“I’d like to do a book on people who play polo and give me a lot of free booze. I got tired of living in that Hell’s Angels world…and fooling around in a lot of crummy bars.”
The Gonzo era began in earnest with an article called “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” which Dr. Thompson wrote for Scanlan’s Monthly in 1970. If you’ve never read it, I encourage you to do so right now; it’s a funny and quick read, only about 14 pages. Here’s a link if you need one (you’re probably going to want to print it out; or better yet, just get a copy of The Great Shark Hunt).
In the years since his sojourn in the Haight-Ashbury, the Doctor had talked football with Richard Nixon, then almost accidentally blown up Nixon’s plane while lighting a cigarette; been beaten and thrown through a plate glass window by Chicago police at the 1968 Democratic convention; and masterminded the “Freak Power” campaign of Joe Edwards, who came within a few votes of becoming mayor of Aspen, where Thompson had settled after leaving California.
The success of Hell’s Angels gave Dr. Thompson credibility in the world of mainstream journalism and led to an assignment from The New York Times Magazine to write about the growing hippie scene in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district.
The resulting article, called “The ‘Hashbury’ Is the Capital of the Hippies,” begins as a piece of very straight journalism. At times the Doctor sounds like one of the so-called counterculture experts he would later mock:
The word “hip” translates roughly as “wise” or “tuned-in.” A hippy is somebody who “knows” what’s really happening, and who adjusts or grooves with it.
Reading over Part 1, it occurs to me that what I am attempting is nothing less than a sober reappraisal of Hunter S. Thompson’s legacy. Is such a thing necessary? Is it desirable? Is it even possible? Well, never mind; I’m into it now, so there’s no sense in quitting. As the Doctor liked to say, buy the ticket, take the ride.
* * *
The whole thing hinges, I think, on the concept of Gonzo journalism. Was it a brilliant innovation or a flimsy excuse to ignore the established rules of the trade? Did it have an ethos and an objective, or was it merely a platform for fuzzy, drug-induced “insights”? Do we even know, after all this time, what it really was?
This Hunter Thompson obsession is almost done with, I swear…just another week, maybe two. I just need to get my momentum back. It’s all a question of the right techniques, the right medicines, the right atmospheric conditions…the time is at hand, but it’s not here quite yet.
In the meantime, I honored the holiday today by having an HST-style breakfast, except without the nudity and the cocaine. In case you’re not familiar with the Doctor’s Philosophy of Breakfast, here it is in a nutshell:
Breakfast is the only meal of the day that I tend to view with the same kind of traditionalized reverence that most people associate with Lunch and Dinner.