So I get an e-mail in my inbox, telling me this week’s article will be about ‘gonzo’.
“Shit,” I murmur, lighting up a Stogie. “You just know everybody’s going to be writing about Hunter S. Thompson.”
The Professor looks at me askance. His fingers are fumbling for the bottle of Tesco Value whiskey.
“You could write about Tom Wolfe,” he says. “Or the Muppets.”
I coil up into a shivering foetal ball and mumble incoherently, the Stogie between my teeth,
“I can’t think about Tom Wolfe without thinking about Bruce Willis in the appalling movie adaptation of Bonfire of the Vanities. And now I can’t think about the Muppets without making that horrifying mental connection either. Damn your eyes, Professor.”
The prostitutes are getting impatient. They don’t see why they have to be here.
“Quiet!” I snap. “If I’m writing an article about gonzo I’m going to have to have prostitutes around. Don’t you ladies read?”
Apparently one of them has a Master’s in English Literature from Oxford. They spend some time shouting me down.
“Gonzo,” I ruminate, much later, on the bonnet of the Professor’s car. “Extremity. Invention. A winking joke and a shaggy dog story which the reader is complicit in, but which does have a rambling, explorative purpose to it.”
The Professor sticks his head out of the side-view window as he’s turning a corner.
“Could we consider I’m Still Here a piece of gonzo film-making?” he shouts.
“Yes, I think so,” I reply. “Because it’s a joke that spills out into reality, even threatens it, by insisting on being true while all the time giggling insanely at us. How much Hunter S. came to believe in his own persona and how much madness was in him all along is up for debate.”
“You know, Professor,” I say, patting my pockets for another Stogie, “if I’m going to discover the true nature of gonzo, we’re going to have to live our lives like a gonzo article.”
“Great idea!” he yells, and mounts the pavement, hitting a small cat. Blood goes in my mouth.
“Jesus Christ,” I weep. “You made me hit a cat! You turned me into a cannibal, you bastard. How could you? How could you?”
“So if gonzo journalism thrives on extremity,” he yells, back at me, unhearing, “does it find a line between extremity and gratuitousness, or ignore it?”
I spit out a small chunk of cat intestine.
“I don’t know,” I reply. “I mean, you could argue that extremity played for a laugh is less gratuitous than extremity that's pompous enough to believe it’s making an important point by trying to shock you. Take Funny Games, for example. Michael Haneke is far more gratuitous than Quentin Tarantino. And his remaking of that film suggests he was always more concerned with getting a new reaction, shocking new people, than exploring the ideas within in any detail.”
Something’s caught between my teeth. I chew thoughtfully on it for a moment.
Tapping on the bonnet. The Professor is trying to pass me the vermouth bottle.
“So what you’re saying is,” he yells, slipping near-effortlessly over the central reservation and onto the other side of the street, “we can only discover the true nature of gonzo by holding Michael Haneke’s family hostage in their house by the lake.”
I consider this for a moment, but decide against it. It’d be playing into his hands, really.
“Alternatively,” he suggests, “we could set Damien Hirst’s cow on fire.”
“But isn’t it meant to have a political element as well as a cultural one?” I ask him. “Capturing the zeitgeist of modern times and all that? Nixon, yadda yadda?”
He asks me how much I’ve really researched the history of gonzo.
“Not much,” I tell him. “It’s sort of a gonzo thing. Speaking of which, to be truly gonzo, this article should be handed in late, strictly speaking. It’s the rules, I guess.”
“But gonzo’s meant to be about breaking the rules,” the Professor says. “And it could be argued that, in a sense, it’s never been able to truly get over Hunter S., because it’s just tried to imitate him. You can see his echoes in Borat. But it all makes the joke too obvious, especially because cinema, which has become the main bearer of the flame, doesn't lend itself so easily to half-truths. An author personally describes an experience, but a film needs an entire army of helpers. That’s why, in the end, we cannot believe that Joaquin Phoenix vomited in a bush while twenty people stood watching him. Even if it’s true.”
“And extremity itself kills its own fertility and its own subtlety,” I murmur, “because once you’ve marketed yourself on being extreme you’ll be expected to be more and more extreme with every subsequent creation.”
“Quite,” he shouts.
So I lean forward, on the car bonnet, raising my Heckler & Koch PSG1 sniper rifle, and shoot Sarah Palin in the face.
Instead, I lie back, kicking my heel to the rhythm of Tom Waits, and smoke another Stogie.