In starting a serious Gonzo Archive, there is a tendency to get a comprehensive as you can. And so it is most professional to include some interviews so researchers, and children of Gonzo not yet born may have some words of wisdom in the New Dark Ages.
The interview in question was print The Independent (London) on April 15, 1998, which was a Wednesday. The writer was Susan Chenery and you ought to check out her other works and even her Twitter feed (https://twitter.com/chenery3) … and I don’t say that often.
The Interview beings with a proper framing and honest appraisal about the man she is going to interview.
The drugs do work for Hunter S. Thompson, in fact they have kept him going long after many had written him off. Susan Chenery took him for a beer.
THE problem with being a practitioner of Gonzo journalism is that you have to be inhuman to pull it off with elegance and elan, and have a life expectancy beyond 42 hours. You have to live in deep caves in undiscovered valleys or on high, vertiginous mountains where deep winter snow dulls the screaming and shooting and buries the bodies until spring. There is only one man for the job. Hunter Stockton Thompson. And he is one scary dude.
Hunter is what happens when rehab fails. When case-hardened specialists examine the patient then go shrieking into the night. When weird and dangerous creatures carrying guns and staggering and screaming across mountains are not lassoed, filled with tranquillisers and sent away to scientific laboratories in cages. He is unreconstructed drugus fiendus. Full-blown psychosis. The last lurching guest at the party that was the Sixties.
A nod and a handshake, known by those who embrace the Conspiracy of Fun. I haven’t found any overt connections between HST and the Picaresque novel, then again this is a new project. Though the germ of the thought seems to hinge on the notion that Fun is sacred. There are those that rather laugh with the “sinners than cry with the saints”, a lyric written by a man in love, sorta. But none the less telling of a Philosophical strain of thinking also echoed by Albert Einstein.
Over 30 years ago, after living with the Hell’s Angels for 18 months and writing a best-selling book in their defence – serious journalism about the way they had been negatively mythologized which only hinted at what he was to become – he retreated here to the mountains and began mythologizing himself instead. Nowadays, apart from occasional and often disastrous forays out into the real world, he lives reclusively.
Connecting the Mythos of the Hell’s Angels and that of HST’s is rather interesting. In Hell’s Angels the mythos around the bikers is complicated. What seems heroic in terms of a life of an outlaw is really an end result of a shifting society. As society becomes technologically advance there are those who cannot adequately participate and thus are economically displaced. That this displacement led to a crime cult which is different, not antithetical but different to the notion of American Individualism.
One afternoon as I sat in the El Adobe and watched an Angel sell a handful of barbiturate pills to a brace of pimply punks no more than sixteen, I realized that the roots of this act were not in any time-honored American myth but right beneath my feet in a new kind of society that is only beginning to take shape. To see the Hell’s Angels as caretakers of the old „individualist” tradition „that made this country great” is only a painless way to get around seeing them for what they really are – not some romantic leftover, but the first wave of a future that nothing in our history has prepared us to cope with. The Angels are prototypes. Their lack of education has not only rendered them completely useless in a highly technical economy, but it has also given them the leisure to cultivate a powerful resentment… and to translate it into a destructive cult which the mass media insists on portraying as a sort of isolated oddity, a temporary phenomenon that will shortly become extinct now that it’s been called to the attention of the police. Source: Hell’s Angels
In HST analysis, the economic displacement alone was not enough for the crime cult to emerge into an organization. Society, we’ll say American but how you attenuate the idea allows for application to Western nations in general, has lost “central motivation” in HST’s words. Many in the Angels and in society in general are left with no allegiance to an idea of nation they never understood or understood them and probably never wanted them. Again, the Hell’s Angels failed to fit the American ideal of Individualism and come closer to a cult, something that offered purpose, substance, and a “central motivation” born of alienation.
But in a society with no central motivation, so far adrift and puzzled with itself that its President feels called upon to appoint a Committee on National Goals, a sense of alienation is likely to be very popular – especially among people young enough to shrug off the guilt they’re supposed to feel for deviating from a goal or purpose they never understood in the first place. Let the old people wallow in the shame of having failed. The laws they made to preserve a myth are no longer pertinent; the so-called American Way begins to seem like a dike made of cheap cement, with many more leaks than the law has fingers to plug. America has been breeding mass anomie since the end of World War II. It is not a political thing, but the sense of new realities, of urgency, anger and sometimes desperation in a society where even the highest authorities seem to be grasping at straws. Source: Hell’s Angels
Nor were the Angels American Heroes nor truly considered themselves such in HST’s analysis. They knew themselves far better than those that tried to cage them either in words or cages.
The Hell’s Angels knew better. Not all of them had read about Robin Hood, but they understood that the parallel was complimentary. Perhaps the younger outlaws believed it, but there is room in their margin for one or two friendly illusions. Those who are almost thirty, or more than that, have been living too long with their own scurvy image to think of themselves as heroes. They understand that heroes are always „good guys,” and they have seen enough cowboy movies to know that good guys win in the end. The myth didn’t seem to include Miles, who was „one of the best.” But all he got in the end was two broken legs, a smashed head and a tongue-lashing from the preacher. Only his Hell’s Angels identity kept him from going to the grave as anonymously as any ribbon clerk. As it was, his funeral got nationwide press coverage: Life had a picture of the procession entering the cemetery, TV newscasts gave the funeral a solemn priority, and the Chronicle headline said: HELL’S ANGELS BURY THEIR OWN – BLACK JACKETS AND AN ODD DIGNITY. Mother Miles would have been pleased. Source: Hell’s Angels
Though what HST and the Angels did share was something Sisyphean in the sense of Camus, looking at a world that offered nothing but absurdities and alienation they revolted. The criminality itself is not an issues, plenty of crimes, including drug crimes happen on Wall Street; in fact I would wager their trashing of hotel rooms would rival HST’s…if that was some kind of pissing contest. But while the Angels started a serious cult the Gonzo Arts became an art-form founded in a community of shared tastes and frustrations in humor. That HST revolted stylistically as well as in life choices, this idea comes to light in some of the interview.
In The Great Shark Hunt he explained just exactly what Gonzo journalism is: “It is a style of ‘reporting’ based on William Faulkner’s idea that the best fiction is far more true than any kind of journalism – and that the best journalists have always known this. . . My idea with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was to buy a fat notebook and record the whole thing, as it happened, then send in the notebook for publication-without editing. . . True Gonzo reporting needs the talents of a master journalist, the eye of an artist/photographer and the heavy balls of an actor. Because the writer must be a participant in the scene, while he’s writing it – or at least taping it, or even sketching it. Or all three.”
“Gonzo journalism came from total despair, total failure,” he tells me. “I would be on assignment somewhere missing the deadline, the editor would be panicking so I would have to send my notes. So I would just pull my notes out of the pad and send them. Eventually I became very good at keeping notes.”
That note keeping, documentation, is a central skill in the Gonzo Journalism may take some fans as surprise but most have gotten that idea in images of tape recorders and nervous electronic shoppe keeps. The trajectory of HST’s work was also noted in the interview….
Whether he is one of the great contemporary stylists living out his art or a sad gibbering old wreck whose time has passed is a question of taste, I guess. Much of his early work was brilliant: seminal, peerless journalism. Informed, hilarious, wide-ranging. The Ali piece, the Kentucky Derby, the piece that launched his career and changed journalism as we know it, a piece on travelling with Teddy Kennedy to visit Governor Jimmy Carter in Georgia, the piece on the Roxanne Pulitzer divorce trial in Palm Beach in which the illustrious Pulitzer name was considerably blackened by tales of cocaine sluttishness and wanton sex with everyone from the help to other women.
The view of HST’s works, in my view is much like my view of The Simpsons, I love the show and even at its worst it was still better than most of stuff on. That might be why so many were quick to dismiss the good doctor, he even failed better than most writers successes.
The rest of the interview does a fine job at describing the fortified compound, various works that led to HST’s success, all covered before but fun to read, much fodder for real research. The take away was that Susan got it, she too is a conspirator of fun against the gloom and doom.