I borrowed the special edition on "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" from a friend. Usually, the book insert is chapters of the movies. This one was about Mr. Thompson's experience of "Fear and Loathing" If you appreciate Hunter S. Thompson and like his Gonzo Journalism, you might appreciate this:
Hunter S. Thompson's journalistic prose-poem
FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS used a lost weekend in Las Vegas as a metaphor for America's season in hell. Dispatched by a national magazine to cover a cross-country motorcycle race, Thompson filed a postmortem on the 60's counterculture while reporting on his brain as though it were the dark side of the moon.
As extravagantly subjective, linguistically rich, and outrageously bad-behaved as FEAR AND LOATHING is this lysergic tall tale, which was first published in ROLLING STONE in late 1971,would seem to be problematic Hollywood material at best. But, taking over the project from Alex Cox, Terry Gilliam returned from the desert bringing the multiplex nation a slapstick fever dream both funny and poignant, as unencumbered in its performance as it is uncompromising in its worldview.
Like a belated sequel to EASY RIDER, FEAR AND LOATHING opens with two guys in Hawaiian shirts and a red convertible bombing, born to be wild, towards Nevada's neon Sodom. "We were somewhere in Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold," is the line with which both books and movie began (the Gonzo equivalent of "Call me Ishmael"). The dope-addled search for America will be three days in Vegas, and a twilight arrival in Glitter Gulch occasions the definitive LSD sequence in Hollywood movies-a farrago of glacially delayed responses, free-floating incomprehension, inadvertent word repetition, and minor visual distortions blossoming into full-fledged hallucination. Gilliam gleefully stages Thompson's panicky experience of the hotel cocktail lounge-"We're right in the middle of a fucking reptile zoo! And somebody's giving booze to these goddamn things!"-adding to the comedy by flipping in and out of his hero's drastically expanded consciousness.
Bill Murray made an embarrassing stab at playing Thompson in Art Linson's 1980 WHERE BUFFALO ROAM, but Johnny Depp, here given Thompson alias Raoul Duke, has the attitude as well as the look-receding hairline, sporty pith-helmet, orange aviator shades, jaunty cigarette holder. His is the detached cool of the 19th-century explorer or a 1920's bon vivant. Depp, no less than Thompson, is a southern gentleman-and his stoned pratfalls and coke-snort double takes notwithstanding, he's also an exemplary straight man. As his volatile sidekick Dr. Gonzo, Benicio Del Toro-no less ambitiously unpredictable in his career choices than Depp-is given ample room to pulverize the screen.
Depp proves himself a master of moving as though someone has just pulled the plug on his power source, but the movie's edge is provided by Del Toro, who gained 40 pounds for the part and honed a paranoid glare sharper than the hunting knife he regularly brandishes. From the moment he begins braying "One Toke Over the Line" to the scene he plays opposite hard boiled waitress Ellen Barkin in an exaggeratedly realistic North Las Vegas diner, Del Toro is a force of nature. Depp thinks, Del Toro acts: it's he who gets to puke out a car window at a parallel vehicle filled with uptight squares, who gets to woo catatonic runaway Christina Ricci, and gets to woof TV reporter Cameron Diaz in a scene of claustrophobic elevator terror. (In another of the film's cameo's, a nearly unrecognizable Tobey McGuire appears as the stupefied hippie hitchhiker picked up and traumatized by Duke and Gonzo.)
Gilliam is an inspired conductor of manic behavior. THE FISHER KING showed him the only director in history to handle Robin Williams' personality at full throttle; Brad Pitt gave career performances as a boarderline lunatic in 12 MONKEYS. But nothing equals the jabbering gesticulations of Depp and Del Toro's stoned minuet. The sequence in which they dose themselves with ether and surrender all motor skills to enter Bazooka Circus is a grunt-and-lurch ballet choreographed for Jovian gravity. This small classic of physical comedy is so deftly played and excruciatingly funny,you might reasonably fear that the movie has peaked too soon. indeed, the trip turns a lot scarier once the action retreats to the pair's dark and increasingly trashed hotel suite.
Heavy as it can be, FEAR AND LOATHING is also lighter than one might expect. the mise-en scene is busy without seeming hysterical. Generous in its use of voice over, the movie gets maximum mileage from Thompson's prose. It not only has the guts to dramatize the writer's two-page flashback to San Fransisco, 1965, but also includes his rumination on the moment's drug-induced sense of generalizations manifest destiny. Scored to Buffalo Springfield's mournful "expecting to Fly," the evolutionary failure is even visualized: Depp wrapped in his microphone cord and, sporting a Halloween lizard tail, immersed in the primeval ooze of what once was a hotel suite.
Despite its world-famous title and for all Gilliam's judiciously applied special effects, FEAR AND LOATHING was deeply unfashionable when it was released-opposite the big budget remake of GODZILLA-in spring of 1998. Oblivious to the 90's Rat Pack revival, Gilliam is unrelentingly hostile to the swinging, grown-up entertainment of the era. "this was Bob Hope's turf. Frank Sinatra's. Spiro Agnew's," Depp is heard to mutter as he and Del Toro attempt to crash Debbie Reynold's floor show and get bounced for heckling as she breaks into "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." (Nevertheless, the Vegas that Thompson travestied has long since been replaced by current, family-friendly model and is itself now the subject of some nostalgia.)
Given that the 60's remains the most maligned and oversold decade of the American century, FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS is clearly not for everyone. ("If you got it then, you'll get it now," is how NEWSDAY critic John Anderson began his review.) At once prestigious literary adaptation and slapstick buddy flick, this is something like FELLINI CHEECH AND CHONG-this is a low-brow art film, an egghead monster movie, a gross-out trip to lost continent of Mu, a hilarious paean to reckless indulgence, and perhaps the most widely released midnight movie ever made.
A SAVAGE JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THE AMERICAN DREAM -- The book began as a 250-word caption for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, I was down in LA, working on a very tense and depressing investigation of the allegedly accidental killing of a journalist named Ruben Salazar by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Dept-and after a week or so on the story I was a ball of nerves & sleepless paranoia (figuring that I might be next)...and I needed some excuse to get away from the angry vortex of the story & try to make sense of it without people shaking butcher knives in my face all the time.
My main contact on that story was the infamous Chicano lawyer Oscar Acosta-an old friend, who was under bad pressure a the time,from his super-militant, constituents, for even talking to a gringo/gabacho journalist. the pressure was so heavy, in fact, that I found it impossible to talk to Oscar alone. We were always in the midst of a crowd of heavy street fighters who didn't mind letting me know that they wouldn't need much of an excuse to chop me into hamburger.
This is no way to work on a very complex story. So one afternoon I got Oscar in my rented car and drove him over to the Beverly Hills Hotel-away from his bodyguards,etc.-and told him I was getting a bit wiggy from the pressure, it was like being on stage all the time, or maybe in the midst of a prison riot. He agreed, but the nature of his position as "leader of the militants" made it impossible for him to be openly friendly with a gabacho.
I understood this...and just about then, I remembered that another old friend, now working for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, had asked me if I felt like going out to Vegas for the weekend, at their expense, and writing a few words about a motorcycle race. This seemed like a good excuse to get me out of LA for a few days, and if I took Oscar along it would also give us time to talk and sort out the evil realities of the Salazar/Murder story.
So I called SPORTS ILLUSTRATED-from the patio of the Polo Lounge-and said I was ready to do the "Vegas thing". They agreed...and from here on in there is no point in running down details, because they're all in the book.
More or less...and this qualifier is the essence of what, for no particular reasons, I've decided to call Gonzo journalism. 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 the best journalists have always known this.
Which is not to say Fiction is necessarily "more true" that Journalism-or vice verse-but that both "fiction" and "journalism" are artificial categories; and that both forms, at their best, are only two different means to the same end. This is getting pretty heavy...so I should cut back and explain, at this point, that FEAR & LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS is a failed experiment in Gonzo journalism. My idea was to buy a fat notebook and record the whole thing, as is happened, then send in the notebook for publication-without editing. That way, I felt, the eye & mind of the journalist would be functioning as a camera. The writing would be selective & necessarily interpretive-but once the image was written,the words would be final; in the same way that a Cartier-Bresson photographer is always (he says)the full-frame negative. No alterations in the dark room, no cutting or cropping, no spotting...no editing.
But this is a hard thing to do, and in the end I found myself imposing an essentially fictional framework on what began as a straight/crazy journalism. 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. Probably the closest analogy to the ideal would be a film director/producer who writes his own scripts,does his own camera work and somehow manages to films himself in action, as the protagonist or at least a main character.
The American print media are not ready for this kind of thing, yet. ROLLING STONE was probably the only magazine in America where I could get the Vegas book published. I sent SPORTS ILLUSTRATED 2500 words-instead of the 250 they asked for-and my a manuscript was aggressively rejected. They refused to even pay my minimum expenses...
But to hell with all that. I seem to be drifting away from the point-that FEAR & LOATHING is not what I thought it would be. I began writing it during a week of hard typewriter nights in a room at the Ramada Inn-in a place called Arcadia, California-up the road from Pasadena & right across the street from the Santa Anita racetrack. I was there during the first week of the Spring Racing-and the rooms all around me were jammed with people i couldn't quite believe.
Heavy track buffs, horse trainers, ranch owners, jockeys & their women...I was lost in that swarm, sleeping most of each day and writing all night on the Salazar article. But each night, around dawn, I would knock off the Salazar work and spend an hour or so, cooling out, by letting my head unwind and my fingers run wild on the big black Seletic...jotting down notes about the weird trip to Vegas. it had worked out nicely, in terms of the Salazar piece-plenty of hard straight talk about who was lying and who wasn't, and Oscar had finally relaxed enough to talk to me straight. Flashing across the desert at 110 in a big red convertible with the top down, there is not much danger of being bugged or overheard.
But we stayed in Vegas a bit longer than we'd planned to. Or at least I did. Oscar had to get back for a nine o'clock court appearance on Monday. So he took a plane and I was left alone out there-just me and a massive hotel bill that I knew I couldn't pay, and the treacherous reality of that scene caused me to spend about 36 straight hours in my room at the Mint Hotel...writing feverishly in a notebook about a nasty situation that I thought I might not get away from.
These notes were the genesis of FEAR & LOATHING. After my escape from Nevada and all though the tense work week that followed (spending all my afternoons on the grim streets of East LA and my nights at the typewriter in that Ramada Inn hideout)...my only loose & human moments would come around dawn when I could relax and fuck around with this slow-building, stone-crazy Vegas story.
By the time I got back to the Rolling Stone Hq. in San Francisco, the Salazar story was winding out at around 19,000 words, and the strange Vegas "fantasy" was running on its own spaced energy and pushing 5000 words - with no end in sight and no real reason to continue working on it, except the pure pleasure of unwinding on paper. it was sort of an exercise - like BOLERO - and it might have stayed that way if Jann Wenner, the editor of ROLLING STONE, hadn't liked the first 20 or so jangled pages enough to take it seriously on its own terms and tentatively schedule it for publication - which gave me the push I needed to keep working on it.
So now, six months later, the ugly bastard is finished. And I liked it - despite the fact that I failed at what I was trying to do. As true Gonzo Journalism, this doesn't work at all - and even if it did, I couldn't possibly admit it. only a goddamn lunatic would write a thing like this and then claim it was true. The week the first section of FEAR & LOATHING appeared in ROLLING STONE, I found myself applying for White House press credentials - a plastic pass that would give me the run of the White House, along with the least theoretical access to the big oval room where Nixon hangs out, pacing back & forth on those fine think taxpayer's carpets and pondering Sunday's point spread. (Nixon is a serious pro football freak. He and I are old buddies on this front: We once spent a long night together on the Thruway from Boston to Manchester, dissecting the pro & con strategy of the Oakland-Green Bay Super Bowl game. it was the only time I've ever seen the bugger relaxed-laughing,whacking me on the knee as the recalled Max McGee's one-handed catch for the back-breaking touchdown. I was impressed. It was like talking to Owsley about Acid.)
The trouble with Nixon is that he's a serious politic junkie. He's totally hooked...and like any other junkie, he's a bummer to have around: Especially as President.
And so much for all that... I have all of 1972 to fuck around with Nixon, so why hassle it here?
Anyway, the main point I want to make about FEAR & LOATHING is that although it's not what I meant it to be, it's still so complex in the failure that I feel I can take the risk of defending it as a first, gimped effort in a direction that what Tom Wolfe calls "The New Journalism" has been flirting with for almost a decade.
Wolf's problem is that he's too crusty to participate in his stories. The people he feels comfortable with are dull as stale dogshit, and the people who seem fascinate him as a writer are so weird that they make him nervous. The only thing new and unusual about Wolfe's journalism is that he's an abnormally good reporter; he has a fine sense of echo and at least a peripheral understanding of what John Keats was talking about when he said that thing about Truth & Beauty. The only reason Wolfe seems "new" is because William Randolph Hearst bent the spine of American journalism very badly when it was just getting started. All Tom Wolfe did-after he couldn't make it on the WASHINGTON POST and couldn't even get hired by the NATIONAL OBSERVER-was to figure out that there was really not much percentage in playing the old COLLIERS' game, and that if he was ever going to make it in "journalism," his only hope was to make it on his own terms: By being good in the classical - rather that the contemporary - sense, and by being the kind of journalist the the American print media honored mainly in the breach. Or, failing that, at the funeral. Like Stephen Crane,who couldn't even get a copyboy's job on today's NEW YORK TIMES. The only difference between working for the TIMES and TIME magazine is the difference between being a third-string All-American fullback at Yale instead of Ohio State.
And again, yes, we seem to be rambling - so perhaps I should close this off.
The only other important thing to be said about FEAR & LOATHING at this time is that it was fun to write, and that's rare - for me, at least, because I've always considered writing the most hateful kind of work. I suspect it's a bit like fucking, which is only fun for amateurs. old whores don't do much giggling.
Nothing is fun when you have to do it - over & over, again & again - or else you'll be evicted, and that gets old. So it's a rare goddamn trip for a locked-in, rent-paying writer to get into a gig that, even in retrospect, was a kinghall, high life fucking around from start to finish ...and then to actually get pain for writing this kind of manic gibberish seems genuinely weird; like getting paid for kicking Agnew in the balls.
So maybe there's hope. Or maybe I'm going mad. These are not easy things to be sure of, either way...and in the meantime we have this failed experiment in Gonzo Journalism, the certain truth of which will never be established. That much is definite. FEAR & LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS will have to be chalked off as a frenzied experiment, a fine idea that went crazy about halfway through...a victim of its own conceptual schizophrenia, caught & finally crippled in that vain, academic limbo between "journalism" & "fiction." and then hoist on its own petard of multiple felonies and enough flat-out crime to put anybody who'd admit to this lind of stinking behavior in the Nevada State Prison until 1984.
So now, in closing, I want to thank everybody who helped me put this happy work of fiction together. Names are not necessary here; they know who they are - and in this foul era of Nixon, that knowledge and private laughter is probably the best we can hope for. The line between martydom and stupidity depends on a certain kind of tension in the body politic - but that line disappeared, in America, at the trial of the "Chicago 7/8," and there is no point in kidding ourselves, now, about Who Has the Power.
In a nation ruled by swine, all pigs are upward-mobile-and the rest of us are fucked until we can put our acts together: Not necessarily to Win, but mainly to keep from Losing Completely. We owe that to ourselves and our crippled self-image as something better than a nation of panicked sheep...but we owe it especially to our children, who will have to live with our loss and all its long-term consequences. i don't want my son asking me, in 1984, why his friends are calling me a "Good German."
Which gets down to a final point about FEAR &LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS. I have called it, only half sarcastically, "a vile epitaph for the Drug Culture of the Sixties," and I think it is. This whole twisted saga is a sort of Atavistic Endeavor, a dream-trip into the past - however recent - that was only half successful. I think we both understood, all along, that we were running a hell of a risk by laying a sixties trip on Las Vegas in 1971...and that neither one of us would ever pass this way again.
So we pushed it as far as we could, and we survived - which means something, I guess, but not much beyond a good story...and now, having done it, written it, and humping a reluctant salute to that decade that started so high and then went so brutally sour, I don't see much choice but to lash down the screws and get on with what has been done. Either that or do nothing at all - fall back on he Good German, Panicked Sheep syndrome, and I don't think I'm ready for that. At least not right now.
Because it was nice to be loose and crazy with a good credit card in a time when it was possible to run totally wild in Las Vegas and then get paid for writing a book about it...and it occurs to me that I possibly just made it, just under the wire and the deadline. Nobody will dare admit this kind of behavior in print if Nixon wins again in "72.
The Swine are gearing down for serious workout this time around. Four more years of Nixon means years of john Mitchell - and four more years of Mitchell means another decade or more of bureaucratic fascism that will be so entrenched, by 1976, that nobody will feel up to fighting it. We will feel too old by then, too beaten,and by then even the Myth of the Road will be dead - if only for lack of exercise. There will not be any wild-eyed, dope-sucking anarchists driving around the country in fire apple red convertibles if Nixon wins again in "72.
There will not even be any convertibles, much less any dope. And all the Anarchists will be locked up in rehabilitation pens. The international hotel-chain lobby will ram a bill thru congress, setting mandatory death penalties for anyone jumping a hotel bill - and death by castration & whipping if the deed is done in Vegas. The only legal high will be supervised Chinese acupuncture, in government hospitals at $200 a day - with Martha Mitchell as Secretary of Health, Education & Welfare, operating out of a luxurious penthouse on top of a later Reed Army Hospital.
So much, then, for The Road - and for the last possibilities of running amok in Las Vegas & living to tell the tale. But maybe we won't really miss it. Maybe Law & Order is really the best way to go, after all.
Yeah...maybe so, and if that's the way it happens...well, at least I'll know I was there, neck deep in the madness, before the deal went down, and I got so high and wild that I felt like a two-ton Manta Ray jumping all the way across the Bay of Bengal.
It was a good way to go, and I recommend it highly- at least for those who can stand the trip. And for those who can't, or won't, there is not much else to say. Not now, and certainly not by me, or Raoul Duke either. FEAR & LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS marks the end of an era...and now, on this noisy black machine and sit naked on my porch for a while, in the sun.
Gonzo Journalism -
Like quadraphonic 4-dimensional sound - exists on many levels: It is not so much "written" as performed - and because of this, the end result must be experienced. Instead of merely "read."
Beyond that, it should be experience under circumstances apporimating - as closely as possible - the conditions surrounding the original performance. For this reason, the editors have agreed to pass the author's "readin instructions" along to all those who might want to "experience" the saga under the "proper conditions." We offer them without comment - & certainly without recommendation.
To wit: Read straight thru, at high speed, from start to finsih, in a large room full of speakers, amplifiers & other appropriate sound equppment. There should also be a large firein the room, perferably in an open fireplace & raging almost out of control.
(alternative, hot tub & vibrator)
THE MIND & BODY MUST BE SUBJECTED TO EXTREME STIMULUS, BY MEANS OF DRUGS & MUSIC - Hunter S. Thompson