Ed Driscoll

The End of the Counter-Culture

Stephen Schwartz writes that with the death of Hunter S. Thompson, the Baby Boom Era is officially over:

The suicide of Hunter S. Thompson, aged 65, according to the New York Times, or 67, according to the Washington Post, at his home in Aspen, may definitively mark the conclusion of the chaotic “baby-boomer” rebellion that began in the 1950s and crested in the 1960s, and which was dignified with the title of “the counter-culture.”

“Counter” it was, as an expression of defiance toward everything normal and reliable in society. “Culture” it was not, any more than Thompson’s incoherent scribblings constituted, as they were so often indulgently described, a form of journalism.

When a major representative of any dramatic period in history dies, it is tempting to proclaim the end of an epoch, but the lonely death of Thompson–he shot himself in his kitchen–seems more emblematic than any other associated with the ’60s. The incident might even have been accidental, brought on by one of Thompson’s self-storied flings into the ingestion of garbage drugs. Who knows?

But Louisa Davidson, wife of the sheriff of Pitkin County, the jurisdiction wherein the death occurred, probably had it right: “he was not going to age gracefully. He was going to go out with a bang. He was tormented.”

Whatever the actual circumstances, it is difficult to imagine a still-living personage, or even one who preceded him into eternal silence and collective forgetfulness, more representative of his time. William S. Burroughs, the prosewriter once hailed for allegedly reinventing the American novel, died at 83 in 1997. Allen Ginsberg, the versifier who had supposedly changed American poetry forever, expired the same year at 70. Ken Kesey, another overrated writer, joined them in 2001. The comedian Lenny Bruce and the author Jack Kerouac left the scene long, long before, in the ’60s themselves. Who is left? No one but minor figures.

Schwartz later adds:

One must imagine that in his own middle ’60s Hunter Thompson looked into the mirror and saw that nobody needed a gonzo interpretation of the world after September 11, that nobody was amused by his capacity to survive fatal doses of sinister concoctions, and that, increasingly, nobody knew or cared who he was.

That would require a degree of introspection that Thompson seemed incapable of, judging by some of his last articles. But maybe the simultaneous timing of Thompson’s death along with Congressman Hinchey’s outburst is a signal that the Baby Boom generation is finally in its cultural death throws.

Update: More thoughts here.