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The Night Lorne Michaels Killed Hunter Thompson
     A Report From The Front Lines Of The Culture War


By Gary Gordon, Mar. 5, 2005
     There is a scene in the Tim Allen academy award-winning movie “Fawn Hall” where Buster Keaton stands at a microphone in a crowded supper club and sings “Seems Like Old Times”. Later in the movie, Diane Sawyer paints a fence white in order to get Margaret Thatcher’s attention (Thatcher denies killing Fredo) while Tim Allen tries to seduce Paris Hilton by capturing an elusive sushi roll that’s fallen into the kitchen sink, along with everything else.
     At least, that’s the way I remember it.
      No, it’s not drugs.
      It’s years and years of disinformation and revisionism. After all, there’s no doubt, is there, that Nixon would’ve done a better job than Kennedy with the Cuban Missile crisis, Reagan’s Great Society was much better than Johnson’s, James Watt turned out to be correct when he said Christ would return when the last tree was felled, and Global Warming is, after all, junk science, and we would all have known that if only Creationism were taught in school.
      In the words of my people: “Oy.”
      (If indeed they are my people. After all, we all came from Olduvai Gorge, n’est-ce pas?)
      No, it’s not the drugs. Although I did meet Hunter S. Thompson once. In Miami Beach in the summer of ’72, that golden summer that began with the Watergate break-in and featured the nomination of George McGovern Who and the coronation of Richard Nixon at their party’s conventions, both held in Miami Beach.
      The Vietnam Veterans Against the War were there, lead by Barry Romo and Ron Kovic—I don’t know if John Kerry was there; Scott Camil wasn’t because he’d been indicted along with six other VVAW leaders on the H. Rap Brown charge: crossing state lines with intent to incite a riot; they were in jail in Tallahassee.
      I met Hunter when we stood next to each other watching the VVAW march on the convention hall one sweaty hot afternoon, Kovic and other wheelchair-bound vets in the lead.
      I don’t know if “wheelchair-bound” is the politically-correct term now, what with Clint Eastwood taking a pummeling from the pro-family/anti-euthanasia crowd and the disabilities crowd but I’m sure the U.S. “involvement” in Vietnam was politically incorrect, and after listening last Monday night (Feb. 21) to Naomi Klein and Tom Hayden at the Venice United Methodist Church event, I’m convinced that disinformation and revisionism in the journalism practiced by the mainstream media is alive and well, especially regarding the Iraq elections.
      Hayden, as you may recall, despite your instincts to forget, was not a contestant on American Idol, he was one of the Chicago 8—eight anti-war activists indicted on the H. Rap Brown charge (“There’s A Riot Goin’ On” sang Elvis) stemming from the police riots at the Democrat’s convention in Chicago in ‘68.
      Klein has not been indicted or killed yet, although one should not be surprised when that happens. She is young, bright; very, very articulate, and a troublemaker of the highest order. She bothered to tell the packed house that the folks who won the Iraqi election had, as part of their platform, a call for a quick timetable for U.S. withdrawal, an elimination (aka “forgiveness”) of the odious debt run up by Saddam Hussein, and possession of their own oil.
      (The audacity of these freed yet occupied yet freed yet occupied people!)
      She noted this was not reported by the U.S. mainstream press (WMSP) that chose instead to emphasize that the Iraqis had an election as if the election, rather than what they voted for, was the central point. “It was election as performance art,” Klein noted, in an elegantly phrased concept so profound it really should join Patrick Henry, Lincoln and the General who said “Nuts!” in the Hall of Fame Quotes.
      She suggested that Bush’s declaration (echoed by Sen. Hillary Clinton of the loyal opposition) that there will be no timetable was purposeful: this way the U.S. could subvert the democratically-elected government of Iraq so the troops would stay, the debt would stay, and our hands on their oil would stay. As Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. said in his Dec. ’72 article in Harper’s on the political conventions that year: “The fix is in.” Klein went on to detail the restrictive and coercive laws and Constitution promulgated by Paul Bremer—the unelected Monarch of Iraq in the age what Klein called “appointocracy”; and she went on to detail the IMF, WTO, Paris Club and oil companies’ deals already signed, all to the detriment of the Iraqi people and real democracy, all irreversible under Bremer’s laws & Constitution.
      (For a complete version of what she and Hayden said Monday night, contact JusticeVision.org, which, for the princely sum of $3, will provide you with a DVD.)
      Hayden was there to follow her with a 5-point plan of action. He did not ask people to join a group, he asked them to do what was done in the 60s: attack the infrastructure of the war machine by putting pressure on Congress to defund the war, by keeping the torture issue alive (remember the Tiger Cages and Operation Phoenix? If not, look it up.); by supporting resistance among U.S. troops, especially those who have gone AWOL (although he warned that’s tricky and risky—possibly because they’re felons in the eyes of the King and that ol’ Fugitive Slave Law is still in effect), by opposing a reinstitution of the draft, and by opposing the Patriot Act. He noted the Portland City Council voted to have its police department refuse to cooperate with Homeland Security and the FBI on matters concerning the Patriot Act. (Has the Santa Monica City Council done this yet? Should they? Let your voice be heard.)
      Back in Miami, back 33 years ago (“seems like old times”), the VVAW march on the convention hall was dramatic: Miami Law Enforcement was out in force with riot gear and nightsticks longer than baseball bats (as noted by Vonnegut when a few of us found ourselves surrounded in the midst of a tear gas attack), and with the 101st Airborne stationed a block away, ready to engage.
      The Vets had an edge. Everyone knew what these soldiers were capable of, but no one knew what they might do. (Camil et al had been accused of making wrist rockets to shoot fried marbles at cops and Republicans. He was later acquitted. I used to have one of the wrist-rockets.) Hunter mumbled something—I wish I’d understood what he said, but fact is I barely knew who he was then and was more interested in what the Vets would do, and what Ike Pappas of CBS News and Sam Donaldson of ABC News were saying into their microphones as they broadcast live.
      When the Vets stopped, silent, in front of the convention hall, the cops gripped their clubs, preparing to swing away. In a split second the Vets might attack; in a split second the cops might attack.
      Instead, the Vets knelt and began to pray. The move completely disarmed the police.
      Hunter mumbled again as we both scribbled on our notepads and that time I understood him: “Take that, Nixon, you warmongering son of a bitch.”
      Years later I thought Bill Murray caught him better in “Where The Buffalo Roam” than Johnny Depp did in “Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas”. But that’s taste, maybe, with a dash of hard-pressed memory.
      Murray, you may remember, came from the very irreverent National Lampoon Radio Hour and achieved fame on the initially very irreverent TV show Saturday Night Live as Chevy Chase’s replacement. In case you forgot, this was all documented in an uneven celebration of the 30th anniversary of SNL broadcast on NBC the same night Hunter killed himself.
      Tony Hendra in “Going Too Far” argued when anti-establishment humor arrived on network television on SNL, it died (similar I guess to Neil Young’s take that Woodstock was the end of rock ‘n roll). If you disagree, take it up with Tony.
      What I know is that Hunter was watching the SNL show that Sunday night, and shortly after the part about John Belushi’s drug-induced death, SNL-creator Lorne Michaels noted that at the time, back in the late 70s, everyone thought that if you showed up and did your job, if you were funny and creative, then what you did with your personal life was your own business. Then Michaels declared, “But we were wrong.”
      That’s the moment when Hunter reached for his gun, aimed it squarely at his head, and calmly pulled the trigger.
      Take that, Lorne Michaels, you sell-out son of a bitch.
      The day after Hunter died, police showed up at Michaels’ house, but coverage took a backseat to the Bush-Putin exchange on—don’t laugh: democracy— not to be confused with the Kruschev-Nixon exchange, the Lincoln-Douglas debates or even the O’Reilly-Franken duel.
      My friend John argues that an Iraqi democracy without enforceable constitutional rights like our bill of rights is meaningless, that while a majority of Iraqi voters did indeed use their election to call for U.S. withdrawal, debt forgiveness and ownership of the oil, they also called for the establishment of a theocracy. Klein didn’t mention that part, so I don’t know if Klein is right about democracy in Iraq, but it’s hard to imagine those folks getting it right when we have so much trouble with the concept.
      When the cops left Lorne Michaels house after presenting him an award for “Maturing”, they went over to Hunter’s and arrested him for killing himself.
      “You have the right to remain silent…”