Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr Hunter S. Thompson (15)

Written and directed by Alex Gibney

Reviewed by Paul Littler

Hunter S. Thompson was a freak.

A thin, tall youth, he married quite young and went a bit astray while working on a story about the motorbike gangs who had emerged in the late 1940s, in America. He became 'embedded' amongst them, and spent a year of his life writing sensational, drug addled fantasms about their malignant lifestyle. This entente cordiale came to an abrupt end after Hunter confronted a gang member who began booting his dog, and viciously beating his wife. For his trouble, he was jumped on and thoroughly pummeled, causing him to cancel his conscription. In the resulting book (Hell's Angels, etc) Hunter had mythologised the leather clad gangsters, and had no doubt contributed to a substantial increase in their number.

Hunter S. had became a glutton for punishment and all those acid lunches eventually turned his writing style into gonzo-babble. There turned out to be a large market for it, because it became a way to say what needed to be said. Like Kesey, Crumb and O'Leary, his notoriety skyrocketed, he became a counterculture icon. He was doing drugs, firing guns, buzzing about on a BSA, and was renowned, for his hip-swinging, rock-n-rolling freakery. The anti establishment brigade loved him, but there were so many of his ilk around town at the time that he had to drive straight over the edge, just to keep an edge on his contemporaries.

Hunter S. was one of the leading lights of that elite yippie-hippy community who hung around the Ashbury Heights in San Francisco during those summers of drugs when, for a while, it looked like love and peace might sweep across the country and cause the warmongers to put away their weapons and declare a pax republic. Of course, like most fantasies, this one didn't last for long. The hippy fest was allowed to flourish for a while, to remedy the post JFK execution angst which inhabited the psyche of 1960s America. It kept the socially inclined quiet. Zonked out, while Malcolm X, Dr King, little Bob and co were parked asunder.

Hunter S. had been so out of it for so long that he'd begun to believe the hype and set about campaigning on behalf of Senator George McGovern, in the lead-up to the presidential election of ‘68. The Freudian psycho-selling machine had led him to believe that there was a chance that McGovern could implement what he'd said, when he put it about that; if he was elected, he would end the Vietnam War. Hadn't Nixon declared the same thing while plotting to undermine the Paris peace talks? For Hunter S., the real world came crashing in late that August, when he witnessed the level of police violence meted out against the anti-war demonstrators at the Democratic National Convention, when 23,000 officers of enforcement were let off their leash to violently crush the right to peacefully protest. Soon after the dust had settled, it became clear that, no less than 70% of the great American public believed it was a good thing to have given the peace loving yippies a fuckin good kicking. Then the same fools went and voted in Nixon, twice!

Of course, now we all know that Nixon and Crime Inc. were bosom buddies. We know where the heroin and the crack came from. We know why Malcolm X was silenced. Why they killed Martin Luther after he'd denounced their dirty war, and so on. But back then, the big surprise wasn't quite out of the bag. Just like the suffragette’s smoking habit, rebellion had been branded, and the sixtes were designed for them to tune in, turn on, and drop out, so they were less likely to pose any threat to the backroom boys. Instead, they ended up paying for the bombing campaign. I suspect that Sebastion Owl figured it all out in the end. But by then, he was all used up and ready to retire soon after all those chickens had come home to roost. Maybe he realised too late that America was just a nation of used car salesmen, who continually elect the baddest apples in the barrel, for no other reason than being promised a few more filthy dollars in tax cuts for their cross at the ballot box. Some might say he wasted a lot of time chasing fools around, trying to sanitise a cesspit with nothing more than a bucket or two of bleach. Hunter S. still remains a folk hero among those that know, even though he had his faults, because his heart was in the right place. Even though his legacy remains nothing more than a cartoon. He was a good egg...

Hunter S. finally gave up the ghost at the delicate age of 67, by blowing his brain out with a magnum, in a field, near his home farm at Woody Creek Colorado, at precisely 5:42 p.m on the 20th February 2005. RIP, Gonzo...

This is not a completely factual review. It is written in the spirit of Gonzo for which Mr Duke was widely acclaimed.

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