LOS ANGELES, March 10 (UPI) -- Rolling Stone, the magazine that first brought the Gonzo journalism of Hunter S. Thompson to a wide readership, pays tribute to Thompson in its upcoming issue -- just weeks after he committed suicide at 67.
Thompson's landmark pieces on culture and politics first showed up in Rolling Stone more than three decades ago, and at the time of his death on Feb. 20 his legacy was still more or less conjoined with that of the magazine. Both Thompson and Rolling Stone were significantly influential players during a time of radical change, not only in the way that Americans lived, but also in the way that American life was observed and reported on by the media.
Thompson's particular brand of Gonzo journalism was a major feature of what was often referred to at the time as "new journalism" -- an approach to reporting that insisted on abandoning many of the conventions that had built up around the institution of journalism over generations.
In the weeks since Thompson's death the point has been made repeatedly that lots of journalists who came after him tried to adopt his style -- and that, while some may have been able to cop a few of his riffs, none managed to replicate his voice. Genuine Gonzo, it seems, was Thompson's own private preserve.
Still -- and largely because the marketplace instructed media professionals that this stuff would sell -- the success of Thompson and Rolling Stone helped push open the gates for a kind of hang-loose approach to writing and reporting that journalistic traditionalists resisted but could not repel. It is probably no coincidence that some time during the early '70s local TV station managers were turning the keys to the newsroom over to the "happy news" generation of TV reporters.
It would be difficult in 2005 for a journalist to have the kind of impact that Thompson had three or four decades ago, primarily because wild-and-wooly has become commonplace. Take a spin around the blogosphere and you'll get the idea -- it's just not news anymore when writers employ vulgar language and disturbing images.
On the other hand, it is hard to imagine that many writers working today will be commemorated in Rolling Stone -- as Thompson is in the new issue -- by an array of more than 40 first-person tributes from such public figures including George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Jack Nicholson, Keith Richards, Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, Anjelica Huston, Pat Buchanan and Marilyn Manson.
The issue came about after writer-editor Corey Seymour sent Rolling Stone Editor in Chief Jann Wenner an e-mail message expressing his condolence on the loss of Wenner's old friend and colleague.
'I got a call (from Jann) shortly thereafter saying, 'How soon can you get here?'" said Seymour. "I showed up at the office an hour later and wound up working 17-hour days for the next 11 days."
Seymour's primary responsibility was to interview people who had known Thompson. Although some of those people were unable to participate -- mainly because they were still grieving -- Seymour said most participated enthusiastically.
"Stories needed to be told and these people wanted to tell them," he said.
Such a mythology had grown up around Thompson, said Seymour, that a big motivation for the project was to correct misperceptions about him.
"He was involved with a lot of frenetic activity," said Seymour -- a delicate reference to Thompson's fascination with drugs and guns. "There was no doubt that he could be dangerous, get himself in trouble, get others in trouble. We didn't gloss over that."
At the same time, Seymour said the Rolling Stone tribute is intended to show Thompson as "an extremely charming, extremely polite, extremely erudite and extremely generous man."
Rolling Stone Deputy Managing Editor Will Dana said the issue contains some 30 pages of content devoted to Thompson. Putting it together required not only marathon writing and editing sessions, but also an editorial decision to bump much of what had originally been scheduled to run in the March 11 issue.
The front and back sections, including such material as record reviews, were left alone. The middle section, usually devoted to feature stories, is where most of the changes were made to accommodate the Thompson material.
Dana said the cover story originally planned for the issue -- a story about the children of rock stars titled "Growing up Rock" -- will be used in a subsequent issue.
"Luckily, it was not a timely cover," he said.
Dana also said that the economic implications of rushing the Thompson issue were negligible.
"It's not like we pulled pages out of the printing press," he said.
If such talk of commercial consideration seems out of place in a discussion about Thompson's legacy, there is also a question whether Thompson might find the tribute embarrassingly extravagant -- but Seymour doubts that.
"Oh, no, I wouldn't think that he would think something like this to be extravagant in the least," said Seymour. "But I'm sure he would have a few bones to pick with it, and I'm hoping he would be very proud. He was very sensitive to people talking about him, and people telling stories, and I'm sure he would beg to differ with some people's recollection -- but that's the sort of ornery cuss he was."
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