Snapshot Memories of the Good Doctor: Hunter S. Thompson Revealed in Gonzo
WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 13 2006 2:00 PM
Submitted by erin_broadley. Edited By Helen_Jupiter.
TAGS: hunter s. thompson, gonzo, book
December 3rd saw the release of yet another book aiming to memorialize the late American author and journalist, Hunter S. Thompson. This time, the book succeeds. This is a book even the good doctor would have enjoyed reading.
Instead of some loud, longwinded biography hoping to capture Thompson’s legacy via imitation of his hyperbolic writing style,
Gonzo (AMMO Books) reads as a visual timeline, beginning with Thompson joining the military at 17, and ending with the construction of the giant canon that would ultimately shoot his ashes into the sky. It’s a collection of Thompson’s personal memorabilia—a scrapbook of sorts.
Johnny Depp writes in the introduction,
“Every document, scrap of paper, newspaper clipping, cocktail napkin and photograph were sacred to Hunter. What lives in this book, are essential threads of his life’s tapestry, pieces of the puzzle that had been diligently packed away, safely and surely for posterity.”
Thompson, born in Louisville, KY in 1937, reveled in his miscreant ways right from the start, even missing his high school graduation because he spent six weeks in jail for robbery. The judge then reportedly gave Thompson the option of more jail time or joining the military.
The Air Force never knew what hit them.
Gonzo opens with a copy of a Florida Air Force news release detailing the circumstances surrounding Thompson’s “honorable discharge” in 1957 after serving two years.
“Sgt. Manmountain Dense, a novice Air Policeman, was severely injured here today, when a wine bottle exploded inside the AP gatehouse at the west entrance to the base…Further investigation revealed that, only minutes before the incident at the gatehouse, a reportedly “fanatical” airman had received his separation papers and was rumored to have set out in the direction of the gatehouse at a high speed in a muffler-less car with no brakes. An immediate search was begun for Hunter S. Thompson, one-time sports editor of the base newspaper and well-known “morale problem.” Thompson was known to have a sometimes over-powering affinity for wine and was described by a recent arrival in the base sanatorium as “just the type of bastard who would do a thing like that. An apparently uncontrollable iconoclast, Thompson was discharged today after one of the most hectic and unusual Air Force careers in recent history.”
Thompson, of course, wrote the news release himself. He was never one to shy away from the chance to craft a tale drenched in wit and a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor.
As Gonzo shadows Thompson’s journey from his journalistic beginnings as a teenager to the psychedelic, hedonistic lifestyle he made legendary as an adult, readers explore his personal collection of photographs. The general quality of the photos is poor—all grossly underexposed and muddy. But their content is excruciatingly wonderful. Many never-before-seen images reveal Thompson in all his cocky, crew-cut youngster glory, smoking a pipe even as a dimpled, fresh-faced adolescent, eyes already brimming with mischief. Other photos include Joan Baez butchering a hog in Big Sur circa 1961, a print of two male Hell’s Angels engaged in a lip-lock, and Polaroids of John Belushi and Bill Murray partying with Thompson in the 70s.
Gonzo also includes: certificates of achievement (most notably Thompson's “Doctor of Divinity” diploma), pharmacy receipts, empty and crumpled prescription bags, drawings, press badges, and first drafts of Thompson’s published works—the typewriter text punctuated by the blue scrawl of his self-edits.
“I am surrounded by lunatics here, people screeching every time I pull a trigger, yelling about my blood-soaked shirt, packs of queers waiting to do me in, so many creditors that I’ve lost count, a huge Doberman on the bed, a pistol by the desk, time passing, getting balder, no money, a great thirst for all the world’s whiskey, my clothes rotting in the fog, a motorcycle with no light, a landlady who’s writing a novel on butcher-paper, wild boar in the hills and queers on the roads, vats of homemade beer in the closet, shooting cats to ease the pressure, the jabbering of Buddhists in the trees, whores in the canyons, Christ only knows if I can last it out.”
(Hunter S. Thompson, from “The Proud Highway,” a letter from Big Sur, August 4, 1961)
Gonzo is a collector's classic. It’s a well paced anthology and, through original images and reproduced text from Thompson’s archives, lets the reader come to his or her own conclusions about the man’s life, instead of being fed another narrative by yet another gonzo-scholar. After all, the only narrative Thompson ever wanted people to read was his own.
“When at the same time your collected works are coming out, a movie’s being made about you…and then you’re in the comic strips…somewhere along there I became a public figure. Somehow the author became larger than the writing. And it sucks.”
(Hunter S. Thompson, from “Rolling Stone College Papers,” interview with David Felton, 1980)
Southern Californians should be sure to check out the first-ever Hunter S. Thompson gallery exhibit at Los Angeles' M+B Gallery, displaying much of the photography featured in Gonzo. The exhibit runs through January 20.