Fear And Loathing In America : The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist 1968 – 1976, edited by Douglas Brinkley (Bloomsbury)

With that title, the outlaw journalist in question could only be Hunter S. Thompson, author of Hell’s Angels, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. Here is Volume 2 of the old Gonzo’s letters, close on the heels of The Proud Highway : The Fear and Loathing Letters Volume 1.

Critics who have never straddled so much as a Vesper borrow phrases from Thompson’s world of fast cars and motorcycles, drugs, booze and hippiedom to describe his prose: even the grannyish Daily Telegraph salutes his “bad craziness”, the frequency with which he “is hitting on all six.” Inevitably, his style is “high-octane.”

Thompson absolutely deserves this kind of thing. Not since Hemingway has there been an American author so assiduous in cultivating the myths that abound about himself.

These are the years of Thompson’s reporting for Rolling Stone, his riding with the Hell’s Angels and with future United States presidents. His letters reflect the messy clarity of his life: friendships and contracts made and busted; one minute running from the law in a Chicago street riot, the next running for sheriff in Aspen, Colorado.

Contentious, litigious and sacrilegious, his letters harangue editors and fellow writers, politicians and bums – in fact, everybody he knows, and some he doesn’t know. Thompson is endlessly offensive, occasionally gratuitously. His profanity is also endless but not shocking; one can imagine for him a profitable twilight career scriptwriting for TV’s The Sopranos. The myths that Thompson has built around himself don’t, strangely enough, detract from his stripped, honest vision: again, Hemingway comes to mind.

 Through the years spanned by these letters, Thompson gradually achieves what he feared and loathed most: respectability. The Hell’s Angel that transforms into Nixon’s nemesis, Jimmy Carter’s friend, rapidly becomes the established press’s view of the wild hinterland – middle America’s safety-glass window into other Americas, high and low.

By book’s end, Thompson is still strident and angry, but it is the stridency and anger of a successful man. The Observer describes him as “America’s unavailing conscience, snapping like a muzzled Doberman.” Well, a muzzled Doberman doesn’t snap much, and neither, for all his posturing, does Hunter S. Thompson, any more.

Christchurch Press

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Tim Tweets