August 11th, 2001

Hunter S Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson, gonzo journalist, pisshead, druggie, gun enthusiast and fuck-up is revered as one of the most “revolutionary” writers of the modern American era, one who dared to turn on their head such staid journalistic notions as actually bothering to attend the event you were supposed to write about, veracity, deadlines and personal integrity.

Rereading Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, it’s clear that only a sort of timid awe for those who veer beyond the pale, soar like latterday turbo-charged Nietzschian ubermenschen above the conventions of morality, consideration for others and (pah!) self-restraint, can explain the esteem in which this toxic, paranoid libertarian is held. Fear And Loathing . . . which first appeared in Rolling Stone in 1971 depicts in the first person the adventures of Thompson alter-ego Raoul Duke and his loathsome sidekick, the un-named Samoan attorney, whom Thompson tolerates “in spite of his racial handicap” (Thompson is alive to racial differences and “characteristics”. Elsewhere, he is greatly exercised that a bartender is a “Jew”). Elsewhere again, when a car hire agent offers him the choice of a Mercedes, Thompson screams, “Do you think I’m a goddamn Nazi”?)

Out of his box on a trunkload of various “dangerous” drugs, Thompson fails to carry out his first assignment – covering the Mint 400 motorcycle race but does get it sufficiently together to attend a Drugs Prevention conference and scoff at the unhip speakers’ misguided notions of junkie terminology. That apart, the book is a catalogue of close scrapes with the law, confrontations with members of the square world (who have a habit of mutating into polar bears) and squalid drug-induced misbehaviour, the worst of it committed by Thompson’s attorney. He attempts to pimp a girl by pumping her full of drugs, pulls a blade on a bartender and loudly draws attention to the fact that he and Duke are illegally squiffled at every inconvenient moment – in a packed lift, for instance.

The attorney does, however, provide a convenient fiction for Thompson. Onto him, he offloads responsibility for the worst excesses committed here, morally washing his hands of him but always landing up back together with him for the promise of a thrill ride into oblivion. Duke’s encounters with other human beings are steeped in paranoia – bartenders (especially the female ones) cops, hotel receptionists, carboys and the various menials lucklessly obliged to deal with this pair of arseholes are referred to variously as “pigs”, “psychotics”, “Nazis”, “pigs” ,”evil pimps” , “Nazis”, “pigs”, and “Nazis”.

He makes occasional, dark references to Nixon, hinting that he is cruising recklessly through the shadows of a looming police state and dwells with constant fretfulness on his probable imminent arrest for possession. Yet what’s mystifying about Fear And Loathing is with what tolerance the authorities treat this pair. When Duke is caught speeding with a Budweiser in his hand and a 12-pack in the back, the policeman benignly suggests he go sleep in a lay-by. Waved on, Duke expresses his gratitude by calling the cop a “pig” . . .

Fear And Loathing is unfunny. It could have been hilarious, if intended as self-satire or told from a dry, third-person dry perspective but that would be counter to the wet stream-of-consciousness, intoxicated, splurging New Journalism imperative. Fear And Loathing is boring. Not because, after 30 years, it’s “tame” – it’s wild. Wild and boring. Thompson’s endless litanies of narcotics booty and drug-induced oscillations indicate a frightening intake level but read like a pharmacy stock-take or list of gout symptoms, impressive and exciting only to the gullible and stupid. Even Thompson, in passing, asserts that Timothy Leary was wrong to imply that drug intake led to a “light at the end of the tunnel”. It leads nowhere but the toilet bowl.

For Fear And Loathing to grip, we would have to be rooting for this prototype pair of Beavis & Butt-Heads but as they career down the Vegas-bound highway, beaked up on a cocktail of booze, mescaline, grass, etc, taking potshots from their handguns, you’re urging some psychotic pig Nazi scumbag paranoid pig uptight Nixon ass-kissing Nazi law enforcer to pull them up and thrown them in the hole before they mistake some roadside child for an iguana and blast his head off.

After this, Thompson, the immortally unforgivable fuckwit, was packed off to Zaire to cover the Ali/Foreman fight, the greatest sporting event EVER and failed to leave his hotel. He should have had his journalistic credentials publicly snipped for such negligence but, this being New Journalism, such staggering reluctance to do your actual job is deemed the stuff of legend. Today, Thompson lives behind high walls of paranoia, with his guns for company, a pest to his neighbours. You pray he doesn’t land up in the hoosegow after blasting his postman to death because he suspected Nixon had sent him to spy on him. Moron.

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