Like many who become enamored with the work (and life) of Hunter S. Thompson, my own fascination began in the early 90s around the age of fifteen. And like many, the initial attraction had more to do with the outsize caricature of the man and his exploits than his prowess behind his IBM Selectric. And while the outlaw tales of drugs, decadence and depravity may have been the initial hook, it was Thompson’s use of language that kept me around and coming back. Whatever you care to call it, New Journalism, Gonzo, etc, Thompson’s approach was singular and refreshing. Having taken his own life in 2005, it’s an approach that has been sorely missed — none more so than during this latest election cycle and its present aftermath.
As such, I’ve been thinking about and re-reading Thompson’s political essays, which brings us to Fear & Loathing On The Road To Hollywood — a fifty-minute BBC / Omnibus production released in 1978. Directed by Nigel Finch, the documentary’s loose premise is one of catching up with Thompson and frequent collaborator, and British illustrator, Ralph Steadman as the two revisit the landscape that provided the background for Thompson’s breakout missive, 1971’s Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. The results are, if not smooth, interesting. During the road trip, events predictably go awry with Steadman playing the straight man to Thompson’s irrepressible id.
Yet the most interesting bits are the interviews scattered throughout, as Thompson wrestles with and attempts to reconcile his professional life with that of his alter-ego: Raoul Duke. Thompson opines “I’m really in the way, as a person. The myth has taken over. I myself am an appendage. I’m no longer necessary. I’m in the way. It’d be much better if I died.” It’s a conundrum the writer battled the remainder of his days, both consciously feeding into the mythology while wanting to be taken seriously. For in Thompson’s case, style never trumped substance — no matter how outlandish the modus operandi.