When Rolling Stone showed up in my mailbox the other day, it was brittle and yellowed and 41 years out of date.
The paper tore lightly. It had a musty smell to it, and an uncomfortable dryness. Inside the front cover was a full page ad featuring Andy Warhol. The staff box: Jann Wenner, editor. National Affairs Desk: Hunter S. Thompson. Raoul Duke was listed as a contributing editor [Sports]. Ralph Steadman, too [Gardening].
First thought: A literary time machine.
Second thought: Those guys were having fun.
Perhaps I'm obsessed, but in order to better understand Hunter Thompson I wanted to read some of his work as it was published originally. And to my real surprise, it made a difference.
The article is long and weird and substance-fueled, typical of Thompson's Gonzo style. Which is funny because he begins with this admission:
I was seriously jolted, when I arrived in Washington, to find that the bastards had this Watergate story nailed up and bleeding from every extremity. ... There was not a hell of a lot of room for a Gonzo journalist to operate in that high-tuned atmosphere."
The rest of the story is just that, a Gonzo-styled tale, many thousands of words about Watergate, Nixon, a drunken evening with Pat Buchanan, and the very unpleasant things Thompson wanted to do to Charles Colson. It begins with Thompson writing a letter to Avis car rental about an insurance claim, and it ends with said car accident being the reason he didn't drag Colson down Pennsylvania Ave. behind a gold Cadillac.
Fantastic. But Thompson's disclaimer, of sorts, is really interesting. It's an admission that what he does isn't straight journalism — but that was obvious enough from the start. I think Thompson is also conceding the style works better in some areas than in others, that there are limits to the genre. You're fighting the same war, but you pick your battles based on the weapons you have.
Trying to imagine a mashup of All the President's Men and Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas ... total opposites.
Anyway, I'd read this article before in a collection of work called The Great Shark Hunt. But reading it in a book and reading it in columns, between ads, with Steadman's brutal illustrations ... It steps beyond satire to become a kind of release. It's the nonsense mere mortals dream of pulling off in the face of a government that believes in its own impunity.
There's a word he uses often — cazart!
It means, roughly, "of course!" But with a sort of dark inevitability tinge to it. And that's what it is, that's the thing he's writing about. Beyond frustration it's the ability to attack absurdity with absurdity, knowing it's going to be a long slog.