Monday, January 18, 2010

Dr. Hunter S. Thompson and Jimmy Buffett

A few days ago, one of the greatest calamities of my life transpired. It was an event that was so horrible, so unbelievably and inconceivably bad, that the surrealistic nightmare of it all is nearly too much for my fragile psyche to bear. I feel that at any instant I will collapse as I am consumed by burning, radioactive waves of fear and staggering rage that will clash together like the pulses of exploding stars, and my eternal soul will be lost in outer space where I will wander cold and alone forever.
What could make me feel so very, very incredibly awful? Awful like Sarah Connor in Terminator 2 when the bomb goes off and her very skeleton is set on fire? Awful so that it seems, as the doctor said, "the possibility of physical and mental collapse is now very real,"? What could cause me to write with such incredible hyperbole?
Only this:
I have just discovered that Hunter S. Thompson was close friends with Jimmy Buffett.


This is exactly like being a kid and finding out that, before he was the Devil, Lucifer had been an angel. So you're eight and you're like, "God and the Devil used to be friends? Well now I don't know what to believe..."

Only this is like a thousand times worse. And here's why.

I have hero-worshiped Thompson since I first saw Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas when I was fifteen. As a teenager, I was fascinated by his unbelievable need and ability to rebel. To do everything that was forbidden by cultural norms and always come out on top. His life, lived on the edge, and passion for irresponsibility was such an inspiration to me at the time. I felt surrounded by the normalcy of suburban life and of school, and here was this side to reality that I had never really seen or thought of before. It is no exaggeration to say that Thompson literally changed the course of my life. Without him, and others like him, I might have caved to societal pressures and chosen a safe and practical career like dentistry or accounting. Thompson is a standing testimony to living and dying by what you believe in, and made me realize that safety-nets and compromises are for weak-willed villainous scum.
As an adult, I continue to admire Thompson for different reasons. While he is immediately attractive to all males between the ages of 14 and 25 for his balls-out craziness and whiskey-drinking, acid-dropping make-your-own-luck approach to life, he was also a visionary. Thompson, above all, just wanted to do something. He wanted to make a difference. He wanted to be important. He wanted to find the American Dream, he wanted to find an honest politician, he wanted to become Sheriff of Aspen and change the town for the better. Thompson is a towering monument of living life to the fullest and on the edge, but also to slamming your fists against the brick wall of the establishment even though you know you're not going to get anywhere. He was a dreamer and a brilliant writer and a genius and his life-story is enough to give one hope of extraordinary things in the dismal and soulless world we live in.

And then, there's Jimmy Buffett.
Jimmy Buffett is, in my eyes, everything that is wrong with the human species. He is a talentless, gutless, money-hungry, sham of an artist. This is a guy that, after being mistakenly shot at by Jamaican police when leaving the country, wrote a song called "Jamaica Mistaica." Doesn't that just make your blood fucking curdle? What a hack. This is a guy that I have so much personal distaste for that I actually started a hate group for him on facebook, and it's going strong.
The reason I hate Buffett so much is that he's exactly everything Thompson is not. His music is easy and soulless. There is no pain or suffering or sacrifice in his songs. He doesn't live and die by his songs like all the great musicians of our time and of all other times. He has risked nothing and therefore he produces nothing. He plays an acoustic guitar with a great big smile and a flower shirt and a lei and that stupid little wrist band of his, and I just want to watch him die. He is more than a crap musician and a shitty novelist and a smiling idiot who spends too much time in the sun. He is a symbol for all that is disgusting and vile in the world of art. He is my nemesis.

So, watching these two conflicting ideologies come together in friendship... it's really just more than I can handle. What can I do? Do I think less of Thompson? Do I think more of Buffett? Each is equally impossible. I feel betrayed. I keep imagining them together. Hanging out in the Caribbean drinking rum, swimming, driving around on Buffett's boat, laughing it up and having a good time. It makes my skin crawl. This must be what Oedipus felt like. A sinking in the pit of your stomach like a rock dropped into a well, because you know something horrible has happened and there is no way to ever correct it.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


A quick plot summary, for the unfortunate among you who don't already know: Animorphs is a series about five young teenagers who suddenly stumble upon a dying alien (an andalite named Elfangor) who tells them about the greatest-ever threat to humanity: the yeerks. Yeerks are brain-dwelling parasites that take control of a host's mind and are able to fully control the body they inhabit as well as access memories. It is in this way that the yeerks can slowly conquer a planet from the inside out and enslave an entire race before anyone even knows a war is being fought. In an attempt to give humanity a fighting chance, Elfangor gives these five youths the ability to acquire animal DNA and morph into any animal of their choosing. It is with this small advantage that Jake, Rachel, Cassie, Tobias and Marco spy on and fight the yeerk presence on Earth in secret for three years.

I think it's going to be pretty much impossible to explain just how incredible K.A. Applegate's Animporphs series really is, but I guess it's about time I tried.

Let my opinion of the series stand very clear from the beginning of this blog: I think Animorphs is the greatest collective work of fiction ever produced. Through a series of 54 shorter books and 8 companion books that reached the length of typical novels, the sheer scope of the series alone is enough to boggle the mind. In short, this epic story is told in no less than 10,000 pages total. A number which Stephen King's lengthy magnum opus The Dark Tower series doesn't even come close to. It doesn't even cut it in half.
Now, I sense some of you are immediately doubting my claim that Animorphs is the best thing ever. "But Jordan," you whine, "that series was about kids turning into animals. It's written for ten-year-olds. How could it be greater than Star Wars or Lord of the Rings? Length isn't enough to make something great."
First, let me say that I'm surprised you would leave yourself so wide open for a "that's what she said" in your retort. In the interest of taking the high road, I'm going to let that one slide.
Secondly, I'm the first to admit that on the surface this series looks pretty stupid. Especially if you look at some of the absolutely ridiculous covers. Like this one:

But you can't judge a book by its cover, dammit!
In actuality, the grave seriousness of Animorphs is what stands out most in my memories. This isn't 10,000 pages of kids turning into butterflies. It's a 10,000 page chronicling of war, and the central themes of the series are appropriately aligned with that subject matter. Once you've suspended your disbelief and firmly settled yourself into the bizarre sci-fi nature of the material, what you've got is five teenagers who struggle with things like dehumanization, the responsibility or leadership, sanity, insanity and morality. It is told with the horror of actual war, where the battle is not only physical, but mental as well. Is it right to kill unarmed enemies? Is it right to ask a team member and friend to carry out a dangerous mission? Is it right to retreat, to continue, to do anything?
Horrible things happen with surprising frequency in this series. Characters you've grown attached to have mental break-downs, crumble under the pressure, cease to be heroes. In fact, a lot of this series serves to debunk childish notions of battle and war as being something magnificent and heroic. The battles that are fought are not great feats or victories, but rather a series of jumbled, confusing actions that leave regret and sickness in the hearts of those who fought. Each decision, whether in the heat of battle or for the greater good, comes later to haunt the character who made it, and they forever feel the weight of their actions and their own short-comings.
And not just the war itself tortures the minds of the five protagonists, but the effects of the war as well. The life of one of the main characters is completely ruined in the very first book when he is trapped, permanently, in the form of a hawk. And this series doesn't come to you with all the gentle and convenient packaging that seems to characterize children's fiction. There is no easy way out of this. For the greater part of the series, which spans over three years, this young man is trapped as a fucking hawk. He can't pursue the girl he loves, he can't live his life without fear of the elements, and he has to learn to hunt and kill mice in order to eat. Through the alternating first person telling of the series, which serves to so quickly break down any barriers between you and the fiction, the reader is immediately struck by the notion "What if that happened to someone I know? What if that happened to me?" It seems so ridiculous and so easy to furrow your brow at, but if such a thing were to actually happen it would be completely devastating, and the writing fully captures that emotion.

Beyond the ass-kicking tragedy and depth of the series, the story itself is timeless in nature. All the great elements of an epic story are there.
  • All of the main characters are memorable and specific. Their relationships are real, charming, and memorable. Alone they are readily accessible to the reader and so incredibly human that they can't help but be identified with. Before your eyes they grow and change as the nature of their burden becomes more serious, more important, and more terrifying. The leader of the group, Jake, is as memorable a hero as has ever been written.
  • The threat of the book is ultimate evil. The yeerks spread through the galaxy as an uncompromising virus, obliterating their enemies and subjecting their captured to a fate worse than death: making them a prisoner in their own mind and body. Visser Three, the leading antagonist of the series, is a straight-forward villain up in the ranks of Sephiroth and Darth Vader.
  • BUT just as Sephiroth spirals into madness because of confusion and hurt, and Darth Vader returns to the light side at the end of Return of the Jedi, these ultimates must be pushed and questioned. Sympathy for yeerks, whose natural state is blindness and powerlessness, is established. Also, our great heroes must run the risk of evil themselves when the gains of immoral actions seemingly outweigh one's own soul.
  • The loss or gain of the war is total. Either humanity is enslaved or it is not. The war is for the entire planet. The stakes are high and the story is so damn epic.
In the end it just makes me sad that I seem to be the only one who feels this way. I mean, I can't even buy an Animorphs shirt online. Because of the length, which is part of what makes this series so massively epic in the first place, no movie interpretation could ever do the series justice, and I fear the astounding story will never reach a mass audience.
My suggestion to you is to read this series. Maybe not all of it, maybe not most of it, but some of it. Your refusal to do so is unsurprising, but if you've never read and loved the Animorphs, to me you're no different than those freaks who have never seen Star Wars.

In the end, if you don't like this series, we probably don't have anything in common. It is literally the most amazing thing I've ever read.