American essayist and gonzo journalist P.J. O’Rourke has just passed away and I am a little sad.
From around 1989, when I discovered his collection of essays ‘Republican Party Reptile’, there was a period of about a decade when I would eagerly buy and devour his books as soon as they were released. He could be very funny.
Take this extract from his article ‘Myths Made Modern’ on page 21 of ‘Republican Party Reptile’:
‘Penelope was the wife of the war hero Ulysses, who had been an officer in Vietnam. He was overseas for a long time and Penelope felt like he was never coming back. So she had a lot of suitors. But Ulysses did come back, and when he did he killed all of Penelope’s men friends. And he would have gone to jail if the jury hadn’t decided that he was suffering from post-Vietnam Stress Syndrome and therefore had been temporarily insane.’
His car hoon essays republished in that collection, ‘Ferrari Refutes the Decline of the West’ and ‘How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink’ are classics of gonzo journalism.
He did decline as a writer and a character. Old age does get to us, and after about 2001, his books became far less frequent and less funny, and less popular.
When he published a new collection of car related essays ‘Driving Like Crazy’ in 2009, he had to include ‘How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink’ as it was probably his most famous essay.
However, in early old age by then and with a brace of teenage daughters himself who might read his pearls of wisdom and get the wrong idea, his writings from when he was in his mischievous prime about being high on drugs and picking up teenage girls in a fast car made him rather nervous, so he included a disclaimer that he had made it all up and that people should not take that essay as canonical.
And that disclaimer summed up the last 20 years of his writing career.
All the same, tonight I might pour myself a glass of Cinzano and soda and reread my favourite passages from ‘Republican Party Reptile’ for the first time in many years. Vale PJ.