the very exclusive yet infantile ceremonies -- graced with "Academy Award-level" security -- were actor Sean Penn, musician Lyle Lovett, Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, CBS News man Ed Bradley, failed Democratic presidential candidates George McGovern and John Kerry, and liberal historian Douglas Brinkley, the literary executor of the Thompson estate. In an example of the event's outlaw chic, Brinkley called Thompson "the Billy the Kid of American literature." (If true, writers should feel free to steal from his work despite Brinkley's copyright-protecting job title.)
Like the Times, the Washington Post also portrayed these brief yet gaudy "blast rites" as a major cultural event, celebrating the "poet laureate of a drug-fueled American counterculture." The Post placed its Hunter homage on page A-3, while the new pope speaking to millions of young people at World Youth Day in Germany -- talk about a counterculture -- were relegated to A-20.
The Post remembered Thompson lovingly as a "New Journalist" to whom truth was a secondary consideration, noting he conceded that "much of his reporting was fictional, but his admirers said he used imaginative touches to get close to the truth." McGovern called Thompson's reports on the 1972 campaign "inaccurate and irreverent and truthful," proving that bizarro logic is not limited to the literary community.
Wenner of Rolling Stone, easily overstating his own historic role in American letters, called Thompson not only the "DNA of Rolling Stone," but "one of the greatest writers of the 20th century." You can grant that Thompson was an iconic figure for some, or that he was an "experimental stylist," but his prose is often just Beat Generation pulp. One writer boasted of Thompson's "art" with some of his reportage on the Hell's Angels, who were "like Genghis Khan on an iron horse, a monster steed with a fiery anus, flat out through the eye of a beer can and up your daughter's leg with no quarter asked and none given." That might be unique, but it's not likely to be viewed by history as a 20th century classic. You have to wonder if you need to be drunk or stoned to think of placing him next to Ernest Hemingway or Mark Twain.
How perfect this event was to demonstrate how Hollywood and much of modern popular culture has been devoted not to lifting men up but dragging them down into a fuzzy world of addiction and self-absorption, and ultimately self-pity. The libertine elite at Woody Creek came to celebrate a man whose creed wasn't about loving or giving or helping or holiness: "I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me."