Having a favorite Hunter S. Thompson quote is akin to a secret handshake in certain circles. Many favor the Gonzo journalist’s takedown of the TV business: “a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.”
For Mike Effenberger, one Thompson utterance is a kōan of sorts: “When the going get weird, the weird turn pro.” The keyboard player is a member of Generation of Swing, who will mark the anniversary of Thompson’s death on Feb. 20 with an evening of music and spoken word performances.
“Whenever things have gotten tricky for me I have tried to keep that sentence of his in mind,” explained Effenberger recently. “I think he is right, and it’s my sincere hope the night will be both. … We are stacking the deck with some of the best and weirdest musicians in the area.”
The band includes Stu Dias, Jonathan Paul, Steve Roy, Effenberger and his bandmate in Tan Vampires, Chris Klaxton. Each has his own connection to the writer with a singular, frequently chemically altered, perspective.
For Klaxton, the affinity began with the novelistic Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas.
“It was, for me, a completely new sense of story, sense of humor, and sense of darkness,” he said. “Through that darkness I eventually saw a very lighthearted thing. He had the ability to look at travesty and ugliness with humor. His frankness delivers more with a single sentence than many can on a full page.”
Effenberger also came to Thompson via the drug-soaked book, which introduced phrases like “bad craziness” and this brilliant observation: “In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity.”
“Enough people have said enough about the quality, brutally incisive clarity, and abandon with which he wrote,” observed Effenberger. “I guess I’ll just say that I think we really lost a big one there, and I feel it is important to have at least one day per year to remember that.”
The planned event is one of a kind, a rock Brigadoon.
“It will be a reckless combination of original music written for this night only,” said Effenberger. “Spoken word collaborations, gonzo improvisation, some of the music of the ‘60s and ‘70s that seems to have spoken to Thompson, and readings from his work.”
The band’s name riffs on Thompson’s multivolume anthology Generation of Swine. Members play together in a few different configurations; Roy, Effenberger and Klaxton are in Jazzputin & The Jazz Skunks, which did a Thompson tribute in 2011 at the now-defunct Barley Pub in Dover.
Effenberger plays with Dias in Gnarlemagne. When asked for his thoughts on Thompson, Dias turned philosophical.
“Hunter existed in a bubble. That is the only explanation I can come up with for how honest his appraisal of the world was,” said Dias. “He was immune to writing conventions in that he could have two competing thoughts occupy the same headspace and sometimes it would take a while to see which one was the winner.”
He expects the night will, “entail all manner of strangeness.” Spoken word performers include Bruce Pingree, Jason Santo, Geoff Pingree, Heather Elizabeth, and Mike Nelson.
Added Dias, “It will be a mix of old and new, electric, psychedelic, and free-ish music.”
“I’m excited to get together with these musicians and perform,” said Klaxton. “Much of this tribute should be unscripted and slightly dangerous … something that I think Hunter would be proud of.”
As seen in the February 13, 2014 issue of the Hippo.