We’ll get to my interview where I imagine a conversation with a still-dead Hunter S. Thompson in a bit. But first a little back story. I re-read ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ on an iPad travelling to Vegas–with every bit of gut twisting, gasp-inducing and have-to-hyphenate-it praise as the first time I read it over 30 years ago. There’s a bounce to the humor that’s grotesque/funny, debauched/triumphant. It’s a simple story about a journalist and his lawyer on assignment to cover a motorcycle race in Las Vegas. Excecpt it isn’t about that. The never before told stories of the men given access thru a press pass to an event is weird. What they start to discover is that the excuse of the event has actually given them access to their inner demons. Whatever the event, it’s more of a Freudian influence than journalistic topic. It’s a backdrop to a bad acid dream. Some might dismiss it on the drug references alone, and it probably was just doped up enough to keep it out of all but the most progressive high schools, keeping Raoul Duke from living next to Tom Sawyer or even Atticus Finch.
Raoul Duke, Thompson’s alter-ego, was my Huck Finn. The words streaming into my brain locked my hands on the book like a steering wheel careening off library shelves and into the wide open territory of writing from experiences.
Last month, I had business in Vegas. On a scorching Spring day, I caught up with Hunter S. Thompson out in the desert.
The image of one of my earliest influences, Hunter Thompson, was the color of the bleached sand itself. His eyes were long gone behind reflective rims but the wheels were spinning. He had a bottomless cup with some kind of rum concoction and a safari hat that made him sweat.
Jeff Walker: Thanks for hovering here so my hallucination can focus on you for a moment.
Hunter Thompson: Always a pleasure. And what’s yours? Ether? Acid? Poppers? Salt Shakers filled with Bolivian marching powder?
Jeff Walker: Just booze these days. Gotta set a good example. You’re not buried out here I hope.
Hunter Thompson: God no. My ashes are scattered in the mountains and streams and by now have been charcoal filtered at least once thru the distilleries in some holler yonder and again thru the kidneys of a vagrant Serbian. Water travels.
Jeff Walker: That’s good. I’m not sure Vegas is my thing. I mean, it’s fun, it’s naughty in a Woo-Hoo! I’m from Topeka and my wife’s still there!
Hunter Thompson: Vegas was always a sun-drenched toilet bowl with an alien’s magnifying glass trained on human frailty, roasting our ant bodices even as we shook them thumping to the beat until they popped, the sizzling ooze disappearing on the hot pavement of a day half gone before we even woke up.
Jeff Walker: That sounds terrifying. Yet, no one seems to fear Vegas.
Hunter Thompson: There is nothing to fear in Vegas if you inspire fear itself. I have always subscribed to the intimidation theory of stomp or be squashed.
Jeff Walker: Strike first, eh?
Hunter Thompson: No, I didn’t say strike. I said stomp. Put your foot down. Draw the line–and make it a crooked one that encircles you and all you hope to carry with you and make it fast because the Santa Ana winds are belching up tumbleweeds and scorpions and you don’t want to be there when the ether turns inside you like a constipated cat.
Jeff Walker: Draw a line in the sand.
Hunter Thompson: You’re in an hour glass, my boy, and the natural trajectory of an hour glass is to get sucked into its vortex. You have no choice. You learn to surf. You need to enjoy the tumble and khaki blast coating your eyes with 11 natural herbs and spices and have enough about you to right yourself when the glass is tipped and it all begins again. That’s a metaphor.
Jeff Walker: For the day, of course. I never had you pegged so literally as an existential before, but now I see it. You don’t fear anything because you don’t believe in outcomes. The existentials didn’t see the point because if there were no reason for what happens then there were no consequences of those reasonless actions.
Hunter Thompson: I’m a Doctor of Journalism. Not some frog who lost his sunglasses in Tunisia. Though Tunisia sounds pretty good about now.
Jeff Walker: I’ve been to Vegas twice this year, never Tunisia.
Hunter Thompson: The sun never sets on the existentialists. They are the opposite of vampires. They drink theirs during the full day–that part I’m OK with. It’s the commie thing that gets me about them.
Jeff Walker: You are a political writer, and have covered it all, from Nixon to the rural backwoods code of Colorado beaver trappers.
Hunter Thompson: Watch it, you’re stealing my voice there, son.
Jeff Walker: Hard not to. It’s a strong voice.
Hunter Thompson: It’s got legs like a sea creature, that voice, scrambling up from Galapagos with too many legs and tripping all over itself to get at the Guava before the snakes slither all over it and wreck it for the rest of us. Good thing about having too many legs is they can turn into arms. In good time.
Jeff Walker: And then you learn to type.
Hunter Thompson: Typing’s the easy part. It’s the living with the typewriter that’s like bear wrestling.
Jeff Walker: Not alligator wrestling.
Hunter Thompson: I’m going for the backwoods imagery. Florida is another place, a god foresaken swamp inhabited by lizards cut from a swath of skin not suited for a pair of Tony Lama boots. Nothing against the good people of Florida. I hear Miami rocks when the Germans are in town.
Jeff Walker: Thanks for inspiring ‘Writing for Fame and Fortune.’ With 30 years of writing to pay the bills, satisfy the dream police and otherwise make stuff up, I’ve found myself looking out at that desert road. In the rear view mirror are all the writers I’ve met along the way, and others I’m introduced to in the way that people with cancer or some other malady somehow find each other. As you know, I’m going to talk to all of them. Dead and Alive.
Hunter Thompson: Then this interview with Dead Hunter Thompson will be Continued.
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Hunter Thompson on Conan O’Brien.
Hunter Thompson on Letterman.
And for good measure, Hunter Thompson talks on 9/11.