Hunter S. Thompson

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Paradise lost was the recurrent theme of Hunter S. Thompson, a great writer and a tiresome fuck with a gun, who saw decline and fall everywhere he wentcampaign trails, Big Sur, hippie communes, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, the Super Bowl, the Kentucky Derby, cyberspace–perhaps because it reminded him of himself. In his writing, America was always a has-been or never-was, something born wicked or gone crooked. Often, his assessment was right.

In 1978, the BBC program Omnibus had Nigel Finch train his cameras on the Gonzo journalist and his artist Ralph Steadman. The film begins with the latter smoking on a plane, headed to Aspen to meet his friend in god knows what condition, a jungle of a man awaiting a Kurtz. “We’re offering nickel beer and lemonade,” says the flight attendant over the loudspeaker, suitably, and we’re off to the races, eventually snaking from Colorado to Las Vegas to the commodifying Dream Factory of Hollywood. Donald Trump is so much worse than anyone he despised during his life, anyone.

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If there were two writers whose hearts beat as one despite a generational divide, it would have been Henry Miller and Hunter S. Thompson. When I tweeted on Saturday about a 1965 Thompson article regarding Big Sur becoming too big for its own good, it reminded me of an earlier piece the Gonzo journalist had written about the community, a 1961 Rogue article which centered on Miller’s life there. Big Sur was a place the novelist went for peace and solitude, which worked out well until aspiring orgiasts located it on a map and became his uninvited cult. Despite Miller’s larger-than-life presence, Thompson focuses mostly on the eccentricities of the singular region. I found the piece at Just click on the pages for a larger, readable version.


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In the last 50 years, LBJ was arguably the only U.S. President more a more liberal domestic agenda than Richard Nixon, who seriously pursued the establishment of universal healthcare and a minimum-income guarantee for all Americans. But though he may have backed some noble policy, his ignoble mien and criminal methods made him a walking caricature of pure evil, an immoral mountebank meant for mockery. Hunter S. Thompson, for one, was not a fan. From “He Was a Crook,” the journalist’s classic and caustic postmortem of the disgraced President at the time of his death in 1994:

The family opted for cremation until they were advised of the potentially onerous implications of a strictly private, unwitnessed burning of the body of the man who was, after all, the President of the United States. Awkward questions might be raised, dark allusions to Hitler and Rasputin. People would be filing lawsuits to get their hands on the dental charts. Long court battles would be inevitable — some with liberal cranks bitching about corpus delicti and habeas corpus and others with giant insurance companies trying not to pay off on his death benefits. Either way, an orgy of greed and duplicity was sure to follow any public hint that Nixon might have somehow faked his own death or been cryogenically transferred to fascist Chinese interests on the Central Asian Mainland.

It would also play into the hands of those millions of self-stigmatized patriots like me who believe these things already.

If the right people had been in charge of Nixon’s funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin.

These are harsh words for a man only recently canonized by President Clinton and my old friend George McGovern — but I have written worse things about Nixon, many times, and the record will show that I kicked him repeatedly long before he went down. I beat him like a mad dog with mange every time I got a chance, and I am proud of it. He was scum.

Let there be no mistake in the history books about that. Richard Nixon was an evil man — evil in a way that only those who believe in the physical reality of the Devil can understand it. He was utterly without ethics or morals or any bedrock sense of decency. Nobody trusted him — except maybe the Stalinist Chinese, and honest historians will remember him mainly as a rat who kept scrambling to get back on the ship.•

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Don Johnson, who seems to be both an a-hole and an underrated actor, recalling Hunter S. Thompson and a couple other A-list friends in a Grantland interview conducted by Amos Barshad:


You also got to spend some time with folks like Hunter S. Thompson and Jim Morrison …

Don Johnson:

Hunter was a close, close friend of mine. We were neighbors in Aspen and he was a dear, dear, dear brother to me. I’ve told this before but if I was out of town and I had a sick animal on my ranch, Hunter would go sleep in the stall with the animal to nurse it and make it better. I was very close to him. I loved him. And he co-conceived the idea of Nash Bridges with me. Jim Morrison I knew a little bit, when he was about 25 or 26. He was a charismatic guy, really amazing guy. And then of course he died a year later.

I met Richard Pryor right around that time. That was a thrill. He used to come over to my dressing room. I was doing a play in L.A. and I had two shows back-to-back on Friday and Saturday nights. And he’d come in my dressing room and he would get me ripped. I would have to go out and do the second show just fucking stupid. [Pause.] Good times.”


Hell’s Angel harrasses Hunter, 1967:

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Ambitious or just myopic Attorney Generals or District Attorneys sometimes shine too bright a light on a scary but small faction of criminals, forcing the public attention in the wrong direction. Such was the case in California in 1966 when a shocking report of a crime made the Hell’s Angels public enemy no. 1. Hunter S. Thompson elucidated the disproportionate attention the motorcycle gang was receiving in an article that year in the Nation, before feeding the myth himself with a book about the unholy rollers. An excerpt:

“After two weeks of intensive dealings with the Hell’s Angels phenomenon, both in print and in person, I’m convinced the net result of the general howl and publicity has been to obscure and avoid the real issues by invoking a savage conspiracy of bogeymen and conning the public into thinking all will be ‘business as usual’ once this fearsome snake is scotched, as it surely will be by hard and ready minions of the Establishment.

Meanwhile, according to Attorney General Thomas C. Lynch’s own figures, California’s true crime picture makes the Hell’s Angels look like a gang of petty jack rollers. The police count 463 Hell’s Angels: 205 around L.A. and 233 in the San Francisco-Oakland area. I don’t know about L.A. but the real figures for the Bay Area are thirty or so in Oakland and exactly eleven–with one facing expulsion–in San Francisco. This disparity makes it hard to accept other police statistics. The dubious package also shows convictions on 1,023 misdemeanor counts and 151 felonies–primarily vehicle theft, burglary and assault. This is for all years and all alleged members.

California’s overall figures for 1963 list 1,116 homicides, 12,448 aggravated assaults, 6,257 sex offenses, and 24,532 burglaries. In 1962, the state listed 4,121 traffic deaths, up from 3,839 in 1961. Drug arrest figures for 1964 showed a 101 percent increase in juvenile marijuana arrests over 1963, and a recent back-page story in the San Francisco Examiner said, ‘The venereal disease rate among [the city’s] teen-agers from 15-19 has more than doubled in the past four years.’ Even allowing for the annual population jump, juvenile arrests in all categories are rising by 10 per cent or more each year.

Against this background, would it make any difference to the safety and peace of mind of the average Californian if every motorcycle outlaw in the state (all 901, according to the state) were garroted within twenty-four hours? This is not to say that a group like the Hell’s Angels has no meaning. The generally bizarre flavor of their offenses and their insistence on identifying themselves make good copy, but usually overwhelm–in print, at least–the unnerving truth that they represent, in colorful microcosm, what is quietly and anonymously growing all around us every day of the week.

‘We’re bastards to the world and they’re bastards to us,’ one of the Oakland Angels told a Newsweek reporter. ‘When you walk into a place where people can see you, you want to look as repulsive and repugnant as possible. We are complete social outcasts–outsiders against society.’

A lot of this is a pose, but anyone who believes that’s all it is has been on thin ice since the death of Jay Gatsby. The vast majority of motorcycle outlaws are uneducated, unskilled men between 20 and 30, and most have no credentials except a police record. So at the root of their sad stance is a lot more than a wistful yearning for acceptance in a world they never made; their real motivation is an instinctive certainty as to what the score really is. They are out of the ball game and they know it–and that is their meaning; for unlike most losers in today’s society, the Hell’s Angels not only know but spitefully proclaim exactly where they stand.”


A year later, Sonny Barger terrorizes Thompson:

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Matt Taibbi is a great talent and his targets in the financial and political sectors are righteous ones, but I still have misgivings about him. I don’t think he exactly rushes to correct himself when he proves to be wrong, and he’s working at a furious pace where he’s had to cut corners that should not be cut. But he’s a fascinating reporter, especially since his sensibilities belong to an earlier, prose-driven, pre-Internet age. He just did an Ask Me Anything on Reddit. A few exchanges follow.



Matt, a line of yours is lodged in my head: “Organized greed always defeats disorganized democracy.” Unfortunately, while the animosity of Occupy Wall Street is still strong in early 2013, the disorganization of the movement might be even stronger.

So, if you were in charge of Occupy Wall Street, what single achievable goal would you (re)organize the movement around?


Again, to repeat, breaking up the banks is the big thing. That should be the Holy Grail of activist goals. Everything flows from the Too Big To Fail problem. If that can be accomplished, we’re off and running. And it’s not far-fetched. There are a lot of people even in DC coming around to the idea.



Matt, you lived in Russia for a while and wrote about and did a lot of interesting and intense things, like messing with the mob, checking out Siberian prisons, and partying pretty hard. Russia is a place where they kill journalists for merely existing, so my question is: how did you not die?


Purely by accident. Honestly, there were some close calls. A lot of bad decisions while I was there, many of them under the influence. One very funny story I’ve never told: I once worked with a Russian paper called “Stringer” to wiretap Alexander Voloshin, Putin’s chief of staff. We published a week of his phone calls. I was so afraid of the consequences, I stayed out of the country when we published. Upon my return I was detained at the airport for 10 hours. I thought I was going to jail for life. In fact, the Russians were simply concerned that the lamination on my passport was coming up in one corner. They thought my passport was fake. Once they reached the embassy, they let me go. But that was one scary 10 hours.



Did you ever meet Hunter S. Thompson?


Years ago, when I was in my twenties, I was asked by a book publishing company to edit an anthology of “Gonzo Journalism.” Not long into the project I realized there was no such thing as “Gonzo Journalism” as a genre per se, it just meant “written by Hunter Thompson.” But I was broke and needed the job. So I called Hunter to ask him what he thought. He said, “That’s a shitty assignment.” I told him I probably agreed. He said, “How badly do you need the money?” I said, “Badly.” He said, “Well, good luck, but I’m not going to help you with it. No offense.” I said none taken and that was it. That was the only time I ever talked to Hunter. It was a funny call, though. 



Did you really throw your coffee at Vanity Fair’s James Verini when he said he didn’t like your book? 


I absolutely did throw coffee at James Verini, and it had nothing to do with him not liking my book. Let’s leave it at that for now. I’ll tell the full story someday.

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Hunter S. Thompson brought a rifle with him on a commercial flight to New York when visiting David Letterman in 1988. Such an innocent time.

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In 1969, Hunter S. Thompson published  “It Ain’t Hardly That Way No More,” an account of gentrification washing over the bohemian California enclave of Big Sur, where he had lived at the beginning of his journalism career. The article’s opening:

“Will Liz Taylor change Big Sur?”

That was the question the San Francisco Examiner‘s society columnist asked the world recently, after she had scrambled, along with other minions of the West Coast press, to report the doings of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in California’s most famous “Bohemia,” a mountainous and sparsely populated stretch of coastline some 150 miles below San Francisco.

The occasion was the filming of a few scenes for a movie called The Sandpiper, starring Liz as a lady painter with a yen for rocky beaches and Dick as an offbeat beachcomber with a yen for lady painters. The scenes were shot here because Big Sur has some of the most spectacular scenery in America: booming surf, rocky beaches, and pine-topped mountains slanting straight to the sea.

In the years after World War II this rugged South Coast, as the oldtimers call it, got a valid reputation as a hideaway for artists, writers, and other creative types. Local history abounds with famous names. Henry Miller, author of Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn, lived here for 19 years. The late Robinson Jeffers was Big Sur’s original poet laureate, and folk singer Joan Baez is still considered a local, although she recently moved to Carmel Highlands, a few miles north. Other famous residents have been Dennis Murphy, author of a best seller called The Sergeant, prize-winning poet Eric Barker, sculptor Benjamin Bufano, and photographer Wynn Bullock. Unfortunately, that era is just about ended. Big Sur is no longer a peaceful haven for serious talent, but a neurotic and dollar-conscious resort area.•

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The opening of “Love, Boxing, and Hunter S. Thompson,” screenwriter John Kaye’s raucous Los Angeles Review of Books essay:


The third (and last) time I went to New Orleans was in September of 1978. I was living in Marin County, and I took the red-eye out of San Francisco, flying on a first-class ticket paid for by Universal Pictures, the studio that was financing the movie I was contracted to write. The story was to be loosely based on an article written by Hunter Thompson that had been recently published in Rolling Stone magazine. Titled ‘The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat,’ the 30,000-word piece detailed many of the (supposedly) true-life adventures Hunter had experienced with Oscar Zeta Acosta, the radical Chicano lawyer who he’d earlier canonized in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Hunter and I were in New Orleans to attend the hugely anticipated rematch between Muhammad Ali and Leon Spinks, the former Olympic champion who, after only seven fights, had defeated Ali in February. The plan was to meet up at the Fairmont, a once-elegant hotel that was located in the center of the business district and within walking distance of the historic French Quarter. Although Hunter was not in his room when I arrived, he’d instructed the hotel management to watch for me and make sure I was treated with great respect.

‘I was told by Mister Thompson to mark you down as a VIP, that you were on a mission of considerable importance,’ said Inga, the head of guest services, as we rode the elevator up to my floor. ‘Since he was dressed quite eccentrically, in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, I assumed he was pulling my leg. The bellman who fetched his bags said he was a famous writer. Are you a writer also?’ I told her I wrote movies. ‘Are you famous?’


‘Do you have any cocaine?’

I stared at her. Her smile was odd, both reassuring and intensely hopeful. In the cartoon balloon I saw over her head were the words: I’m yours if you do. ‘Yes, I do.’

‘That is good.'”


The late-career Ali regains the title yet again:

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Having a film version of The Rum Diary in theaters and a movie about J. Edgar Hoover ready to be released reminded of a 1974 Playboy Interview with Hunter S. Thompson that I read a couple of years ago. In the piece, which took Craig Vetter seven months to complete, Thompson cracked a joke about being pals with the former FBI honcho. An excerpt:

PLAYBOY: Would you run for the Senate the same way you ran for sheriff?

THOMPSON: Well, I might have to drop the mescaline issue, I don’t think there’d be any need for that—promising to eat mescaline on the Senate floor. I found out last time you can push people too far. The backlash is brutal.

PLAYBOY: What if the unthinkable happened and Hunter Thompson went to Washington as a Senator from Colorado? Do you think you could do any good?

THOMPSON: Not much, but you always do some good by setting an example—you know, just by proving it can be done.

PLAYBOY: Don’t you think there would be a strong reaction in Washington to some of the things you’ve written about the politicians there?

THOMPSON: Of course. They’d come after me like wolverines. I’d have no choice but to haul out my secret files—all that raw still Ed Hoover gave mejust before he died. We were good friends. I used to go to the track with him a lot.

PLAYBOY: You’re laughing again, but that raises a legitimate question: Are you trying to say you know things about Washington people that you haven’t written?

THOMPSON: Yeah, to some extent. When I went to Washington to write Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72, I went with the same attitude I take anywhere as a journalist: hammer and tongs—and God’s mercy on anybody who gets in the way. Nothing is off the record, that kind of thing. But I finally realized that some things have to be off the record. I don’t know where the line is, even now. But if you’re an indiscreet blabber-mouth and a fool, nobody is going to talk to you—not even your friends.”


Thompson and Keith Richards consider the reincarnation of Hoover, 1973:

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"Flying in IBM Selectric typewriters with the right typeface; booze and drugs (usually he had this part already done); arranging for a handler-assistant at his end." (Image by MDCarchives.)

As Johnny Depp’s The Rum Diary is about to be released, Jann Wenner recalls working with Hunter S. Thompson, on the Huffington Post. No surprises, really. An excerpt:

“After Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, everything else he wrote was a full-on siege. Setting up the assignment was easy–Hunter was pretty much welcome everywhere and had the skills and instincts to run a presidential campaign if he had wanted. But then came the travel arrangements: hotels, tickets, researchers, rental cars.

Later in the process, finding a place for him to hunker down and write–The Seal Rock Inn, Key West, Owl Farm, preferably isolated and with a good bar. Flying in IBM Selectric typewriters with the right typeface; booze and drugs (usually he had this part already done); arranging for a handler-assistant at his end. Back at Rolling Stone, I had to be available to read and edit copy as it came in eight-to-ten-page bursts via the Xerox telecopier (the Mojo Wire), a primitive fax using telephone lines that had a stylus that printed onto treated, smelly paper (at a rate of seven minutes per page).

I had to talk to Hunter for hours, then track and organize the various scenes and sections. He would usually begin writing in the middle, then back up or skip around to write what he felt good about at the moment, report¬ing scenes that might fit somewhere later, or spinning out total fantasies (‘Insert ZZ’ or ‘midnight screed’) that would also find a place–parts that were flights of genius. Generally the lede was easy, describing the invariably dramatic weather wherever he was writing from. Then a flurry of headlines and chapter headings and the transitions he had to produce on demand to create the flow and logic, and always, sooner or later, the conclusion, which we always called ‘the Wisdom.'”

More Hunter S. Thompson posts:

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Hunter S. Thompson’s campus tour during the Gipper administration.

More Hunter S. Thompson posts:

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From Hunter S, Thompson’s essay, “The Hippies,” which was originally published in the Collier’s Encyclopedia 1968 Yearbook:

Everyone seems to agree that hippies have some kind of widespread appeal, but nobody can say exactly what they stand for. Not even the hippies seem to know, although some can be very articulate when it comes to details.

“I love the whole world,” said a 23-year-old girl in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, the hippies’ world capital. “I am the divine mother, part of Buddha, part of God, part of everything.

“I live from meal to meal. I have no money, no possessions. Money is beautiful only when it’s flowing; when it piles up, it’s a hang-up. We take care of each other. There’s always something to buy beans and rice for the group, and someone always sees that I get “grass” [marijuana] or “acid” [LSD]. I was in a mental hospital once because I tried to conform and play the game. But now I’m free and happy.”

She was then asked whether she used drugs often.

“Fairly,” she replied. “When I find myself becoming confused I drop out and take a dose of acid. It’s a short cut to reality; it throws you right into it. Everyone should take it, even children. Why shouldn’t they be enlightened early, instead of waiting till they’re old? Human beings need total freedom.

“That’s where God is at. We need to shed hypocrisy, dishonesty, and phoniness and go back to the purity of our childhood values.”

The next question was “Do you ever pray?”

“Oh yes,” she said. “I pray in the morning sun. It nourishes me with its energy so I can spread my love and beauty and nourish others.”•


In 1977, Hunter S. Thompson thought President Carter was a badass. That persona was subsumed in scenes of blindfolded American hostages being paraded around in Iran, a national embarrassment which played out nightly, endlessly on flickering screens.

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Ad for Hunter S. Thompson’s campaign for Sheriff of Aspen in 1970. (Thanks Bibliokept.)

From a 2005 Tahoe Daily Tribune article: “Thompson had been a resident of Pitkin County since the late 1960s. In a 1970 Rolling Stone article titled ‘Freak Power in the Rockies’ (also later published in the Thompson collection The Great Shark Hunt), he documented the rise of a new political generation of hippy activists in Aspen. In 1970, Thompson himself ran unsuccessfully for Pitkin County sheriff.

Thompson’s political legacy in Aspen and the surrounding area is far-reaching, even though his involvement dropped off in recent years. His bid for the sheriff’s post was a direct attack on the traditional, conservative style of policing in place at the time, and set the stage for the more tolerant, community-minded law enforcement that took root in the 1970s under Sheriff Dick Kienast.

Thompson’s activism also extended into the nuts and bolts of county government, and he helped pioneer the anti-development streak in local politics that survives to this day. He backed strict land-use controls and the candidates who were willing to impose them. Many of the land-use regulations still in place in Aspen and Pitkin County can be traced back to Thompson’s work as a growth-control activist.

‘The guy used to call me at 3 a.m. and talk about land use,’ said Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland.'”


"American troops wrote 'Kilroy was here' on the walls of Europe in World War II in order to prove that somebody had been there." (Image by Luis Rubio.)

Matthew Hahn interviewed Hunter S. Thompson for The Atlantic in 1997, discussing the impact of the Internet on journalism and culture, among other matters. Thompson was particularly prescient about the ego-feeding nature of the Net. An excerpt:

Matthew Hahn: The Internet has been touted as a new mode of journalism — some even go so far as to say it might democratize journalism. Do you see a future for the Internet as a journalistic medium?

Hunter S. Thompson: Well, I don’t know. There is a line somewhere between democratizing journalism and every man a journalist. You can’t really believe what you read in the papers anyway, but there is at least some spectrum of reliability. Maybe it’s becoming like the TV talk shows or the tabloids where anything’s acceptable as long as it’s interesting.

I believe that the major operating ethic in American society right now, the most universal want and need is to be on TV. I’ve been on TV. I could be on TV all the time if I wanted to. But most people will never get on TV. It has to be a real breakthrough for them. And trouble is, people will do almost anything to get on it. You know, confess to crimes they haven’t committed. You don’t exist unless you’re on TV. Yeah, it’s a validation process. Faulkner said that American troops wrote ‘Kilroy was here’ on the walls of Europe in World War II in order to prove that somebody had been there — ‘I was here’ — and that the whole history of man is just an effort by people, writers, to just write your name on the great wall.

You can get on [the Internet] and all of a sudden you can write a story about me, or you can put it on top of my name. You can have your picture on there too. I don’t know the percentage of the Internet that’s valid, do you? Jesus, it’s scary. I don’t surf the Internet. I did for a while. I thought I’d have a little fun and learn something. I have an e-mail address. No one knows it. But I wouldn’t check it anyway, because it’s just too fucking much. You know, it’s the volume. The Internet is probably the first wave of people who have figured out a different way to catch up with TV — if you can’t be on TV, well at least you can reach 45 million people [on the Internet].”

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"California has absorbed some eight million people since 1950." (Image by Matthew Field.)

In the 1965 Pageant magazine article, “The 450-Square-Mile Parking Lot,” Hunter S. Thompson (who hadn’t yet begun using the middle initial) looked up at the sunny Los Angeles sky and saw it falling, with the county becoming overcrowded and choked with exhaust. In retrospect, of course, it all seems quaint. The opening:

“If you count yourself in that legion who’ve been ‘thinking’ for years about moving to California–and especially to the Los Angeles area in Southern California–you’d better get your plans into high gear pretty soon, or forget it. Because the Golden State is getting crowded. So many people have gone there seeking the ‘good life’ that every year it gets harder and harder to find.

California has absorbed some eight million people since 1950, and even state officials have admitted that the population boom is becoming a very mixed blessing, especially as concerns schools, highways, welfare, and recreational facilities–all fields in which California ranks ahead of most other states. Yet the soaring population continues to outstrip all efforts to accommodate it. Sacramento, San Diego, and the San Francisco Bay area are growing like mushrooms, but the hub of the boom is and always has been Los Angeles, the king city of what is now the nation’s most populous state.” (Thanks to The Electric Typewriter.)


Starkly different views of 1965 L.A.: The Farmers Market and the Watts Riots.


Hunter S. Thompson in all his glory in Vegas and Hollywood in 1978.

From Lucian K. Truscott IV’s review of Fear and Loathing in Las Vagas in the July 13, 1972 Village Voice: “Hunter Thompson lived in Aspen then, and his ranch, located outside town about 10 miles, tucked away up a valley with National Forest land on every side, was the first place I stopped. It was late afternoon and Thompson was just getting up, bleary-eyed and beaten, shaded from the sun by a tennis hat, sipping a beer on the front porch.

I got to know him while I was still in the Army in the spring of 1970, when he and a few other local crazies were gearing up for what would become the Aspen Freak Power Uprising, a spectacular which featured Thompson as candidate for sheriff, with his neighbor Billy for coroner. They ran on a platform which promised, among other things, public punishment for drug dealers who burned their customers, and a campaign guaranteed to rid the valley of real estate developers and ‘nazi greedheads’ of every persuasion. In a compromise move toward the end of the campaign, Thompson promised to ‘eat mescaline only during off-duty hours.’ The non-freak segment of the voting public was unmoved and he was eventually defeated by a narrow margin.

In the days before the Freak Power spirit, Thompson’s ranch served as a war room and R&R camp for the Aspen political insurgents. Needless to say there was rarely a dull moment. When I arrived last summer, however, things had changed. Thompson was in the midst of writing a magnum opus, and it was being cranked out at an unnerving rate. I was barely across the threshold when I was informed that he worked (worked?) Monday through Friday and saved the weekends for messing around. As usual, he worked from around midnight until 7 or 8 in the morning and slept all day. There was an edge to his voice that said he meant business. This was it. This was a venture that had no beginning or end, that even Thompson himself was having difficulty controlling.

‘I’m sending it off to Random House in 20,000-word bursts,’ he said, drawing slowly on his ever-present cigarette holder. ‘I don’t have any idea what they think of it. Hell, I don’t have any idea what it is.’

‘What’s it about?’ I asked.

‘Searching for The American Dream in Las Vegas,’ replied Thompson coolly.”

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"Backing them up will be an all-star cast of freaks, every one of them stoned." (Image by HammondCast.)

Before moving to his longstanding homestead in Aspen, Colorado, Hunter S. Thompson lived in Berkeley and was eyewitness to the Hippie phenomenon. An excerpt from “The ‘Hashbury’ Is The Capital of the Hippies,” Thompson’s account from the front lines of flower power and its brutally quick commodification, which ran in the May 14, 1967 New York Times:

“Those hippies who don’t work can easily pick up a few dollars a day panhandling along Haight Street. The fresh influx of curiosity-seekers has proved a great boon to the legion of psychedelic beggars. During several days of roaming around the area, I was touched so often that I began to keep a supply of quarters in my pocket so I wouldn’t have to haggle for change. The panhandlers are usually barefoot, always young and never apologetic. They’ll share what they collect anyway, so it seems entirely reasonable that strangers should share with them.

The best show on Haight Street is usually on the sidewalk in front of the Drog Store, a new coffee bar at the corner of Masonic Street. The Drog Store features an all-hippy revue that runs day and night. The acts change sporadically, but nobody cares. There will always be at least one man with long hair and sunglasses playing a wooden pipe of some kind. He will be wearing wither a Dracula cape, a long Buddhist robe, or a Sioux Indian costume. There will also be a hairy blond fellow wearing a Black Bart cowboy hat and a spangled jacket that originally belonged to a drum major in the 1949 Rose Bowl parade. He will be playing the bongo drums. Next to the drummer will be a dazed-looking girl wearing a blouse (but no bra) and a plastic mini-skirt, slapping her thighs to the rhythm of it all.

These three will be the nucleus of the show. Backing them up will be an all-star cast of freaks, every one of them stoned. They will be stretched out on the sidewalk, twitching and babbling in time to the music. Now and then somebody will fall out of the audience and join the revue; perhaps a Hell’s Angel or some grubby, chain-draped impostor who never owned a motorcycle in his life. Or maybe a girl wrapped in gauze or a thin man with wild eyes who took an overdose of acid nine days ago and changed himself into a raven. For those on a quick tour of the Hashbury, the Drog Store revue is a must.” (Thanks Kevin Kelly.)


I would guess that Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga is the most factual book that Hunter S. Thompson ever wrote. It’s amusing to see Gonzo look so intimidated, but, you know, you buy the ticket, you take the ride. (Thanks Documentarian.)

“The Angels don’t like to be called losers, but they have learned to live with it. ‘Yeah, I guess I am,’ said one. ‘But you’re looking at one loser who’s going to make a hell of a scene on the way out.'”


Hunter S. Thompson: great writer, tiresome fuck. (Image by MDC Archives.)

Hunter S. Thompson screwing around with a good ol’ boy at Churchill Downs as part of his 1970 Scanlan’s Monthly article, “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved“:

“I shook my head and said nothing; just stared at him for a moment, trying to look grim. ‘There’s going to be trouble,’ I said. ‘My assignment is to take pictures of the riot.’

‘What riot?’

I hesitated, twirling the ice in my drink. ‘At the track. On Derby Day. The Black Panthers.’ I stared at him again. ‘Don’t you read the newspapers?’

The grin on his face had collapsed. ‘What the hell are you talkin’ about?’

‘Well…maybe I shouldn’t be telling you…’ I shrugged. ‘But hell, everybody else seems to know. The cops and the National Guard have been getting ready for six weeks. They have 20,000 troops on alert at Fort Knox. They’ve warned us — all the press and photographers — to wear helmets and special vests like flak jackets. We were told to expect shooting…’

‘No!’ he shouted; his hands flew up and hovered momentarily between us, as if to ward off the words he was hearing. Then he whacked his fist on the bar. ‘Those sons of bitches! God Almighty! The Kentucky Derby!’ He kept shaking his head. ‘No! Jesus! That’s almost too bad to believe!’ Now he seemed to be sagging on the stool, and when he looked up his eyes were misty. “Why? Why here? Don’t they respect anything?’

I shrugged again. ‘It’s not just the Panthers. The FBI says busloads of white crazies are coming in from all over the country — to mix with the crowd and attack all at once, from every direction. They’ll be dressed like everybody else. You know — coats and ties and all that. But when the trouble starts…well, that’s why the cops are so worried.’

He sat for a moment, looking hurt and confused and not quite able to digest all this terrible news. Then he cried out: ‘Oh…Jesus! What in the name of God is happening in this country? Where can you get away from it?’

‘Not here,” I said, picking up my bag. ‘Thanks for the drink…and good luck.'”


And they’re off!: