am 28. Juni 2013
After the success of Hell’s Angels in 1967, Hunter wrote this incredible tale of a drug-crazed journey to Las Vegas (1971) which was first published in Rolling Stone in 1971. The book was his masterpiece, perfect in a way that few books are and the time had come to take him seriously as a literary artist who - however outlandish a stylist he was - creatively spans the line between journalism and fiction. Just before the book was published he had written several pieces about the Mexican tensions and conflicts in East Los Angeles, based in part on an angry lawyer named Oscar Zeta Acosta, who later in that year became Dr. Gonzo in this book. As the subtitle warns, the book tells of “a savage journey to the heart of the American Dream,” this is the full-monty gonzo approach and is accented by British illustrator Ralph Steadman's fitting drawings.
Essentially, the narrative follows Thompson (writing as Duke) and his three-hundred-pound Samoan attorney, Dr. Gonzo to Vegas, ostensibly to cover the Mint 400 motorcycle race. Over drinks at the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel, the two men agree to rent a red Chevy convertible they christen the Great Red Shark start speeding across the desert. According to Duke, the car’s trunk. “looked like a mobile police narcotics lab. We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughters … and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls (…) but the only thing that really worried me was the ether.” However, the race was boring, with all sorts of machinery criss-crossing the desert, there was no way to recognize any kind of race and in the end everything was lost in the sand. So the protagonists spend most of their time in bars and casinos and cruising along the Strip. After the long weekend, Thompson hammered 25,000 words on the race into his typwriter and sent them to Sports Illustrated, which the magazine rejected.
Thompson infused everything with drama, whatever he was doing was always full of energy and crazyness, as exemplified by his attendance at the district attorneys’ conference. This was what he understood to be his dangerous undercover mission, he was going to go right to the edge, of everything. And with every day the madness grows and general paranoia takes over, deep suspicions of the CIA, the FBI, and the Secret Service abound and financial ruin is always lurking. The complex personality of Hunter S. Thompson – the Gonzo journalist cranked up on Chivas Regal, Dunhill cigarettes, and LSD – captured not only the mood that your government is not your friend but showed an acerbic humor with a sharp moral sensibility.
Thompson was fully aware that he was writing something marvelous, manic, and perhaps magic in an exaggerated style for sure but this autopsy of the American Dream places him among the twentieth century’s most iconoclastic writers. Hunter Thompson and Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer anyone, are probably the two most original voices to come out of journalism in the last century. And Jann Wenner at Rolling Stone should be praised for giving a boost to Thompson as well as Wolfe in a very important phase of American societal development. Douglas Brinkley, the historian and friend of Thompson’s summed it up, “If Hemingway was going to go big-game hunting in Africa, Hunter wanted to use a submachine gun to hunt wild boar in Big Sur, California. He was dangerous, like handling nitroglycerin, and he liked to keep it that way.”