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Fear and Loathing in America: The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist (Gonzo Letters Book 2) Kindle Edition
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|Book 2 of 2 in Gonzo Letters|
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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
OWL FARM -- WINTER OF '68:
1967 was the year of the hippy. As this is the last meditation I intend to write on that subject, I decided, while composing it, to have the proper background. So, in the same small room with me and my typewriter, I have two huge speakers and a 100 watt music amplifier booming out Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man." This, to me, is the Hippy National Anthem. It's an acid or LSD song -- and like much of the hippy music, its lyrics don't make much sense to anyone not "cool" or "with it" or "into the drug scene." I was living in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district when the word "hippy" was coined by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen -- who also came up with "beatnik," in the late 1950s -- so I figure I'm entitled to lean on personal experience in these things. To anyone who was part of that (post-beat) scene before the word "hippy" became a national publicity landmark (in 1966 and 1967), "Mr. Tambourine Man" is both an epitaph and a swan-song for the lifestyle and the instincts that led, eventually, to the hugely-advertised "hippy phenomenon."
Bob Dylan was the original hippy, and anyone curious about the style and tone of the "younger generation's" thinking in the early 1960s has only to play his albums in chronological order. They move from folk-whimsy to weird humor to harsh social protest during the time of the civil rights marches and the Mississippi summer protests of 1963 and '64. Then, in the months after the death of President Kennedy, Dylan switched from the hard commitments of social realism to the more abstract "realities" of neo-protest and disengagement. His style became one of eloquent despair and personal anarchism. His lyrics became increasingly drug-oriented, with double-entendres and dual meanings that were more and more obvious, until his "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" was banned by radio stations from coast to coast...mainly because of the chorus line saying "Everybody must get stoned...."
By this time he was a folk hero to the "under thirty generation" that seemed to be in total revolt against everything their elders were trying to believe in. By this time, too, Dylan was flying around the country -- from one sold-out concert to another -- in his private jet plane, worth about $500,000. His rare press conferences were jammed by reporters who treated them more like an audience with a Wizard than a question and answer session with an accidental public figure. At the same time, Dylan's appearance became more and more bizarre. When he began singing in Greenwich Village about 1960 his name was Bob Zimmerman and he looked like a teen-age hobo in the Huck Finn tradition...or like the Nick Adams of the early Hemingway stories. But by 1965 he had changed his last name to Dylan & was wearing shoulder-length hair and rubber-tight, pin-stripe suits that reflected the colorful & sarcastically bisexual image that was, even then, becoming the universal style of a sub-culture called "hippies."
This focus on Dylan is no accident. Any culture -- and especially any sub-culture -- can be at least tentatively defined by its heroes...and of all the hippy heroes, Bob Dylan was first and foremost. He appeared at a time when Joan Baez was the Queen Bee of that world of the young and alienated...but unlike Joanie, who wrote none of her own songs and preferred wistful ballads to contemporary drug anthems, Dylan moved on to become the voice of an anguished and half-desperate generation. Or at least that part of a generation that saw itself as doomed and useless in terms of the status-quo, business-as-usual kind of atmosphere that prevailed in this country as the war in Vietnam went from bad to worse and the United States, in the eyes of the whole world's "under thirty generation," seemed to be drifting toward a stance of vengeful, uncontrolled militarism.
The fact that this viewpoint wasn't (and still isn't) universal deserves a prominent mention, but it has little to do with the hippies. They are a product of a growing disillusion with the military/industrial realities of life in these United States, and in terms of sheer numbers, they represent a minority that doubles and triples its numbers every year. By 1967 this minority viewpoint had emerged, full-blown, in the American mass media...and it obviously had a powerful appeal -- at least to the publishers, editors and reporters who measured the public taste and found it overwhelmingly ready for a dose of hippy articles. The reason for this is the reason the hippies exist -- not necessarily because of any inherent worth of their own, but because they emphasize, by their very existence, the same uneasy vacuum in American life that also gave birth to the beatniks some ten years earlier. Not even the people who think all hippies should be put in jail or sent to the front-lines in Vietnam will quarrel with what is usually accepted as the Hippy Ethic -- Peace, Love, and Every Man for Himself in a Free-Wheeling Orgy of Live and Let Live.
The hippies threatened the establishment by dis-interring some of the most basic and original "American values," and trying to apply them to life in a sprawling, high-pressure technocracy that has come a long way, in nearly 200 years, from the simple agrarian values that prevailed at the time of the Boston Tea Party. The hippies are a menace in the form of an anachronism, a noisy reminder of values gone sour and warped...of the painful contradictions in a society conceived as a monument to "human freedom" and "individual rights," a nation in which all men are supposedly "created free and equal"...a nation that any thinking hippy will insist has become a fear-oriented "warfare state" that can no longer afford to tolerate even the minor aberrations that go along with "individual freedom."
I remember that pre-hippy era in San Francisco as a good, wild-eyed, free-falling time when everything seemed to be coming out right. I had an exciting book to write, and a publisher to pay for it, and a big chrome-red motorcycle to boom around the midnight streets wearing a sweatshirt and cut-off levis and wellington boots, running from angry cop cars on the uphill blocks of Ashbury st, doubling back suddenly and running 90 miles an hour up Masonic toward the Presidio...then gearing down, laughing, on the twisting black curves with the white line leading through the middle of that woodsy fortress, past the MP shack out to the crowded lights on Lombard st, with the cold Bay and the yacht club and Alcatraz off to the left and all the steep postcards of cable car San Francisco looking down from the other side. Getting off Lombard to avoid the lights and roaring down Union st, past the apartment where that girl used to live and wondering who's up there now, then around the corner by the dentist's office (and I still owe that man two hundred and eleven dollars. Pay him off, pay all those old debts...who else do I owe? Send a bill, you bastards. I want to flush those beggar memories...).
Around the corner and down a few blocks on Union to the Matrix, a blank-looking place on the right, up on the sidewalk and park between those two small trees, knowing the cops will come around yelling and trying to ticket the bike for being off the street (Park that motorcycle in the gutter, boy...). Maybe seeing Pete Knell's orange chopper parked in that gutter. Pete was then the talking spirit of the Frisco Angels and later president of that doomed and graceless chapter...sometimes he played a banjo in the Drinking Gourd up on Union, but that was before he became a fanatic.
The Matrix, womb of the Jefferson Airplane. They owned part of the club when it still served booze, and maybe they own it all now. They've rolled up a lot of points since that night when I reeled through the door with no money, muttering "Jerry Anderson invited me," and then found Jerry somewhere in back, listening to his wife Signe wailing out in front of the Airplane's half-formed sound. Signe with the trombone voice, and Marty Balin polishing his eternal signature song that he titled, for some wrong reason, "And I Like It." I recall telling Jerry, while he paid for my beer, that this Jefferson Airplane thing was a surefire famous money bomb for everybody connected with it...and later calling Ralph Gleason, the Chronicle's special pleader, to tell him the Airplane was something worth hearing. "Yeah, sure," he said. "People keep telling me about these groups; I try to check em out -- you know how it is." Sure, Ralph...not knowing if he remembered that about a year earlier I'd pushed another group on him, a group that almost immediately got a record contract without help and then exploded into oblivion when Davy, the lead singer, choked to death on his own vomit in an elegant house on the beach in Carmel.
But about a year after the Airplane opened at the Matrix, Gleason wrote the notes for their first record jacket.
The Jefferson Airplane is another key sound from that era -- like Dylan and the Grateful Dead. And Grace Slick, who made even the worst Matrix nights worth sitting through. In that era she was carrying a hopeless group called The Great Society, which eventually made it by croaking the group and going off in different directions. But Grace Slick was always my best reason for going to the Matrix. I would sit back in the corner by the projection booth and watch her do all those things that she later did with the Airplane and for LOOK magazine, but which seemed so much better then, because she was her own White Rabbit....I was shocked to learn she was married to the drummer. But I got a lot of shocks in that era...my nerves were pretty close to the surface and everything registered. It's hard to understand now, why "things seemed to be coming out right." But I remember that feeling, that we were all making it somehow. And the only one around who had already made it was Ken Kesey, who seemed to be working overtime to find the downhill tube. Which he eventually did, and I recall some waterhead creep accusing me (in the L.A. Free Press) of "giving away" Kesey's secret address in Par... --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
- Publisher : Simon & Schuster (September 27, 2011)
- ASIN : B005HF437O
- Publication date : September 27, 2011
- Print length : 1418 pages
- Word Wise : Enabled
- File size : 3986 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Language: : English
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #793,592 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
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Top reviews from the United States
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In those earlier reviews (especially Hell's Angels, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Fear and Loathing On Campaign 1972, and Songs of The Doomed) I began with some generic comments applicable to all his work and they apply here as well so I will recycle them and intersperse additional comments about this book as well.
"Generally the most the trenchant social criticism, commentary and analysis complete with a prescriptive social program ripe for implementation has been done by thinkers and writers who work outside the realm of bourgeois society, notably socialists and other progressive thinkers. Bourgeois society rarely allows itself, in self-defense or hidebound fear, to be skewered by trenchant criticism from within. This is particularly true when it comes from a known dope fiend, gun freak and all-around lifestyle addict like the late, lamented Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. Nevertheless, although he was far from any thought of a socialist solution to what ails society, particularly American society, and would reject such a political designation we of the extra-parliamentary could travel part of the way with him. We saw him as a kindred spirit. He was not one of us- but he was one of us. All honor to him for pushing the envelope of journalism in new directions and for his pinpricks at the hypocrisy of bourgeois society. Such men are dangerous.
I am not sure whether at the end of the day Hunter Thompson saw himself or wanted to been seen as a voice, or the voice, of his generation but he would not be an unworthy candidate. In any case, his was not the voice of the generation of 1968 being just enough older than us to have been formed by an earlier, less forgiving milieu. The hellhole, red scare, cold war night in all its infamy that even singed my generation. His earliest writings show that shadow night blanket, the National Observer stuff, well-written but mainly "objective" stuff that a thousand other guys were writing (and were getting better paid for). Nevertheless, only a few, and with time it seems fewer in each generation, allow themselves to search for some kind of truth even if they cannot go the whole distance. This compilation under review is a hodgepodge of letters over the best part of Thompson's career, 1968-76.
As with all journalists, as indeed with all writers especially those who are writing under the gun and for mass circulation media, these letters reveal the tremendous time pressures put on writers under contractual publishing deadlines, the ridiculous amount of time spent trying to "hustle" one's work around the industry even by a fairly well-known writer , the creative processes behind specific works (particularly the Fear and Loathing books) as outlined in several letters, including some amusing "cut and paste" efforts to use one article to serve about six purposes , and horror of horrors, damn writer's block (or ennui). Some of these letters are minor works of art; others seem to have been thrown in as filler. However the total effect is to show the back story of a guy who blasted old bourgeois society almost to its foundations. Others will have to push on further.
"Gonzo" journalism as it emerges in the crucible of these letters, by the way, is quite compatible, with historical materialism. That is, the writer is not precluded from interpreting the events described within himself/herself as an actor in the story. The worst swindle in journalism, fostered by the formal journalism schools, as well as in other disciplines like history and political science is that somehow one must be `objective.' Reality is better served if the writer puts his/her analysis correctly and then gets out of the way. In his best work that was Hunter's way. And that premise shines through some of these letters.
As a member of the generation of 1968 I would note that this was a period of particular importance which won Hunter his spurs as a journalist. Hunter, like many of us, cut his political teeth on raging deep into the night against one Richard Milhous Nixon, at one time President of the United States, common criminal (unindicted, of course), and all- around political chameleon. Thompson went way out of his way, and with pleasure, skewering that man when Nixon was riding high. He was moreover just as happy to kick Nixon when he was down, just for good measure. Nixon represented the "dark side" of the American spirit- the side that appeared then, and today, as the bully boy of the world and as craven brute. If for nothing else Brother Thompson deserves a place in the pantheon of journalistic heroes for this exercise in elementary hygiene. Anyone who wants to rehabilitate THAT man before history please consult Thompson's work first. Hunter, I hope you find the Brown Buffalo wherever you are. Read this book. Read all his books to know what it was like when men and women plied the journalist trade for keeps.
According to a Simon & Schuster rep, there are only 300 of the special signed edition in existence. It is a reddish, leather-bound volume with the knife-and-fist Gonzo trademark imprinted on the front cover. The edges are gilt, making this edition look rather more like a bible then other, more familiar Steadman covers. Obviously designed for the dedicated fan of an American legend, this edition will occupy a prize position on your bookshelf, next to other HST works that you would be wise not to lend out.
Top reviews from other countries
Well I hadn't expected such a weight of paperback for the price (doorstop sized & attractively bound) so I dived in & was in Gonzo heaven straight from Hunter's introductory thoughts on speed, the vile Nixon & good ole Bob Dylan...
The letters range from personal, playful, desperate to damn right hilarious & smattered with customary bile stains where the recipitent required it! If you're not used to Hunter's style of writing & familiar with his compilations, eclectic as they are bizarre & adventurous then you may find Fear & Loathing in America a little daunting but if you can empathise with what was after all in Hunter's own words 'A brutal age of Nixon & Tet fuelled by speed & bad debt!', then it might all seem a little confusing or irrelevant. The sense of social & historic detail that is under discussion is nicely explained in a brief keynote at the start of every letter which is most helpful indeed.
Personally I'd submit full 5 marks overall as for the price paid & the quality of these most intimate pearls & I hope there are more to come. Gonzo never died, he only left the building!