This entry is a tribute to Hunter S Thompson, the great Gonzo journalist who died in 2005. It is written very much in the style that Thompson created in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and pioneered and developed in his other works. As such it contains rather robust language.
Consider this brief introduction to be a "Contains Bad Language" warning.
On the other hand, how much better to show what Gonzo writing is all about by writing Gonzo than to dissect and analyse and discuss in detail.
And now... hold t-i-i-i-i-i-ight - we are in for a rocky ride....
"I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence or insanity... but they've worked for me".
Hunter S Thompson. 1937 – 2005
Journalist. Drug fiend. Sex Addict. An Obituary.
1550 Zulu, 15 March 2005, Albert Park, Auckland, NZ.
There was a faint "clop". A short scream. Some swearing. The flash of moon-white flesh. Somewhere behind palm trees.
"Um..." said Pete, belatedly, "FORE". He waved his golf club round at the horizon, taking in bright lights, big city and necking students.
"Hey. That, them, ah, this,... um..."
We'd had a bit to drink.
"This, us, um... the whole evening... this whole everyshing. This belongs ...ya know... in the doctor's books.
There was no need to say who the good doctor was.
"FORE!" yelled Pete slicing another ball a few feet along the dewed grass.
We were both under the evil influence of Hunter S Thompson.
Graduation was over. Well over. It was coming on for 4am.
HST. The Good Doctor. The Duke. Hunter Stockton Thompson, Doctor of Divinity (by mail order).
"F**k", Peter added, looking at his leg. The divot had smeared clay all down the thousand dollar suit he'd worn this morn... yesterday morning to pick up his BCom and LlB.
Hunter S Thompson was a pioneer – the pioneer - of personalised, "gonzo" journalism.
In deference to drink and divots, I'd changed out of my toga.
Which is to say at the centre of most of his stories was his own big fat ego.
Pete hadn't wanted to get changed, in case it interrupted his drinking. He wandered in the direction of his sliced golf ball, thought better of it, and reached into his second 50-pack for another.
It wasn't enough that the President urinated on a journalist. The journalist had to be Hunter. He had to be left behind in Saigon. He couldn't just write about the Hells Angels, he had to be the hack beaten by them. No matter how hard he had to try to provoke it. When he attended the District Attorney's Drug conference, naturally, he was stoned. Hunter couldn't even holiday to Hawaii, without proclaiming himself the locals' returned God Lono.
"FORE!" yelled Pete.
Hunter did first what most modern media now does. He took every story personally. He concentrated on the outrageous. Ignored the banal and wrote to extremes. "So much for Objective Journalism", Hunter wrote. "Don't bother to look for it here - not under any byline of mine; or anyone else I can think of".
Pete's next drive bounced off some kinetic sculpture, denting its patina.
Hunter loathed mainstream media. He must have hated to see them becoming him.
"You're getting closer", I suggested helpfully. "F**k you!" said Pete. "And pass the Riesling".
Maybe that was why he shot himself.
Not that we gave a stuff about the origins of gonzo journalism.
"You've recycled the Riesling", I pointed out. "Over the geraniums".
We only cared Hunter was outrageous. And funny. And cool.
"Better get going. You've got a plane to catch..."
We were just like every responsible 22 year old that way.
...checking the clock on the art gallery...
I mean Hunter was THE man caught spraying "F**k the Pope" on an America's cup yacht.
"...in 55 minutes."
"You had the same mixed admiration for Thompson", one reviewer wrote, "as you'd feel for a streaker at Queen Victoria's funeral".
"FORE", yelled Pete.
And now Hunter S Thompson's dead.
It was my last night out with Pete. He was leaving for England. Well, would be leaving, if we got my elderly Jaguar out of the Albert Park flower bed.
Hunter became a celebrity in his own right.
Pete was leaving because of a little disagreement with his law firm.
And like any celebrity in his stories - because he was the celebrity in his stories - HST's own persona went weird. He spent his last decades holed up in a Davidian ranch, surrounded by drugs and guns and school-girl girl-friends.
A self publicising recluse.
"Six", I corrected, catching shards of the city lights on falling mirror glass.
His biographer, E. Jean Carrol, wrote she traded sex for interviews.
There was silence, then pane met pavement. Pete had a grudge about office windows that wouldn't open.
Living down to his own clichés.
"I did it", yelled Pete. "F**k I did it. Unbef**kinglievable. F**k me. F**k you ruddy tw*ts. I did it. F**k. What a Hunter f**king moment."
For all the self publicity stunts, Hunter S Thompson was first and only a writer. A very readable writer, though in the eyes of some, not even a real writer, but a journalist instead.
And as a journalist, Hunter's reputation is really based on just three things; Hell's Angels, Las Vegas, and Richard Nixon.
He spent '66 hanging out with some bikers. In '67 he published Hell's Angels. It was well written – perhaps the best writing of his career. But it was also well timed. One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest author, Ken Kesey, hung around with the same Angels. Tom Wolfe's hit bio of Kesey and his Merry Pranksters made the biker gang stars. Mick Jagger hired the Angels as concert security. The Angels killed a Stones fan. So Hell's Angels were in. The news, or whatever. And so was Hunter.
The Angels book got Hunter a gig with Rolling Stone magazine, where he covered the '72 election, demonising Richard Nixon - a man, he said, so crooked he needs servants to help screw his pants on each morning 1. This was the year before Woodward and Bernstein made baiting Tricky Dicky trendy;- when Watergate broke, Thompson was a righteous prophet. But by then, the drugs had begun to take hold.
Thompson was sent to Vietnam by Rolling Stone Magazine. He was strafed by the USAF. As others round hit the ground, HST stood proud tall and calm in his narcotic haze; checking out the pterodactyls, he claims. Only that seems to be after he wrote up the very similar opening to Fear in Loathing in Las Vegas2. So you never know. As Hunter liked to say, when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. In Vietnam Hunter failed to write anything of consequence - unless you count the letter, written after he got left behind in Saigon, claiming he'd been a communist all along. But the drugs had given him ideas.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas remains Hunter's most famous book, and it is a Kerouaced instant stream of consciousness, in essence, one long trip. A work which scars images in your memory, an oxymoronic series of scenes; of wallowing amorality and strangely moral outrage; of amazement and revulsion; one long drug fuelled careering burnout down his rusty adjective-laden Metaphor2000TM switch blade.
Hunter's muse was inspired, and sometimes swallowed or injected. But pharmacological warfare – or something – got to his writing. Since 1975, Hunter had not written anything of the iconic power of even Kentucky Derby. What he wrote no longer seemed just lacking balance, but increasingly unbalanced. Hunter was less prolific with Ford and Carter and even Regan in the White house.
In the late 60s, Hunter bought Owl Farm, Woody Creek, just outside Aspen. For 30 years Hunter retreated there emerging occasionally to fend off drugs, firearms or sex related charges to complain about Bill Murray’s bio-flick Where the Buffalo Roam, or his cartoonisation as Uncle Duke in Doonesbury.
Late in the afternoon of 20 February 2005, at Owl farm, Hunter S. Thompson shot himself in the head. Thompson collected firearms, explosives and weapons of all sorts. He displayed complete disregard for weapon safety. While researching ex-Python Terry Gillam's Fear and Loathing movie, actor Johnny Depp visited Owl farm. Depp says Hunter made him fire a shotgun at explosives strapped to a propane tank. Hunter once ran for Sheriff of Aspen. He once went deer hunting with dynamite. Hunter was the Sheriff candidate of the Freakpower party;- he stood on a platform of legalising all drugs and all guns and tearing up Aspen's roads. Hunter's last column was promoting his invention of "golf cross" – cross with clay pidgeon shooting that is:- competitors shoot each others balls. Hunter campaigned for sheriff from the local tavern. Usually stoned. A police search of his property once found enough different sorts of illicit drugs the list couldn't fit on one page. Not Hunter's stash, mind, this was just the dregs of drugs in the bottom of old suitcases, behind the sofa or down the back of the bathroom sink, apparently forgotten. Against all odds, it appears Hunter was sober and acting intentionally when he shot himself. He was also very nearly was elected Sheriff.
In accordance with his last wishes, Hunter S Thompson’s remains were fired from a cannon.
What is Hunter's legacy? The New York Times - that bastion of liberal bigotry – got Tom Wolfe to write an obituary3. He's "the greatest Comic writer of the century" hyperboled Wolfe, before concluding, "not much of a legacy". To me, Wolfe's piece reads like one author writing about another he dislikes, but hasn't bothered to read much. It is probably what it seems. Ken Kesey, who both Wolfe and Thompson wrote about in their Hell's Angels days, said at the time that cream rises but so does s**t. "Hunter S Thompson is cream", he added, "Wolfe ...isn't". Thompson, referencing his own debts to Hemmingway, put it rather better; "The scum also rises". Before he was a famous writer, Thompson once hitchhiked to the cabin where Hemmingway shot himself. And stole a set of elk antlers from it. What does that say about Hunter's legacy? Well, now he's dead, a lot of people are trying to be nice about the mad b*****d.
Pete had given up trying to gargle his own vomit.
Wolfe is probably right about Hunter. Okay, so the whole media apes his gonzo journalism. Look at the net. Look at this F**king article. But we would have got there without Hunter. He just happened to be first. And now the pretence of impartiality has disappeared the weaknesses of Thompson's instant history stand out – the sensationalism, the ego driven personalising, the aching liberties remodelling reality to fit the peoples' fickle interest. It's a sad thought this is his legacy. The shaky camera work, the scripted stutters - what you see tonight on news-lite or news like ads was all present years ago, when Hunter rewrote history to sell his experience with the Angels. Hell, now even ex-Angels write books cashing in on themselves. "Thompson was never beaten by the whole gang", writes Angels ex-president Sonny Barger. "Just one man". As Hunter said, "Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in [...] journalism". But one thing Hunter had is the courage to say what for CNN is unthinkable - and our ability to approximate the truth will be poorer without him.
Pete flipped to the belligerent drunk stage. "You wanna.. you trying to get smart?" He'd slammed the car door on his hand, but claimed to feel no pain. I'd speculated why.
In the end, Thompson beat himself up. Why did he die? F**k knows.
"You wanna get smart? That's what I’m at uni for."
Why did he die? F**k knows.
Pete staggered with the swinging back door of the XJ6.
Thompson spent times in the last weeks of his life semi-psychotic, talking conspiracies, death and suicide. Course he spent most of the rest of his life like that to. Why did he die? His son was in the house at the time, but he doesn't know. Thompson's new young wife was speaking to him on the phone at the time 4. She doesn't know. His last (typewritten) word was "counsellor"5. One blogger says he was gunned down in a 9/11 cover up. Another blames a WTO hit. A third George W Bush and the Saudis. His own doctor said he should have been dead years ago. Doonesbury, (where Thompson's cartoon alter ego has been helping "govern" Iraq), drew the Duke's head being blown off for unexplained reasons.
"F**k spending your life studying man. Come with me and become a man, man."
A publisher once claimed Hunter went to the other side and reported back what he found.
"Hey man. You look beastly", I said.
Well he broke on through once more.
Pete threw up on me.
Why did Thompson die? My guess is the reporter got bored riding the edge, and went to see what's beyond6.
"He who makes a beast of himself", Pete explained, curling up to sleep on the back seat, "gets rid of the pain of being a man".Kit Boyes 2005.
Fear and loathing in Las Vegas. Terry Gillam Director, written by Hunter S Thompson, Universal Pictures. Universal City, CA: Universal Home Video, 2003
Where the Buffalo Roam, Art Linson, Director; written by John Kaye;With Bill Murray and Peter Boyle; released 25 April 1980
Biographies and Biographical writings
Carroll, E. Jean. Hunter: The strange and savage life of Hunter S. Thompson, Dutton, New York, 1993. See also http://www.ejeanlive.com/home.htm
Perry, Paul. Fear and Loathing: the strange and terrible saga of Hunter S. Thompson, Thunder's Mouth Press, New York, 1993.
Trudeau, Gary, Doonesbury, multiple cartoons, see http://www.doonesbury.com
Whitmer, Peter When the Going gets weird: an unauthorized biography, Hyperion, New York, 1993.
Wolfe, Tom, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York; 1968.
Wolfe, Tom. The New Journalism, Harper and Row, New York, 1973.
Thompson, Hunter S. Hell's Angels; a strange and terrible saga. NY: Random House, 1967.
Thompson, Hunter S The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved Article in Scanlon's Monthly Magazine, 1970.
Thompson, Hunter S Freak Power in the Rockies Article in Rolling Stone Magazine, 1970.
Thompson, Hunter S. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas : A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream New York, Random House, 1971.
Thompson, Hunter S. Fear and loathing: on the campaign trail '72. San Francisco, Straight Arrow Books, 1973.
Thompson, Hunter S.Better than sex: confessions of a political junkie. NY: Ballantine Books, 1995.
Thompson, Hunter S and Steadman, Ralph, The Curse of Lono
New York, Bantam, 1983. See also http://www.ralphsteadman.com
Thompson, Hunter S The rum diary: the long lost novel. NY: Simon and Schuster, 1998.
Thompson, Hunter S Kingdom of Fear: Loathsome Secrets of a Star-Crossed Child in the Final Days of the American Century Simon and Schuster 2003.
Thompson, Hunter S Hey Rube: Blood Sport, the Bush Doctrine, and the Downward Spiral of Dumbness Modern History from the Sports Desk Simon and Schuster, 2004.
Thompson, Hunter S. Gonzo Papers, Vol. 1: The Great Shark Hunt - Strange Tales from a Strange Time New York, Summit Books, 1979.
Thompson, Hunter S. Gonzo Papers, Vol. 2 :Generation of swine: tales of shame and degradation in the '80s. NY: Summit Books, 1988.
Thompson, Hunter S. Gonzo papers: Vol. 3. Songs of the doomed: more notes on the death of the American dream: NY: Summit Books, 1990.
Thompson, Hunter S. The Fear and Loathing Letters, Volume I - The Proud Highway - Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman 1955 - 1967 New York, Random House, 1994.
Thompson, Hunter S Fear and loathing in America: the brutal odyssey of an outlaw journalist, 1968-1976. edited by Douglas Brinkley. NY: Simon and Schuster, 2000.
Richard Nixon is gone now and I am poorer for it. He was the real thing - a political monster straight out of Grendel... I have had my own bloody relationship with Nixon for many years, but I am not worried about it landing me in hell with him. I have already been there with that bastard, and I am a better person for it. Nixon had the unique ability to make his enemies seem honorable, and we developed a keen sense of fraternity. Some of my best friends have hated Nixon all their lives. My mother hates Nixon, my son hates Nixon, I hate Nixon, and this hatred has brought us together. Nixon laughed when I told him this. "Don't worry," he said. "I, too, am a family man, and we feel the same way about you."
2We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like "I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive...." And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: "Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?" Then it was quiet again. My attorney had taken his shirt off and was pouring beer on his chest, to facilitate the tanning process. "What the hell are you yelling about?" he muttered, staring up at the sun with his eyes closed and covered with wraparound Spanish sunglasses. "Never mind," I said. "It's your turn to drive." Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
3This is unfair. Since writing this, I've discovered the Washington Post paid Wolfe to write a Thompson piece too. Also The Right Stuff is a very fine book;- albeit the Electric Cool Aid Acid Test was in my eyes merely good fiction, and Bonfire of the Vanities not even that. Compare two writers who did not dismiss Hunter as a comedian, abut judged his journalism. AC Ross' obituary in the San Francisco Tribune said "for years he had been a largely burned-out case, more of a circus act than a serious writer, revelling in adolescent stunts with firearms, alcohol, narcotics". One of Ross' sources, former Rolling Stone Editor John Burks, said Thompson took "sweeping liberties with - and often liberated himself from - reality", and pegged his technique as "escalating bull".
4Anita Thompson, reported by AP, on Sunday 2/20/05, "I was on the phone with him, he set the receiver down and he did it. I heard the clicking of the gun". Her story changed a number of times since then, and it would be fair to conclude she is not sure if she heard a shot or not.
5Hunter's last word was left on the typewriter in front of him. It was "counsellor". No one knows what he meant by "counsellor", though in the days following his death it seemed obligatory for newspapers to compare "counsellor" with Charles Foster Kane's "Rosebud". We like to show we're cultured. If newspapers really respected Thompson, they'd add Mankiewicz and Welles made the fictionalised William Randolph Hearst's last word "Rosebud" 'cause they knew that, in real life, "Rosebud" was Hearst's nickname for Marion Davies' labia minora. Now that'd be typical Thompson; puerile, full of obscure name dropping, cumbersomely written, showing off obscure anatomy, but yet, well... informative and, strangely, memorable.
No seriously, a year from now, when you're trying to worm your way into some 1st year Film Studies pants, and she is boring on and on in an aren’t-I-intellectual way about Tolland's auteur role in Citizen Kane or whatever, a light'll go on in your head, and you'll say, "yeah, but don't you know 'rosebud' was wotshisface’ nickname for that gal’s c**t?" Then she’ll look at you with disgust, cause, well you deserve it.
And, no, you still won’t get in her pants.
Thanks, Lion Red.
6With the throttle screwed on there is only the barest margin, and no room at all for mistakes. It has to be done right . . . and that's when the strange music starts, when you stretch your luck so far that fear becomes exhilaration and vibrates along your arms. You can barely see at a hundred; the tears blow back so fast that they vaporize before they get to your ears. The only sounds are wind and a dull roar floating back from the mufflers. You watch the white line and try to lean with it . . . howling through a turn to the right, then to the left and down the long hill to Pacifica . . . letting off now watching for cops, but only until the next dark stretch and another few seconds on the edge . . . The Edge . . . There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others—the living—are those who pushed their control as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to choose between Now and Later. But the edge is still Out there. Or maybe it's In.