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"Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone: The Essential Writing of Hunter S. Thompson"

Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report
"Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone: The Essential Writing of Hunter S. Thompson," left on a table in a room at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky.
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BOOK REVIEW: Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone: The Essential Writing of Hunter S. Thompson (Simon & Schuster) 2011

Although Hunter S. Thompson was never a religious, spiritual or even mystical guy, I suspect he would be open to dream interpretation under the right circumstances, particularly after all the illicit substances he tried over many years, before his death in 2005.

And it was just that, his death. Were he still alive, he would have turned 80 yesterday.

In last night’s dream, the good “Doctor of Journalism” was still with us. I’m not sure of the time period or place, but he seemed to be in need of help. I’m not sure why, but it seemed pretty vivid. And it was implied, not spoken. It was in Hunter’s face, a face that I’ve seen a lot of over the past few years as I finally finish reading all of his published writings – and this book, Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone: The Essential Writing of Hunter S. Thompson – is the last book of the bunch. I’ve completed my Gonzo library, although I hope his (unfinished) novel Prince Jellyfish or some other as-yet-unpublished stories, books, etc. will be revealed through his estate in Woody Creek, Colorado.

Anyway, I was already pretty familiar with Thompson’s writings for Jann Wenner’s countercultural rock music magazine Rolling Stone over the years. Thompson began a very fruitful (and sometimes very frustrating) relationship with Wenner and others at Rolling Stone, which began in San Francisco in the late 1960’s.

Thompson’s embrace of the “New Journalism,” like that of Tom Wolfe, his contemporary, worked well for a Louisville, Kentucky native unwilling to settle for a regular desk job. After all, how could he go on a journey, looking for the “savage” heart of the fetid “American dream” from a desk in Boise or Birmingham? Hunter S. Thompson was always a man of action, but with that came periods of inaction, which tested the patience of Wenner and company over many years.

But with the release of the film The Rum Diary, based on Thompson’s novel of the same name, which was finally published in 1998, the opportunity to get more of Thompson's writings out there made sense to Jann Wenner, which comes as no surprise to me.

But we are better for it. Somehow, when I read his writings for Rolling Stone while covering the 1972 presidential election, I feel better. He makes me feel better. And I love it. His description of candidate Ed Muskie, "the Man from Maine," is outright hilarious!

"When Muskie arrived in Florida for The Blitz, he looked and acted like a man who'd been cracked," writes Thompson. "Watching him in action, I remembered the nervous sense of impending doom in the face of Floyd Patterson when he weighed in for his championship re-match with Sonny Liston in Las Vegas." And it just goes on from there. Thompson was merely writing about what he saw and felt. And it worked beautifully!

Thompson could not stand Richard M. Nixon. That is a well-known fact. And he lets Nixon have it, left and right, while later he totally falls for an obscure Georgia governor and peanut farmer named Jimmy Carter. And the way he describes the talk Carter gave that blew him away, makes you wish you had been there to hear it first-hand as well. 

Thompson had run for Sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado in 1970 on the Freak Power ticket, promising to sod the streets and rename Aspen as "Fat City." He almost won.

He knew politics on the small level and the spectacle of the "Big Game" was too enticing. He had a love/hate relationship with politics and politicians. This, I think, reflects his love of his country and wanting good, honest people to lead America to a better day, not the slithering snakes of the Nixonian variety that seemed to rise to the top, like so much pond scum.

He has decidedly mixed feelings about Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton when he meets this humorless Democrat at "Doe's Eat Place" (a name too cute for its own good, and referred to as 'Doe's Cafe' by Thompson) in Little Rock in 1992. And while Thompson did not care all that much for Clinton, he hated George H.W. Bush and so supported Clinton as being better than Bush. Later, in 2004, he would get strongly behind his friend John Kerry, a fellow anti-war voice of the Vietnam era, who ran against Bush's son that year - and lost. And we lost Hunter S. Thompson a matter of months later, sadly.

We get politics and drama and sports and more through the 1970's, 1980's and 1990's, although Thompson's work gets patchier with the passing of time. The spark wasn't quite there the way it had been in the early days. 

There are samples of letters between Thompson and Wenner and Thompson's coverage of the Pulitzer trial in Palm Beach, Florida in the early 80's is absolutely classic. He nails it!

Thompson also respected his fellow Louisvillian, boxer Muhammad Ali, “The Greatest,” who he meets with several times, and they are awkward experiences.

As Ali famously said, “My way of joking is to tell the truth. That’s the funniest joke in the world.”

Thompson loved that quote, saying in the chapter “Last Tango in Vegas” that it was “as fine a definition of ‘Gonzo Journalism’ as anything I’ve ever heard, for good or ill.”

Truer words ...

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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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