History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of "history" it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time - and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.
Hunter S. Thompson said that in 1971, already proclaiming his elegy to the decade gone before, sensing that something had happened, that it was already at an end, and that people would discuss it for a long time. But as Thompson famously said, when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.
What's amazing about Thompson's famed gonzo writing career - which ended yesterday with a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his firearm-filled compound - was that it was profoundly professional. That is to say, Thompson cultivated and exploited a market for his off-the-trail brilliance. Some say his was the start of the "revolution" against mainstream media (MSM to the right-wingers) but I said that misses by a wide mark. Thompson didn't spill for just anyone or anything; he spilled for a paycheck plus expenses. And given his own proclivities and style, that's a hell of a story to me.
As for influence, I think others have already said it better today, so I'll take liberties here and quote freely.
Jason, a hard-core Thompsonofile with whom I'd been talking about the dearth of a gonzo-style spring training Website just the other day, turned on the pitch and crushed it:
He was a man who made himself into a myth, but in the end, his friends would tell you, the myths were all true. That was Thompson, blurring the line between reality and unreality was never a problem for him. But unlike the billions of self-indulgent imitators he spawned, hopped up on MDA and cheap blended scotch, dribbling nauseous words onto page after page, Thompson was a pro.
Mannion has a take on his brand of journalism that features some demon-chasing, and Digby's right when he says: "For some of us of a certain age who follow politics, his view of the game informs us in ways that we will never wholly shake off." The other Tom weighs in from the House of Commons, whilst Ralph recalls some key Thompson moments in his life and even pays tribute to his last years as a sportswriter. Gothamist files HST as "a fiction writer, a fact reporter, a deadline deferrer" and Wolcott casts the death thusly: "So much good, impassioned writing has been done in homage to HST, to his pirate gusto and spirit of marauding frontier justice." Yup. Jarvis argues that Dr. Thompson "was really the first reaction to one-size-fits-all journalism." Hmm, to some degree Jeff - but his was an intensely personal trip, an intensely personal anger. I'm not sure the line from Fear and Loathing to millions of blogs is unbroken. JD might well be closer to it, or to why at least, Thompson was an icon: "... the idea was that journalistic objectivity was pretty much bullshit, that the writer was very much a part of the story he was covering." Gilliard, I think, draws the dotted line from Thompson's anger and excess to blogs, with the right amount of perspective:
Blogs follow in the tradition of outlaw journalism, but without the flourishes he liked. It's not about just being outrageous, most of the bloggers are little different than their peers in newspapers, clean living young men and women. They don't get drunk and naked for fun, they pay their bills, stay faithful and maybe have a beer too many. However, it is the spirit of what Thompson meant, to be outside the laws of journalism, not the rules, but the laws. The laws of not offending advertisers and friendly pols. The laws of family friendly copy. Those laws. Not the rules about honesty and decency.
Lastly, there's another reason by Hunter S. Thompson is so mourned today by so many "guys I blog with and link to" - the man was a freaking gas, a great writer, and his writing was entertaining. Never underestimate the value of fun to the reader. This pro didn't. So to Dr. Thompson, here's the line he used on the death of his buddy Timothy Leary: "He is forgotten now, but not gone."