HST & Friends

About HST

+ Who is HST?


+ E. Jean Carroll
+ William McKeen
+ P. Paul Perry
+ Peter O. Whitmer


Media Treatments

HST's Friends

Hunter S. Thompson - William Mckeen

by William McKeen
used with permission

It was with great delight that I heard from William McKeen, author of Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe. I haven't gotten around to writing a review of the HST book, since I want to have the cover to scan in like I did all the others (seems so simple, just put the book on hold and wait, right? :-)). This little book is handy to have if you are far away from those big brown volumes of Contemporary Literary Criticism and focuses on HST's writing rather than his scandals. The book also includes a timeline and a neat little interview with HST at the back.

...I worried that such persons would disappoint me and I would never feel the same about their work.

But Thompson did not disappoint. We did not have much time together before the speech. He walked in and introduced himself, and shook hands like a normal human being. He was soft-spoken and polite, even if he did mumble a bit. he was certainly not the mad-dog reporter I had half-expected. We sat in a lounge near the stage and talked about my words of introduction and the format of the talk. it was a rather bluenose college, and so he would not be allowed his usual bottle of Wild Turkey on sate. Yet he needed something to keep his fires idling before facing the audience. He unzipped the athletic bag - his only luggage - parted the newspapers and clothes within, and pulled out a "live" Lowenbrau. It was open and foaming on his clothes. He quickly guzzled the last of the beer, then tossed the bottle across the room into the garbage can. "Let's go," he said.

In my introduction I referred to my time as a reporter and how Thompson was so much admired by journalists for being able to say the things that we could not say. I held up my battered and chewed copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and it disintegrated - pages flew out and lazily sailed to the auditorium floor. The audience laughed, but it helped me make a point. "This is an appreciated book," I said.

The talk was disappointing. Public speaking has never been Thompson's forte, and unless you were familiar with all of his works, his comments were difficult to follow. Many older faculty in attendance were at first bewildered and then disgusted. A large freak contingent had turned out and wanted to keep the conversation on drugs. Thompson was obliged to answer the questions that were asked, and the evening turned into a fiasco. People walked out. I asked a few questions, to steer the conversation back to writing and politics. But the audience wanted more amazing drug tales.

So it was a pleasure to write this book, to focus attention on Hunter Thompson's writing and not on his public persona or his status as a cartoon character in "Doonesbury." I do not believe Thompson is appreciated as a writer. His work seems disjointed, spontaneous, and loose, and it could only appear so if it were none of the above. It is the result of hard work and craftsmanship.

This book exists as an examination of Thompson's work, some of which is scattered and not readily available. Such is the nature of journalism. Most of chapter 2 is devoted to his early work. Chapter 3 discusses his experiences reporting and writing Hell's Angels, the book that put him on the map, as much for the stunt of riding with the Angels, as for any other reason. Chapter 4 concerns three critical articles in the evolution of Thompson's gonzo journalism, and chapter 5 is devoted to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, that style at fruition. His revolutionary coverage of the presidential politics is the subject of chapter 6, and the last chapters are devoted to his relative small output since the mid-1970s. It is unfortunate that Thompson chooses not to write as often as he did two decades ago.

I quote liberally from his works and apologize for summarizing passages of his writing. As New Journalism scholar Paul Thomas Meyers wrote, "A paraphrased Thompson certainly loses the feeling of that which he writes about and his position as a participant observer." Indeed. Because of Thompson's strong stances, I use frequent and prolific passages from his work.

This book is also a rare biographical source on the man. Until now, the chief sources have been a couple of interviews and information in Who's Who. It is ironic that THompson is usually the centerpiece of his work but really tells us very little about himself. I have attempted in chapter 1 to pull together as much information about him as seemed appropriate for a book essentially about his work.

Chapter 1

The crowd was getting restless. There were twelve hundred people in the nightclub, and they were angry because the featured attraction was overdue. It was Election Night 1988, and they had gathered to hear Hunter S. Thompson, the self-proclaimed "doctor of Gonzo journalism," deliver his commentary on the victory of George Bush. The Ritz dance hall in New York City had scheduled the iconoclastic journalist for an evening billed as "Fear and Loathing on Election Night." Thompson was supposed to take the stage at eight o'clock, but it was ten now, and the crowd was impatient.

Thompson's reputation as a college-campus lecturer had preceded him. He was known for arriving late, if at all, and often mumbling incoherently. He never really lectured but instead answered questions from audiences. There were usually devoted fans in attendance who hung on his every word and queried him about the minutiae of his work. But mos t of the crowd would be annoyed that he was difficult to follow and spoke as if he expected everyone to have read everything he had published. It was like listening to one long in-joke. He would sit at a table on the stages of college auditoriums, holding forth with a bottle of Wild Turkey and a chunk of ice, making obscene comments greeted by titters from some members of the audience and by looks of disgust and outrage from others. Many would walk out. Thompson's reputation was large; he was a living legend to much of the crowd. This reputation made it difficult to travel or work - particularly on such public work as journalism. As one observer wrote, "Thompson is a walking bundle of other people's expectations, unable to go anywhere or cover an event without people waiting for him to put on a show befitting a maniac."

Yet Thompson found these forays into the world of celebrity hard to turn down, if the price was right. For a few hours of talk, something he found painless to do, he could collect a significant amount of money. His talk was sometimes fascinating or maddening or perhaps both. So the idea of commentary on the election by Thompson seemed irresistible to the planners of the 1988 event. After all, he was still known for his unusual style of writing...