The fire next time

The fire next time

Michael Jackson on the campaign trail
If it was a contest between two Scots and a Welshman, we might have expected more eloquence in the recent election. Are British party leaders Celts in denial?Despite his Scottish surname, New Labour leader Tony Blair has always seemed unsure of his nationality; Liberal- Democratic Charles Kennedy sounds Irish; and Conservative Michael Howard’s Welshness is reinforced with chicken soup and pastrami.Of the three, only Kennedy seemed committed to a decent drink at a reasonable frequency. Where was the cutting clarity of Churchill on Cognac, the passion of Bevan on Bollinger, or the booming rhythms of George Brown on Bordeaux?Politicians who speak in polystyrene language deserve to be torched by the invective of a scornful press. The scorn was there, but the language was too sober. Journalists have lost their bottle.The dullness of the election made me realise how much I was missing Hunter S. Thompson. To my pairings of politician-and-poison, add journalist-and-juice: Hunter S. Thompson on Bourbon. A man of such a capacity for mind-altering substances, and such an ability to bend the brains of others, cannot be allowed to pass without a glass. Here’s to Hunter. Mine’s a 101.“A Socrates who cursed and drank Wild Turkey,” recalled columnist Mary Schmich, in The Chicago Tribune. The same newspaper’s obituary had Thompson seeming to drink a bottle of Jack Daniel’s at a reading. The obituarist suggested that this was a piece of theatre; that, each time Thompson reached to freshen his glass, he was pouring away a substantial amount of whiskey. It’s lucky the dead can’t sue. To imply that Thompson faked excess is to libel him. He could have lost his job. He would have had to fire himself. Come to think of it, he did.The other Chicago paper, The Sun-Times, described a reading at which Thompson drank Chivas. As he paced the stage, a member of the audience stole the half-drained bottle. It was immediately replaced by a full one. “Every journalist has a little bit of Hunter S. Thompson inside, raging to be heard,” proposed Clarence Page, in a comment piece, again for the Chicago Tribune. Or perhaps to have whisky constantly replenished, free of charge? “Thompson made journalism look like fun because he was so much fun to read,” Page continued.“Political writing has become too timid in this spindoctor age but Hunter’s hyper-reality changed the way we look at the business,” added Abe Peck, of Northwestern University, Chicago.A further disgorgement of newsprint from the Rocky Mountain News reminds me that, seven or eight months ago, I was in Colorado, having a drink with illustrator Ralph Steadman, who is best known in the U.S. as Hunter Thompson’s collaborator. Among Steadman’s many other achievements is a characteristically freaky book on whisky.For a long time, he illustrated Oddbins’ catalogues in Britain, and one of his lesser projects in the U.S. with Hunter Thompson was to provide text and illustrations for beer labels. Text on beer labels?“Good people drink good beer; bad people drink bad beer” was one epigrammatic example. The beers were made by the Flying Dog Brewery, which offered plenty of scope for Steadman’s scratchy illustrations.The brewery was founded in Aspen, where Thompson lived. It later entered a joint venture with the Wynkoop brewery, of Denver. Wynkoop was founded by John Hickenlooper, who is now Mayor of Denver.Meanwhile, wort from the Flying Dog brewery is being distilled into a sweetish, oily, Colorado whiskey, under the name Stranahan’s.The whiskey is due on the market about a year from now. Will it add some fire to the belly of John Hickenlooper when the time comes to run for re-election? He is already an engaging speaker, but I hope his state’s first whiskey refuels his political ambitions. Hickenlooper for President? We need someone to inject the spirit back into politics.
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