the two-fisted Gonzo image I used on my shirtsfor Terry and John

“We can’t stop here.  This is bat country.”  (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, p 18)

It’s Nixon who started all of this and I can’t help but think that would make Hunter smile.  When I was first getting into a serious love of film, one of the first great films I watched was All the President’s Men.  Then I read the book, and I was just hooked.  I could do a whole For Love of Books post on books about Nixon and the Nixon administration.  And I already had the makings of a serious political junkie, having been apparently the only fifth grader at Taft Elementary willing to offer up support of Walter Mondale.  I followed the trail through the primaries in 88 and less than four years later, had a serious conversation with my best friend, John, and we decided that of all the candidates, it was Bill Clinton that was the best chance – both for the country, and for getting elected.  I couldn’t get enough of it.  And through it all, I was reading books about Nixon.  So, somewhere along the line, not long after Nixon died, I bought a book called Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72.

“McGovern made some stupid mistakes, but in context they seem almost frivolous compared to the things Richard Nixon does every day of his life, on purpose, as a matter of policy and a perfect expression of everything he stands for.”  (Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72, p 414)

This wasn’t like any book on Nixon I had ever read before.  Hell, this was unlike any book I had read before.  This was raw journalism, journalism that cut right to the core because the journalist not only was there to see it, but also became a part of it.  I didn’t know yet that this had a name: Gonzo Journalism.  He wasn’t afraid to report the truth as he saw it (even if some of what he saw he was clearly making up, such as the rumor that Ed Muskie was taking Ibogaine).  I was hooked and I wanted to know more about Hunter.  But mostly I wanted to read more from Hunter.  So I found Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and I never looked back.

For a time I read Hunter and then I let it lay.  The work was great and in 1998, when the Terry Gilliam film came out there was a nice revival.  But all I had were the early books and I wasn’t mustering a serious collection.  But sometimes friendship can push you over the edge.

“But the edge is still out there.  Or maybe it’s In.”  (Hell’s Angels, p 271)

What is it about Hunter that drives people to him?  I looked at this question just the other day in my review of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.  Well, for some it’s just the excessive use of drugs.  But for some of us, for three of us in particular, it’s the way he writes, the way he cuts to the core of reality and leaves us looking at it from another angle.  One of them was my friend John, who had found Hunter on his own at the same time that I had (and, in fact, borrowed my copy of Generation of Swine for two years at one point).  The other was my friend Terry, whose fanatical love for both Hunter’s work and for Johnny Depp’s acting found its perfect summation in Gilliam’s film.

For four years, the three of us found time to talk about Hunter.  Then, in 2005, a few months after Hunter left us all, I moved across the country and those talks sadly ended.  But there is nothing you can find like the love of a particular writer to talk about between friends, and earlier this year, reading Gonzo, the oral biography of Hunter, it made me miss Terry and John more than ever, because it felt like a large part of my soul was missing.

It was a Sunday night when Hunter killed himself, a Sunday night when John had been over at our house for dinner.  I had driven him home and I just walked back in the house when Veronica came over and looked me in the eyes and told me what had happened.  The news was that Hunter was dead, that he had shot himself.  I knew that Terry and John would both be coming over to our house just a week later to watch the Oscars.  The next day, I made several photo copies of the classic two-thumbed Gonzo fist and I brought them to a t-shirt shop.  I made certain that he could get the shirts finished before Sunday and I paid for them.  On Sunday, before the Oscars began, I handed wrapped gifts to both Terry and John and they opened them.  We watched the Oscars, the three of us, wearing those shirts.

In an era when the Vice President of the United States held court in Washington accept payoffs from his former vassals in the form of big wads of one hundred dollar bills – and when the President himself routinely held secretly tape-recorded meetings with his top aides in the Oval Office to plot illegal wiretaps, political burglaries and other gross felonies in the name of a “silent majority,” it was hard to feel anything more than a flash of high, nervous humor at the sight of some acid-bent lawyer setting fire to a Judge’s front yard at four o’clock in the morning.  (The Great Shark Hunt, p 591-92)

My Hunter books (before buying Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone)

What follows is not a complete bibliography of Hunter’s work.  It is what I have, complete with two copies of Hell’s Angels and three of Fear and Loathing (one of which is the Modern Library edition listed separately).

  • Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga  (1967)
    • The amazing work of journalism that made Hunter a name.  This is the book that really draws the line between Hunter and Tom Wolfe when it comes to the new kinds of journalism emerging in the sixties.  Hunter was willing to dive into the story and take what might happen, including a brutal beating and the insanity of combining the Hell’s Angels with the LSD crowd.  One of the great works of journalism from the 20th Century.
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream  (1972)
    • My #26 novel of all-time, as chronicled here.  I have tried not to over-load with quotes from the book, but instead to spread the wealth.  But it is a seminal book, a great work of fiction and journalism all at once and it has the wave speech.
  • Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72  (1973)
    • Probably the best book on a campaign ever written, even beating out The Making of the President, 1960 and Game Change.  Frank Mankiewicz, the campaign strategist for George McGovern called it “the most accurate and least factual account of that campaign.”  Listed as one of the 100 Greatest Works of Journalism of the 20th Century by the New York University Department of Journalism.
  • The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time (The Gonzo Papers, Volume 1)  (1979)
    • His first collection of various pieces from magazines.  It is an absolute must, as it has “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved”, “Strange Rumblings in Aztlan” and “The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat”, as well as parts from his first three books.
  • The Curse of Lono  (1983)
    • A very strange book about Hunter’s trip to Hawaii for the marathon with Ralph Steadman illustrations.  Harder to find than most of his books and not as rewarding.
  • Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the 80’s (The Gonzo Papers Volume 2)  (1988)
    • A collection of his San Francisco Examiner columns from 1985 to 1988.
  • Songs of the Doomed: More Notes on the Death of the American Dream (The Gonzo Papers Volume 3)  (1990)
    • His third collection of assorted pieces, much of it pertaining to his arrest and trial.
  • Better Than Sex: Confessions of a Political Junkie (The Gonzo Papers Volume 4)  (1994)
    • A collection of pieces that he wrote for Rolling Stone on the 1992 campaign, collected with assorted essays written after the fact.
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Other American Stories  (1996)
    • The Modern Library release of Fear and Loathing.  In addition to the novel itself, it contains the piece written for the jacket copy (which first appeared in The Great Shark Hunt), as well as “Strange Rumblings in Aztlan”, the piece on the death of Ruben Salazar that ended up with Hunter taking the trip to Vegas with Oscar Acosta in the first place as well as “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved”, the original piece of Gonzo journalism.
  • The Gonzo Letters

    The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman 1955 – 1967 (The Fear and Loathing Letters Volume One)  (1997)

    • One of the sad things about the transition from the last century to the current one is that people no longer write letters.  The great collections of letters, of Fitzgerald and Faulkner, Joyce and Hemingway, those won’t exist for the generations of writers coming of age.  It will all be digital and it will disappear into the vapors.  But Hunter’s letters (this is the first collection) are a wonder and joy to read.  In this book, we have the short correspondence between Hunter and Philip Graham, dating from Hunter calling him a phony in a letter and actually getting a smart and funny response.  Then began a back and forth that ended, sadly, a few months later with Graham’s suicide.
  • The Rum Diary  (1998)
    • For us Hunter fans, the existence of a book was not exactly a secret (it is mentioned quite a bit in the letters throughout the sixties).  We know what it was and we hoped for years and years that it would come out.  When it came out, it was what could be expected, a fictional framework that could be glimpsed from his early letters and was enjoyable to read.  But it was still a novel by a young man living an interesting life that he wanted to fictionalize a bit.
  • Fear and Loathing in America: The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist 1968 – 1976 (The Gonzo Letters, Volume II)  (2000)
    • The second volume of letters (of a trilogy, according to the editor’s note, but over a decade later we have not seen the third volume, nor had an explanation for the change in collection title), covering the years for which he is best known.  These include his letters to Oscar Acosta (“Meanwhile, keep whacking on the bastards.  I just got back from 10 days with Nixon & now I have to write something”), Ralph Steadman (“I think this Rape-Series is a king-bitch dog-fucker of an idea.  We could go almost anywhere & turn out a series of articles so weird & frightful as to stagger every mind in journalism”), Tom Wolfe (“What else can I say?  Except to warn you, once again, that the hammer of justice looms, and your filthy white suit will become a flaming shroud!”) and Jann Wenner (“This last time, I found the American Dream, and it might be necessary to go back and drill some wisdom out of the freak who put it together.”)
  • Screwjack  (2000)
    • Another work that was well-known among fans before it finally came out.  This was the first time that as a fan I felt a little cheated, as the book is really small and the pieces could have easily been printed as part of a larger work (as one of the three pieces already had, in Songs of the Doomed).
  • Kingdom of Fear: Loathsome Secrets of a Star-Crossed Child in the Final Days of the American Century  (2003)
    • A rather meandering sort of work that is sort of autobiography, sort of a memo for the current times (including a piece written on September 12, 2001 that foretells a lot of what would come in the years ahead)
  • Hey Rube: Blood Sport, The Bush Doctrine, and the Downward Spiral of Dumbness; Modern History from the Sports Desk  (2004)
    • Hunter’s last book before he died, a collection of his ESPN columns
  • Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone: The Essential Writings of Hunter S. Thompson  (2011)
    • In a sense, the title of this really does say it all.  This is a collection of his best work over the course of over three decades writing for Rolling Stone.  While there are some great pieces obviously missing (Hell’s Angels, “Kentucky Derby”), this really is a great greatest hits collection – including many seminal articles (“Strange Rumblings in Aztlan”, “The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat”) as well as substantial portions of both Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72.
  • The Joke’s Over: Bruised Memories: Gonzo, Hunter S. Thompson and Me  (2006) by Ralph Steadman
    • A memoir by artist Ralph Steadman about his time with Hunter.  Steadman’s illustrations often accompanied Hunter’s work, beginning with “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” and they are key to both Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (where they also appeared on the cover) and Curse of Lono.
  • Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson  (2007)
    • This is an oral biography of Hunter edited by Jann Wenner, who was his foil and friend for many years and Corey Seymour.  Many of the things that found their way into the wonderful documentary Gonzo came directly from the interviews conducted for this book.  A must read for anyone who has a serious interest in Hunter and his work.

“On my way back to San Francisco, I tried to compose a fitting epitaph.  I wanted something original, but there was no escaping the echo of Mistah Kurtz’ final words from the heart of darkness: ‘The horror!  The horror! . . . Exterminate all the brutes!’ ”  (Hell’s Angels, p 273)