As the painfully deafening sound of the Alka Seltzer plink plinked into the glass and the fizzing sound was even enough to reach my pain threshold, I had time to reflect on the nature of the hangover, having the energy to do little else. Is it possible that Christianity is really an analogy of alcohol or possibly the other way around. It seems to me that both seem to proffer the idea that easy pleasure is followed by painful retribution or as Hank Williams would have put it, a Saturday night spent honky-tonking has to be followed by Church on Sunday…not that I think old Hank spent a lot of time in church. However it works it is still a truism that the more complete the bar-room excess the more wretched the suffering the next day. The only consolation is that the hangover has been responsible for some fine writing. But isn’t that just the way it is with pain? Just ask Iris Murdoch or even the Marque de Sade.
Writing about the hangover is surprisingly easy, far easier than trying to write about being drunk unless you happen to be Hunter S. Thompson and we won’t see his like again. It is the clarity of the ever present pain that makes it so accessible and the degree of pain is probably related to the level of enjoyment you experienced in getting to this point. There was a time when the hangover was a badge of honour, but slowly peer pressure and twelve step sober celebs led the way to a new healthier way and now anyone who even mentions they like a drink is tarred with the epithet of “having a problem.”
Anyway, so best literary hangovers? High on the list has got to be Tom Wolfe’s alcoholic journalist in the Bonfire of The Vanities or Larry Underwood in Stephen Kings The Stand. My favourite has got to be the monumental and wonderfully described headache that Mike Hammer awakes with at the start of Spillane’s The Girl Hunters. In the movies this state of gracelessness is portrayed brilliantly by Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider, Dean Martin (and he should know) in Rio Bravo and Nick Nolte in North Dallas Forty.
So people may look down on the wasted day that follow a night getting wasted but as I said it is a process that has produced some inspired writing. Where would Kerouac have been without a bottle of cheap rose and a stolen car?