A Tribute to The Good Doctor of Gonzo
I first discovered the work of Hunter S Thompson by watching the film
of his most famous book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, when I was 18 years old while drinking stupidly strong home brewed alcohol and having inhaled a large quantity of cannabis. I was mesmerised, resolving to search out the book and, having devoured that, his others.
I watched the film again, this time on December 30th 2003, in a studio apartment on the seafront in St Ives. This time this involved drinking beer, smoking cannabis and a first experience of magic mushrooms. I realised what the feeling of using hallucinogenic drugs was and also that, the way Thompson explained it, the way he wrote of it, the way his junkie oddyssey encapsulated the feeling of losing control of your own perception, was right.
Hunter Stockton Thompson, the founder of Gonzo journalism, started his journalistic career as a sports reporter. But writing about the Kentucky Derby and America's Cup for Scanlan's magazine, Thompson found himself not even remotely interested in the sports and, instead, wrote articles about what he was doing when he should have been watching them. When he went to cover the 'Rumble in the Jungle' boxing match in Zaire, he missed the match as he was relaxing in a swimming pool with his drugs.
It was this kind of behaviour which got HST a job with Rolling Stone,
predominantly a music magazine, but also a counter-cultural icon. They
sent Thompson and his attorney-at-large Oscar Acosta to Las Vegas to cover a motorbike rally. This led to two massive articles which were eventually consolidated into one book and became Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas with Thompson and Acosta renamed as Raoul Duke and Dr Gonzo. The Fear and Loathing column became one of Rolling Stone's most popular as HST continued to make himself the centrepiece of reports - as he previously had at Scanlan's. He then, strangely enough, integrated with a group of Hell's Angels and his first book was appropriately called Hell's Angels.
HST's masterpiece, however, emerged from his unlikely assignment as RS's political correspondent for the 1972 election. Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail is a rollercoaster work of genius as Thompson flings himself into the fray of the Nixon-McGovern presidential campaign telling, as he does in most of his work, the story of the sad truth of 20th Century America and the death of the American dream; telling us more truths in his drug-crazed ramblings than any politician ever would.
His 80s and 90s output is scant, with the Gonzo Papers trilogy of newspaper article anthologies and the 92 election coverage of Better than Sex all that is worth mentioning.
By the 21st century, along came HST's autobiography, Kingdom of Fear, a tale of what has driven him and what has happened to him which cannot be put down, along with a mammoth collection of letters to and from the man who claimed to be a 'Doctor' of journalism and who managed to articulate all that was wrong with America even as he rambled about drugs and constantly referred to police as 'pigf***ers'.
On Sunday the 20th February, 2005, in his secure compound in Woody Creek, Colorado, Hunter Stockton Thompson shot himself. Ralph Steadman, animator of many of Thompson's books, recalls that Thompson once said;
'I'd feel real trapped in this life if I didn't know I could commit suicide at any time.'
That Sunday night was the time he chose.
It is Nixon himself who represents that dark, venal, almost incurably
violent side of the American character that every other nation on earth
has long learned to fear and despise.'
- Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail
There is no honest way to explain the Edge as the only people who really know where it is are those who have gone over.'
- Hells Angels
We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of Mescaline, five sheets of acid, a salt shaker full of cocaine and a whole galaxy of uppers, downers, screamers, laughers... Also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum,a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether, and two dozen amyls... not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked in a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can...'
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
He stomped terra.