Getting back into Gonzo with Hunter S. Thompson

Share on Nextdoor

Thompson was such a good writer that he was able to knock down the barrier between conversation and literature and write with such confidence that it was like speaking to the man. And when he spoke, it was generally in well-crafted, well-thought-out sentences. To some, he mumbled. But it was a question of having the right kind of ears to hear him.

For those who miss that voice, Anita Thompson has collected some of her husband’s best interviews in a substantial new volume, Ancient Gonzo Wisdom (Da Capo, $18). On first blush, you might think the book redundant. After all, last year writers Beef Torrey and Kevin Simonson collected the essential interviews in Conversations with Hunter S. Thompson (University Press of Mississippi, $22) and that, it would seem, was that.

But no. Anita Thompson’s new book repeats only a couple of the interviews and one of those – Craig Vetter ’s landmark 1974 Playboy Interview – is truly a classic of the form. What she has done is to dig deep into the Gonzo archive and transcribe a number of broadcast interviews – many quite obscure – and assemble a solid and indispensible record of Hunter S. Thompson’s public life as a writer, from 1967 (publication of Hell’s Angels) to the end of 2004, three months before his suicide.

And, of course, we again feel the pain of his loss. There was so much on his mind . . . always on his mind  . . . that he would have needed three more lifetimes to put it all on paper the conventional way. Instead, this book shows those ideas through his artistry as a conversationalist. He rarely repeated himself and as the late-in-life books of letters (The Proud Highway and Fear and Loathing in America) showed, he was an artist at correspondence.

(Click here for a sample from Ancient Gonzo Wisdom -- a 1967 ABC News interview with Thompson about Hell's Angels.)


These two books of interviews show Thompson in a variety of moods. Whether ebullient or dour, Thompson was never boring. Devoted readers who can quote chapter and verse on his life will find background and insight to his work. Those who don’t know his work but may know him only from the clownish image that Garry Trudeau fabricated of Thompson for Doonesbury will enjoy the good times, the insights, the wicked wisdom of the real Hunter S. Thompson.

Ancient Gonzo Wisdom reminds us of why we miss him and how much his absence is deeply felt. Imagine the loss that must be shared by his close friends, his son and grandson, and the widow who prepared this wonderful book to share with us.

William McKeen is chairman of the University of Florida’s Department of Journalism and author of several books, including the acclaimed Hunter S. Thompson biography Outlaw Journalistnow available in paperback.

You’re probably wondering what Hunter S. Thompson has to say about Sarah Palin. Maybe you’re curious about his thoughts on the first months of Barack Obama’s presidency. Could be you want to know his predictions for the upcoming professional football season.

We can’t know what he would think, of course. And don’t for a moment presume that you would know his opinion, say, of President Obama. Thompson was many things and most of them were unpredictable. He was a brilliant man, a gifted writer and an artful, challenging conversationalist. Largely self-educated, he would see historical and literary parallels in nearly every avenue of discourse and for him writing / art / conversation was a parry-parry-thrust sort of game.

As much as his army of readers misses him, imagine being a close friend and missing him. When there is a Great Historical Moment – the Obama Inauguration, for example, or the death of Michael Jackson – the friends all prepare for the illumination and insight of their old buddy, for a moment forgetting that he is gone.

So, unless there is a Mojo Wire in the Great Beyond, we cannot know what Hunter S. Thompson thinks about Palin, Obama or Jackson. And it reminds us how much we miss that voice of his, the twisted and insightful literary voice he brought to the world. He left behind a lot of writing and over the next decade or so, it will be carefully published by the family’s literary trust. The first major posthumous work, The Mutineer – his third volume of collected letters, edited by Douglas Brinkley – will appear in October.

Scroll to read more Local Arts articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.