As I turned, or rather, limped, into the last ten pages of this exhausting book, a guy that happened to be standing nearby said, “Oh, nice! How is it?” I looked up and realized that he was asking me about the book. “I like it, really funny.” I’m not big on talking when I’m trying to read. The guy is a coworker of mine. He says, “Do you think I could borrow it when you finish. I really want to read it.” He was ecstatic when I told him, sure, why not? Before he walked away he added, “Hunter is one of my heroes.” As he was leaving I thought, shit, that’s terrifying.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is, like I said, exhausting. I don’t mean this is any derogatory sense. It sure as hell isn’t slow. At times, I was laughing my ass off while in complete disbelief. The back cover of the book has a passage, now immortalized in the Terry Gilliam, Johnny Depp movie adaptation, where Hunter S. Thompson reads off a grocery list of drugs that makes the reader’s head spin. Seriously, how the hell did they take all of this shit and not die before writing one of the handbooks for the American counterculture? And then from there, Hunter and his “attorney” just snowball. And then they snowball. And then when you think one of them has to die or go to jail, or maybe they just burn out or run out of drugs, something outrageous happens again!
Though Thompson didn’t coin the term “gonzo journalism,” there simply is no other writer that comes to mind first when the term is used. This is gonzo journalism in its purest sense. This is not some pansy, Tom Wolfe, Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test sideline observations. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is an account of psychedelic drug use, by a psychedelic drug user, on psychedelic drugs. DRUGS! If you’re going to read this book, you better get used to the idea that there is going to be A LOT OF DAMN DRUGS! If that’s your bag, then great. Have fun.
The thing though, is that Thompson was coming late to the party, something that he himself points out towards the end of the book. The idea of expanding one’s mind through the use of psychoactive drugs and all that Timothy Leary shit was starting to go out of style, as were the drugs themselves. And that is where the true beauty of the gonzo style comes into play here. Hunter Thompson was not trying to flout his expanding, drug-addled mind. He was trying to scare the shit out of us. Or me at least. I laughed a lot while he vomited in shoes and threatened hotel maids, but believe me, it was a laugh of disbelief.
A great deal of people like to disregard the subtitle of the book: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. Savage indeed. Like I said, you want drug fueled anecdotes, you’re going to get them, but there is something within the pages of this book that begs for a deeper look. There really is an edge to this book that is deeper than dudes dropping acid in Vegas. It is really a great tradition in american literature, dating back to Gatsby, and further. It isn’t the firm grasp on the American Dream, its the finger tips just fluttering past whatever that enigma is that we have been searching for, for the past 238 years. In 1971, this is what that looked like: “In a closed society where everybody’s guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity.” (Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas)