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Jun 2 2010

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: Sinatra & Hunter S. Thompson

I grew up in Cleveland with some very fun Italian hoodlums.  We idolized  Francis Albert Sinatra.  I have almost everything Sinatra ever recorded, including his V-Disc ("V" for Victory) songs from the World War II era.  I had the good fortune to see Sinatra perform live a few times, including one show in a small venue in Detroit. No matter the size of the space, Sinatra owned it the moment he appeared on stage. 

About the same time we were discovering Sinatra, Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga by Hunter S. Thompson was published and Hunter S. Thompson immediately became an equally revered role model for us.  In school, we couldn't take one more paragraph of Eliza Doolittle in George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion".  There had to be something to read that would teach us about life.  Hell's Angels appeared just as our young minds were about to turn to jelly.  I'm pretty sure the book was banned at our school, or something like that.  Further confirmation that we were on to some truth we weren't supposed to know.  For us, Hunter S. Thompson owned the written word just as Sinatra owned the space he performed in.  I was still in complete awe of Hunter S. Thompson 30 years later when I became part of the Flying Dog Brewery world.  I have all of Hunter's books.  I can open any one of them to any page and be gripped HST's writing.

The truth we weren't supposed to know back then?  That truth was that the purpose of the educational system in America was to teach us to be compliant.  The theory being, I suppose, that compliant students would make good compliant workers for America's military-industrial complex. 

Sinatra and HST were our heroes not just because they were artistic geniuses, but also because they were anti-authoritarians to their core and possessed tremendous personal courage.  They were giants.

After Sinatra passed away, it was about 5 years before I could listen to his music again.

I was in Chicago when I got a call from Bill Husted from the Denver Post to let me know about HST's death.  That was just over 5 years ago.  I started reading Hunter S. Thompson again a few months ago.  Since then I've read more than 1,500 pages of Hunter S. Thompson's works and my summer reading will include a re-reading of all of HST's books.

There's a painful gaping void for a while.

But their art is here for eternity.

And the hell of it is, as extraordinarily powerful an influence as their art was originally, it's even more transformative when it's explored again and again and new layers of meaning are discovered.

That's art. 

Sharing something with the world that will make a difference.  Art changes people.  And great art changes people for generations.

It allows us to stand taller because we stand on the shoulders of giants.

Your friend,

Jim Caruso