Hunter S Thompson – Gonzo Renegade

“Good people drink good beer.”

The above quote, taken from the book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by maverick writer Hunter S Thompson, is a very good strap-line for any brewer. Hunter S ThompsonI suddenly remembered it on the back of a couple of other quotes from the same book that, fuelled by attempts to remedy an insane dose of man-flu with over the counter drugs, popped into my mind somewhat unbidden.

“We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold.”

“We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high powered blotter acid, a salt
 shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers… and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls.
Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.”

Maybe the Lemsip was stronger than I thought? Anyway, (Renegade Brewery do not condone drug taking in any way, even if you do share) it led me to the more appropriate beer quote, and consequently into thinking about the man and his work and pondering a trip to the local bookshop this weekend (yes we still buy books here at Renegade. And vinyl records. We like old tech as much as new tech) to reacquaint myself with it. Then it occurred, he was a great example of someone wholly imbued with a true renegade spirit, so I thought I should let you all know about him if he has passed you by before.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, on July 18, 1937, Hunter S. Thompson (the S stands for Stockton) is credited with creating “Gonzo journalism,” a highly personal style of reporting where writers becomes so involved in their stories that they wind up becoming central figures in them. Thompson’s father was an insurance agent who died while Thompson was in high school, and his mother was an alcoholic who was left penniless as a result, an upbringing that may have influenced his hard-driving lifestyle, which included the steady use of illicit drugs and an ongoing love affair with firearms that made him a perpetual counterculture icon with college students. A natural prankster and troublemaker, Thompson was arrested as a teenager, along with two friends, for stealing a man’s wallet. Given the choice of prison or the military, in 1956 Thompson joined the United States Air Force.

Thompson got his first exposure to journalism as a sports editor for an Air Force newspaper at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. After being honorably discharged in 1957, he pursued journalism as a career and landed a series of jobs at a variety of small-town newspapers, as well as a short stint as a copy boy at Time magazine.

Thompson later said that “Gonzo journalism” was born while he was trying to piece together a story about the Kentucky Derby on deadline. The resulting rambling first-person story, “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” which was more about the experience of watching the race rather than the actual race, was published in Scanlan’s Monthly in June 1970. At the time, the piece was hailed as a breakthrough in journalism. Thompson was inundated with fan mail and phone calls, which he said was like “falling down an elevator shaft and landing in a pool of mermaids.”

Fueled by alcohol and drugs, Thompson was always on the lookout for a story and was especially interested in anything that would skewer what he saw as America’s hypocrisy. He chronicled the cultural shift occurring in America during the late 1960s and 1970s Hunter S Thompson gunand was not only a cultural observer, but also a participant and a central part of his stories.  Thompson unsuccessfully ran for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado, on the “Freak Power” ticket in 1970. His story about the campaign, “The Battle of Aspen,” was his first of many contributions to Rolling Stone where he was national affairs editor of the magazine until 1999.

In 1959, Thompson began writing his first novel, based on his experience working as a freelance journalist in Puerto Rico. Titled The Rum Diary, it would not be published until 1998. In his first book, Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga, published in 1967, Thompson, in typical Gonzo journalism style, chronicled his time infiltrating the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang. “I was no longer sure whether I was doing research on the Hell’s Angels or being slowly absorbed by them,” he wrote of the experience.

What began as an assignment for Sports Illustrated in 1971 turned into his most enduring work –  Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, a bestselling book based on Thompson’s drug-fueled journey through Las Vegas whilst he was meant to be reporting on The Mint 400, a desert motorbike race . Both a critical and commercial success, in 1998 the book was adapted into a film directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Benicio del Toro and Johnny Depp, a big Thompson fan. (Depp later starred in the 2011 film version of The Rum Diary.) Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, a collection of Thompson’s writings for Rolling Stone about the 1972 presidential campaign, was published in early 1973.

Thompson was notorious for his beautifully outrageous antics, anti-authoritarian attitude and unconventional reporting style. Sent to Zaire in 1974 to cover the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” fight between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali, Thompson skipped the boxing match and instead spent his time floating in the hotel pool, into which he had tossed a pound and a half of marijuana.

After several bouts of poor health, Thompson shot himself on February 20, 2005, at his compound in Woody Creek, Colorado, near Aspen. In August 2005, in a private ceremony commemorating his life, Thompson’s ashes were shot from a cannon to the tune of the original Folk Music Renegade Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.”