I have been meaning to write something about Hunter S. Thompson (henceforth HST) for a long time. He is a challenge to even try to sketch in a text but I shall start somewhere near the beginning and try to find a “Gonzo” route forwards.
I first came into contact with HST’s writing in a non-descript beach bar with a fine view out over the Indian ocean in Goa, India. I can’t remember exactly whether someone gave me a used copy of one of his books or whether I found the copy lying around in the beach hut. It doesn’t really matter either. I seem to recall it was “Fear and loathing : on the campaign trail ’72”:
(Book can be found here, for example)
I had time so I delved into the book and was stunned. I had never read anything like it, it was direct but also eloquent, there were interesting quotes and angles, it was straight up in your face but with depth and reflection, it was American in the most American way. It was new and totally different. It also gave the reader an unobstructed view into the abyss of American politics at the beginning of the 70’s and for a European reader it was stunning in the original sense. Of the many impressions that I took with me from the book was the wry humour and writing style, the rhythm of the text and a style of starting with a great quote and taking the story from there. There was no subjective or objective view but an amalgamation of the two from the very personal perspective of the Dr. himself.
I now had HST on my radar and found a copy of fear and loathing in Las Vegas somewhere on my further travels. The book is certainly a milestone and a tribute to the tenacity and fortitude of the human body when subjected to vast quantities and varieties of recreational drugs (internal) and weird environments (Las Vegas, external) factors. The book is a trip in itself. In retrospect I liked the political journalism and articles more but I still enjoyed it a lot.
Further down the line and later, I read the Hell’s Angels book and this and that as well as any Rolling Stone articles which came my way. The Hell’s Angels book was appealing to me at the time because it fitted my philosophy of the time of minimalised large-capacity fast Italian motorcycles.
I’m just thinking how to explain to someone why HST made such an impact on me and I can only really say that he was first and foremost a unique American writer. Thus, you have to just sit down and read his articles, letters, books whatever because that is his medium, you can’t skip it if you want to know what HST is about.
However, we are in 2023 and this medium gives me the possibility to insert videos, films and “movey”-media so here are two videos to get a slight feel for the style and the character. One is a reading of one of his letters and the other is an interview from 1997 which I think captures some things very well:
Something I very much admired in his writing was an extensive and apt use of quotes to “star-stud” his text or use as a starting point or twist for a story.
Here are some of his many works at Open Library:
And, of course, the BBC documentary from 1978 which is an insight into an altogether diiferent time in history:
Hunter S. Thompson is famous for his hard-hitting quotes and quips and deservedly so, here is a page with 855 quotes to peruse at your leisure:
HST was also involved in the journalism of politics in his own unique way, here is an extract from the introduction of “Generation of Swine” to get a feel for the pace and reach of his writing:
You can get hold of a copy here, for example.
Finally, in February 2005 the journey moved on to the other side. For me, one of the great American writers had moved on, maybe before his time, maybe not.
“Football Season Is Over”
“No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your (old) age. Relax — This won’t hurt.”HST, 20th February 2005