O.Z.Acosta: Not Just A Psychedelic Nut-Job

I've just finished Oscar Acosta's "Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo" (Vintage, 1989).
You know Oscar: he's the infamous "allegedly erstwhile Samoan attorney" of Hunter S. Thompson's classic "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." Except he wasn't Samoan, although according to his own autobiography he liked to joke that he was.
Acosta was Chicano, and this book charts the strange road he took through the Forties, Fifties and Sixties to discover his identity. And guess what? Though it's not perfect, it's a really wonderful book, vividly written, portraying the lives of the racially disinherited underclass in America in a way I haven't seen equalled by any other author. It also describes the wild psychedelic Sixties--the San Francisco bars, the hippies, the drugs, and adventures with a certain half-crazed journalist friend of the narrator's who may be somewhat familiar to readers.
The two strands of the book, as described, hang together awkwardly, to the extent that the reader sometimes feels, while reading, as if two novels had been shunted together; but biographically we know that this is exactly how Oscar's life developed. Perhaps a better author, if such a man existed, would have been able to give the appearance of cohesion between the separate stages of the narrator's development. Perhaps not. Maybe some lives are characterised by apparently random leaps from one world to another, and there's nothing you can do--or should do--to disguise it.
Oscar was, after all, "too weird to live and too rare to die," in Hunter Thompson's marvellous phrase.
Anybody who knows Oscar through Thompson's books and articles should investigate "Brown Buffalo" to discover the real man behind the superbly mythic figure Thompson, in his reverence for Acosta, created in his writings. What may surprise you even more than the honesty, and the pathos, of the man, is that Oscar might conceivably be an equal to the good Doctor as a writer.
But there we are walking on controversial ground.

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