After The Nation published the article (May 17, 1965), Thompson received several book offers and spent the next year living and riding with the Hell’s Angels. The relationship broke down when the bikers concluded that Thompson was exploiting them for his personal gain. The gang demanded a share of the profits from his writings and after an argument at a party Thompson ended up with a savage beating, or “stomping” as the Angels referred to it. Random House published the hard cover Hells Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs in 1966, and the fight between Thompson and the Angels was well-marketed. A reviewer for The New York Times praised it as an “angry, knowledgeable, fascinating and excitedly written book”, that shows the Hells Angels “not so much as dropouts from society but as total misfits, or unfits — emotionally, intellectually and educationally unfit to achieve the rewards, such as they are, that the contemporary social order offers.” The reviewer also praised Thompson as a “spirited, witty, observant and original writer; his prose crackles like motorcycle exhaust.”
Following the success of Hells Angels, Thompson was able to publish articles in a number of well-known magazines during the late 1960s, including The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Pageant, and Harper’s. In the Times Magazine article, published in 1967, entitled “The Hashbury is the Capital of the Hippies”, Thompson wrote in-depth about the Hippies of San Francisco, deriding a culture that began to lack the political convictions of the New Left and the artistic core of the Beats, instead becoming overrun with newcomers lacking any purpose other than obtaining drugs. It was an observation on the 1960’s counterculture that Thompson would further examine in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and other articles.
In early 1968, he signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War. According to Thompson’s letters and his later writings, at this time he planned to write a book called The Joint Chiefs about “the death of the American Dream.” He used a $6,000 advance from Random House to travel on the 1968 Presidential campaign trail and attend the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago for research purposes. From his hotel room in Chicago, Thompson watched the clashes between police and protesters, which he wrote had a great effect on his political views. The planned book was never finished, but the theme of the death of the American dream would be carried over into his later work, and the contract with Random House was eventually fulfilled with the 1972 book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
By late 1967, Thompson and his family moved back to Colorado. In early 1969, Thompson finally received a $15,000 royalty check for the paperback sales of Hells Angels and used two-thirds of the money for a down payment on a modest home and property where he would live for the rest of his life. He named the house Owl Farm and often described it as his “fortified compound.”
In 1970, Thompson ran for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado, as part of a group of citizens running for local offices on the “Freak Power” ticket. With polls showing him with a slight lead in a three-way race, Thompson appeared at Rolling Stone magazine headquarters in San Francisco with a six-pack of beer in hand and declared to editor Jann Wenner that he was about to be elected the next sheriff of Aspen, Colorado, and wished to write about the Freak Power movement. Thus, Thompson’s first article in Rolling Stone was published as The Battle of Aspen with the byline “By: Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (Candidate for Sheriff).” Despite the publicity, Thompson ended up narrowly losing the election.
Also in 1970, Thompson wrote an article entitled The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved for the short-lived new journalism magazine Scanlan’s Monthly. Although it was not widely read at the time, the article is the first of Thompson’s to use techniques of Gonzo journalism, a style he would later employ in almost every literary endeavor. The manic first-person subjectivity of the story was reportedly the result of sheer desperation; he was facing a looming deadline and started sending the magazine pages ripped out of his notebook. Ralph Steadman, who would later collaborate with Thompson on several projects, contributed expressionist pen-and-ink illustrations.
The first use of the word Gonzo to describe Thompson’s work is credited to the journalist Bill Cardoso. In 1970, Cardoso wrote to Thompson praising the “Kentucky Derby” piece in Scanlan’s Monthly as a breakthrough: “This is it, this is pure Gonzo. If this is a start, keep rolling.” Thompson took to the word right away, and according to illustrator Ralph Steadman said, “Okay, that’s what I do. Gonzo.”
Thompson’s first published use of the word Gonzo appears in a passage in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: “Free Enterprise. The American Dream. Horatio Alger gone mad on drugs in Las Vegas. Do it now: pure Gonzo journalism.”
July 18, 2012 | Categories: Biography, Biography: AUTHORS | Tags: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971), Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, Hells Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (1966), Kentucky, Louisville, National Observer, Prince Jellyfish, ralph Steadman, Rolling Stone magazine, The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved, The Rum Diary, Time Magazine | Leave a comment
Hunter Stockton Thompson (July 18, 1937 – February 20, 2005) was an American journalist and author. He first came to popular attention with the publication of Hells Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (1966), although the work he remains best known for is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971), which was first serialised in Rolling Stone magazine.
Thompson became a counter cultural figure as the creator of Gonzo journalism, an experimental style of reporting where reporters (him initially) involve themselves in the action to such a degree that they become central figures of their stories. He had an inveterate hatred of Richard Nixon, who he claimed represented “that dark, venal, and incurably violent side of the American character” and who he characterised in what many consider to be his best book, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. He was known also for his lifelong use of alcohol and illegal drugs; his love of firearms and his iconoclastic contempt for authoritarianism.
Thompson was born into a middle class family in Louisville, Kentucky. Interested in sports from a young age, Thompson joined Louisville’s Castlewood Athletic Club, and excelled in baseball. Thompson attended I. N. Bloom Elementary School, Highland Middle School, and Atherton High School, before transferring to Louisville Male High School in September 1952. Also in 1952, he was accepted as a member of the Athenaeum Literary Association, a school-sponsored literary and social club that had been founded at Male High in 1862.
As an Athenaeum member, Thompson contributed articles and helped edit the club’s The Spectator; but the group ejected Thompson in 1955, citing his legal problems. Charged as an accessory to robbery after being in a car with the robber, Thompson was sentenced to 60 days in Kentucky’s Jefferson County Jail. He served 31 days and, a week after his release, enlisted in the United States Air Force. Whilst he was in jail the school superintendent refused him permission to take his high school final examinations, and as a result he did not graduate.
While in the Air Force, Thompson had his first professional writing job as sports editor of the The Command Courier, where he covered the Eglin Eagles football team. Thompson was discharged from the Air Force in June 1958 as an Airman First Class, having been recommended for an early honorable discharge by his commanding officer. “In summary, this airman, although talented, will not be guided by policy”, Col. William S. Evans, chief of information services wrote to the Eglin personnel office. “Sometimes his rebel and superior attitude seems to rub off on other airmen staff members.” In a mock press release Thompson wrote about the end of his duty, he claimed to have been issued a status of “totally unclassifiable”.
After the Air Force, he worked as sports editor for a newspaper in Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania before relocating to New York City. There he attended the Columbia University School of General Studies part-time on the G.I. Bill, taking classes in creative writing. During this time he worked briefly for Time, as a copy boy for $51 a week. In 1959, Time fired him for insubordination.
In 1960 Thompson moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to take a job with the sporting magazine El Sportivo, which folded soon after his arrival. Thompson worked for the New York Herald Tribune and a few stateside papers on Caribbean issues. After returning to the States, Hunter hitchhiked across the United States along U.S. Hwy 43, eventually ending up in Big Sur, California working as a security guard. While there, he was able to publish his first magazine feature in the nationally distributed Rogue magazine on the culture of Big Sur. Thompson had a rocky tenure as caretaker of the hot springs, and the unwanted publicity generated from the article finally got him fired.
During this period, Thompson wrote two novels, Prince Jellyfish and The Rum Diary, and submitted many short stories to publishers with little success. The Rum Diary, which fictionalized Thompson’s experiences in Puerto Rico, was eventually published in 1998, long after Thompson had become famous.
He travelled and worked through Rio, Brazil; Aspen, Colorado before moving to Glen Ella, California, where Thompson continued to write for the National Observer on an array of domestic subjects, including a story about his 1964 visit to Ketchum, Idaho, in order to investigate the reasons for Ernest Hemingway’s suicide. Thompson then moved to San Francisco, immersing himself in the drug and hippie culture that was taking root in the area. About this time. he began writing for the Berkley underground paper The Spyder.
In 1965, Thompson wrote a story based on his experience with the California-based Hells Angels motorcycle club for The Nation.
July 18, 2012 | Categories: Biography, Biography: AUTHORS | Tags: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971), Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, Hells Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (1966), Kentucky, Louisville, National Observer, Prince Jellyfish, ralph Steadman, Rolling Stone magazine, The Rum Diary, The Spyder, Time Magazine | 1 Comment