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BOOK REVIEW: "Hunter S. Thompson: The Last Interview and Other Conversations"

Melville House Publishing
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BOOK REVIEW: Hunter S. Thompson: The Last Interview and Other Conversations edited by David Streitfeld (Melville House Publishing) 2018

Rarely does a day go by when I don’t think about the late, great Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson.

I’ve read nearly every word Thompson put onto a printed page. But there are still interviews out there that I have missed and thankfully journalist David Streitfeld, who has edited (publishing through Melville House) Last Great Interview books featuring Philip K. Dick, J.D. Salinger and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Thompson is in good company with literary luminaries like Salinger, Dick and Marquez. Streitfeld captures these various interviews covering the period between 1967 and 2004, where Thompson shows his whip-smart mind (even under the influence of various illicit substances) and always-ready pen/typewriter could take on the powerful and cut them down to size, as he did with President Richard Nixon. Too bad he is not alive to see the “monstrous Mr. Hyde” we have in Donald Trump. A man who “speaks for the Werewolf in us; the bully, the predatory shyster who turns into something unspeakable, full of claws and bleeding string-warts on nights when the moon comes too close …”

Indeed, Thompson was speaking of Nixon in that above example. But it is unsettling how it could be used to also describe Trump.

Note Streitfeld in the introduction: “These are tumultuous times. The country is on edge, unable to look away from what is going on in Washington. Hunter loved moments like this. The thing he hated the most was boredom, and no one is bored now. The thing he loved the most was politics, which continually disappointed him but wheich he couldn’t let go of. His great nemesis was Richard Nixon. Douglas Brinkley, a friend and historian, said, ‘Hunter hated Nixon so much he loved him.’ In the Age of Trump, we’re all Hunter Thompson.”

In fact, in the first featured interview, with Studs Terkel in 1967 after the publication of his Hell’s Angels book, Thompson essentially describes the future Trump voter who won’t be “wearing the colors” of the Hell’s Angels, but will be “looking for vengeance because they’ve been left behind.”

Thompson had a keen political mind, as evidenced by the classic Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, and even some of the political overtones in the prior Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas with its references to the “Death of the American Dream” and a Fascist-like attitude toward drugs.

And in an interview Henry Allen did with Thompson for Washington Post Book Week, after his failed “Freak Power” ticket run for Pitkin County, Colorado Sheriff in Aspen and the fact that “the walls start closing in” if he doesn’t blast the Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed at full volume. I’ve been there.

“I’m an adrenaline junkie,” Thompson admits to Allen.

And that could explain how the Louisville, Ky. native was able to keep up with the Angels, and even survive a severe beatdown by several of them when he intervened when an Angel started beating up his old lady.

Back with Studs Terkel in 1973, Thompson notes how quickly things changed – for the worse, it would seem – in the six years between their interview together. The Good Doctor of Journalism notes how “the whole era died” and that the “Sixties,” where the hippie ideals of that time died with it. And now the Hell’s Angeles are “dealing in cars now, they’re selling drugs.”

And the specter of Richard Nixon hangs over the proceedings, as he often did when Thompson was on a roll.

And having read Thompson’s works through the late 70’s through the 1990’s, those times were more, I guess, introspective for the writer, since the utter batshit nuttery of his earlier years had quieted down. Ronald Reagan was never the villain Nixon was, in Thompson’s mind, but he still offers up interesting insights to Streitfeld himself, adding that while they got Nixon “on a technicality,” the Reagan-Bush clusterfuck known as Iran-Contra was “worse.”

And it’s pretty clear Thompson was not a big fan of Bill Clinton, either. And while there was no chance that he could vote for George H.W. Bush in ’92, independent billionaire candidate Ross Perot had some promise in Thompson’s mind. “He just needed a little humor, a little energy.” But when it came down to it, even after spending a weird time in Little Rock with Clinton at the goofily named “Doe’s Eat Place,” he supported Bubba. But he made it perfectly plain that Bubba was a humorless S.O.B. 

Nevertheless, Thompson had a pessimistic outlook on the American voter, telling Streitfeld: “The bottom line here may be that we are a nation of swine. When I said years ago how low you had to stoop to be president I was just ahead of my time.” Great Scott! The man was right all those years ago. Again, if he were alive today.

He did make it through the Bush-Kerry election of 2004. But when Bush Jr. won re-election, it was simply too much. That was a dark autumn for Hunter S. Thompson. And right before the election, Thompson was interviewed one last time, by a college student from New York State named Jessica Hopsicker , titled “A Downhill, Hellbound Train.”

Damn, that title just says it all, doesn’t it? Granted, Thompson missed the Obama years, but he would have been downright shocked to his core had he lived to see a loathsome con artist like Donald J. Trump move into the White House.

But in this final interview, when Hopsicker asks if Bush is re-elected, Thompson seemingly sighs and says Bush will oversee a continued “looting of the federal treasury,” having gone from a “prosperous nation at peace and now, four years later, we’re a broke nation at war.” That there would be more raping of the land. More greed. More violence and insanity.

"He's been a good boy for Halliburton, the oil industry. That's what he does, that's where he grew up" - in the Petroleum Club of Houston. Thompson tells Hopsicker that George W. Bush arrived in his hotel room one night, uninvited, and passed out in his bathtub, having vomited on his seersucker suit. He said it was the most interesting thing Bush had ever done, at least in Thompson's presence.

And when the interview was concluded, Thompson said "all this talk about politics" had gotten him excited. Too bad Thompson only had a few more months to live, and probably never saw the published interview. But who knows?

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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