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Fear and Loathing in America

Hunter S. Thompson

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  Praise for Fear and Loathing in America

  “Thompson’s wicked humor, mixed with characteristic hubris, offers leaps of insight that it seems only he could unleash. He writes what others would fear to think, let alone lay down in such an unbridled manner.”

  —Rocky Mountain News

  “Hunter S. Thompson’s letters reveal a voice like no other, commenting on a stomping mad epoch. … These … letters are welcome, showing us as they do a great American original in his lair.”

  —Christopher Buckley, The New York Times Book Review

  “Thompson was after what F. Scott Fitzgerald called ‘the high white note,’ and this collection is a symphony of such celestial peaks of excitement, humor, and wisdom.”

  —Entertainment Weekly

  “What we have here is vintage Hunter S. Thompson, a literary orgy of wicked irreverence.”

  —The Boston Globe

  “Thompson should be recognized for contributing some of the clearest, most bracing, and fearless analysis of the possibilities and failures of American democracy in the past century. Reading through this latest collection of letters, one cannot but agree with him as he proclaims, ‘I am one of the best writers currently using the English language as both a musical instrument and a political weapon.’”

  —Chicago Tribune

  “This volume is a reunion with an American original. He hit the high notes out on the ragged edge, and thousands of us heard him above the canned din of the safe center. His war dances around the ‘truth’ mocked and exalted an era that was almost, but not quite, transformative.”

  —Los Angeles Times

  “The collection … stands as an extremely valuable historical document, and a testament to Thompson’s lasting importance as both a journalist and stylist.”

  —The Village Voice

  “Hunter Thompson is the most creatively crazy and vulnerable of the New Journalists. His ideas are brilliant and honorable and valuable … the literary equivalent of Cubism: all rules are broken.”

  —Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

  “His hallucinated vision strikes one as having been, after all, the sanest.”

  —Nelson Algren

  “He amuses; he frightens; he flirts with doom. His achievement is substantial.”

  —Garry Wills

  “There are only two adjectives writers care about anymore … ‘brilliant’ and ‘outrageous’ … and Hunter Thompson has a free-hold on both of them.”

  —Tom Wolfe

  Also by Hunter S. Thompson

  Hell’s Angels

  Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

  Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72

  The Great Shark Hunt

  The Curse of Lono

  Generation of Swine

  Songs of the Doomed


  Better Than Sex

  The Proud Highway

  The Rum Diary


  Rockefeller Center

  1230 Avenue of the Americas

  New York, NY 10020

  Copyright © 2000 by Hunter S. Thompson

  All rights reserved,

  including the right of reproduction

  in whole or in part in any form.

  This Simon & Schuster paperback edition 2006

  SIMON & SCHUSTER PAPERBACKS and colophon are registered trademarks

  of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  Designed by Katy Riegel

  Manufactured in the United States of America

  10 9 8

  The Library of Congress has cataloged the hardcover edition as follows:

  Thompson, Hunter S.

  Fear and loathing in America : the brutal odyssey of an outlaw journalist, 1968–1976/ Hunter S. Thompson ; foreword by David Halberstam ; edited by Douglas Brinkley.

  p. cm.

  1. Thompson, Hunter S.—Correspondence. 2. Journalists—United States—Correspondence. I. Brinkley, Douglas. II. Title.

  PN4874.T444 A3 2000




  ISBN-13: 978-0-684-87315-2

  ISBN-10: 0-684-87315-X

  ISBN-13: 978-0-684-87316-9 (Pbk)

  ISBN-10: 0-684-87316-8 (Pbk)

  eISBN-13: 978-1-439-12636-3

  To Oliver Treibick and Bob Braudis

  May you live in interesting times

  —ancient Chinese curse


  Foreword by David Halberstam

  Editor’s Note by Douglas Brinkley

  Author’s Note by Hunter S. Thompson


  Chicago: The Great American Slaughter-House … Public Murders & Private Beatings … Whipped Like a Dog with the Whole World Watching … Which Side Are You On? … Clandestine Meeting with Nixon, Coup de Grâce for the Sixties …


  The Battle of Aspen … Local Politics with a Vengeance, Death to the Greed-Heads … First Visit with Mescalito, Dangerous Fun with the Brown Buffalo … Death Trip to the White House, Nixon Über Alles …


  Thompson for Sheriff … The Freak Also Rises …Wild Victory in Horse Country, Disaster at the America’s Cup … Nixon’s Massacre at Kent State, the Nightmare of Ralph Steadman … Just How Weird Can You Stand It, Brother, Before Your Love Will Crack? …


  Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas … Queer Nights in the Circus-Circus, Drag-Racing on the Strip … Brown Power in East L.A., Tom Wolfe Flees to Italy … Invasion of the Jesus Freaks, a Generation Run Amok … Shrewd Advice from the Sports Desk …


  Freak Power Goes to Washington, Strategic Retreat into National Politics … Madness & Violence on the Sunshine Special … Getting to Know the White House, Learning to Fear Richard Nixon … Falling in Love on the Zoo Plane, Farewell Forever to Innocence …


  The Great Shark Hunt … Marlin Fishing in Mexico, Killing Time with the Oakland Raiders … Rookie of the Year in Washington, Rube of the Year in Hollywood … Waiting for Watergate, Hatching the Plot to Croak Nixon … The Curse of Sudden Fame …


  Back to Washington, Back to Work, Back to the Halls of the Evil Watergate Hotel … Collapse of the Nixon Empire, Revenge of the Brutal Freaks … Constant Travel, Constant Plotting, Summit Conference in Elko & Fateful First Meeting with Jimmy Carter … Senator Thompson from Colorado? …


  Last Dance in Saigon, End of the War in Vietnam, Conversations from the Garden of Agony …Touring the Orient for Money, Sex & Violence in Hong Kong, Last Memo from the Global Affairs Desk …


  Jimmy Carter & the Rise of the Rock & Roll Vote … Marijuana Goes to the White House …Crime Is the Long-Term Answer … Preferential Treatment for Journalists … Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride …

  The Fear and Loathing in America Honor Roll

  Chronological List of Letters


  About the Author

  About the Editor

  Foreword by David Halberstam

  I was both delighted and surprised by the request to write the Foreword to this collection of Hunter Thompson’s letters. Delighted because I am an unabashed fan of the Doctor, and I think his work is touched by genius and transcends mere journalism. Surprised because I am the u
ltimate literal reporter who comes from the opposite end of the spectrum, and my work could not be more different than his. I go where my interviews, my facts, and my anecdotes take me. Hunter, by contrast, goes where his instincts take him, and his instincts, as his work has proved to us over the years, have a certain brilliance to them.

  His truths are, I suspect, larger than the truths of most of the rest of us and allow him to be a man of Gonzo and yet have such a great resonance with the non-Gonzoists among us. He helps fill an immense vacuum in the world of journalism. For in America these days print journalism is in sharp decline, significantly more anemic than it was thirty-five years ago, and television journalism, more often than not, is a mockery of itself. We live in a communications society where image is more important than truth and spinning is our great new growth industry; even television reporters now have their own personal public relations people, the better, if not to spin their viewers and the ever admiring celebrity magazines, then at least to spin themselves on the value of what they do. Therefore in a culture like ours Hunter’s truths seem like laser beams cutting through the fog of lies and obfuscations, an industrialized man-made fog that is now so easily manufactured, bought, and paid for in the wealth of contemporary America. Hunter is fog immune. Or at least man-made fog immune.

  The moment when he wrote these letters is important. It is not the best of times in America. It is post-Tet, the Vietnam War is winding down, the Democratic Party is badly divided, the backlash against a more optimistic liberalism that marked the Civil Rights movement is growing. Watergate is just taking place and the violations of constitutional rights that it represents, violations of the rights of ordinary citizens at the order of the president of the United States, will not come as any great surprise to many people. Tensions in society abound, over the war, over race, and over class. Literal journalism often seems inadequate, facts seem futile to many people. All in all, it is fertile time for someone with a sensibility like Hunter’s. Not surprisingly, his work is becoming more widely admired and his truths often seem more real than the facts accumulated by most traditional reporters. He is working on a mother lode that he is sure is out there, a darkness of the spirit.

  There are endless letters going back and forth between him and his loving and admiring book editor, Jim Silberman, on something that he wants to do but cannot quite get his hands on, a book on the Death of the American Dream. It was a book that somehow eluded him, though of course, it is there in almost everything he wrote before, during, and after that time. But for the moment it is hard going. In December 1969, he writes a friend named Steve Geller about how hard it all is: “All of which reminds me that I’m many months overdue with that wonderful Random House offering called ‘The Death of the American Dream.’ I hate to spend 3 yrs writing a pile of worthless shit, but that’s what I’m into—a sophomore jinx on all fronts. I’ve done everything I can to put it off, but now—stone broke again—I don’t see any way out. Just write the fucker and clear the decks … take the beating and play counter-puncher. Fuck them … This is really a stinking way to have to make a living.”

  This collection of letters is instructive in a number of ways. I think the first is the passion of the young Hunter Thompson to be someone, his absolute certainty of the value of his talent, his unyielding faith in himself in a world whose editors had not always deigned to recognize his talents. He knows that he is gifted, he is sure that he knows things about reporting that they do not, he knows he cannot do it any other way. He is absolutely sure that he has a right to be published, and that they have an obligation to publish him. Besides, there is no other way to go. To one of his favorite editors, a gifted young man at Playboy named David Butler, who had made suggestions about how to make a piece more publishable (and salable), he wrote: “I’m pretty well hooked on my own style—for good or for ill—and the chances of changing it now are pretty dim. A journalist into Gonzo is like a junkie or an egg-sucking dog; there is no known cure.”

  Looking back at what he did, reading these letters now (and the previous volume, The Proud Highway), I think there is a certain invincibility to Hunter that shows in both collections. Even when no one else yet realized it, he always knew he was the Great Hunter Thompson. That faith, it seems to me, is at the core of his work and his success.

  His voice is sui generis. He is who he is. No one created Hunter other than Hunter. Somehow he found his voice, and he knew, before anyone else, that it was special. It is not to be imitated, and I can’t think of anything worse than for any young journalist to try to imitate Hunter. That’s the price of being an original. There’s room for only one on the ark. The other thing these letters reveal is how hard it is to be an original. He could not be anything else, not like some of his would-be successors, who came and tried to do what he did for a brief once-around-the-track tour and then ventured out to Hollywood for their just reward as screenwriters. There was no easy niche for him, not then, not now. Hunter is many things but one thing he is not is a cynic. He had to do it his way. The financial rewards were and are minimal. His work does not bring Hollywood courting. In the period covered here, his constituency is just beginning to grow—in time he will be something of a cult figure, but hardcover readers are not exactly storming the barricades and pumping his books onto the best-seller lists. When you are an original, the way is often lonely, and the rewards come slowly. In those days he was doing wonderful work and getting very little back for it financially. Jim Silberman is endlessly patient and Jann Wenner to his credit was relatively good to Hunter, but the times were always hard, he was always fighting for a little more money and a little more respect from most editors. The IRS seems to be in constant pursuit, and he is always arguing with editors for his last check and for his expense accounts. If there is a melancholy series of letters in this book, it is a group that he wrote to a very wealthy man named Max Palevsky who had once loaned him $10,000 and was calling the loan in—with the use of lawyers. In these letters Hunter’s voice changes—it is not the feigned put-in-mock-combat, death-to-the-pigfuckers that is his normal manner; instead the words are those of a man truly pained by the unkindness of someone else.

  His taste is good and what he is always looking for in the work of others is the essential truth of their work. There is a letter in here to Selma Shapiro, the Random House publicity chief, in praise of an as yet unknown writer named Fred Exley who has just written a book called A Fan’s Notes, eventually to be designated a cult classic. Exley’s work, like much of Hunter’s writing, is iconic and hard to categorize. “There is something very good and right about it, hard to define,” Hunter writes of A Fan’s Notes. He debates with himself the pros and cons of Exley’s writing and then comes up with the reason he likes it: “I suppose it’s the truth-level, a demented kind of honesty.” Then he goes on a small riff about other writers who deal with class and racial tensions. “I’ve never paid much attention to the Black/Jew/Wasp problem; it strikes me as a waste of time and energy. My prejudice is pretty general, far too broad and sweeping for any racial limitations. It’s clear to me—and has been since the age of 10 or so—that most people are bastards, thieves and yes—even pigfuckers.”

  That is, I think, a very important passage, and perhaps the most revealing in the book—it shows what he is really about and what he is searching for, and why his work is so powerful. It’s all in the truths.

  David Halberstam

  New York

  August 9, 2000

  Editor’s Note by Douglas Brinkley

  Gentlemen, nature works in a mysterious way. When a new truth comes upon the earth, or a great idea necessary for mankind is born, where does it come from? Not from the police force or the prosecuting attorneys or the judges or the lawyers or the doctors; not there. It comes from the despised and the outcast; it comes perhaps from jails and prisons; it comes from men who have dared to be rebels and think their thoughts; and their fate has been the fate of rebels. This generation gives them graves while another builds th
em monuments; and there is no exception to it. It has been true since the world began, and it will be true no doubt forever.

  Clarence Darrow, 1920

  It was March 1967 and freelance journalist Hunter S. Thompson was in New York City on tour for Random House, which had published his first book, Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga, a brutal and eloquent account of the year he spent riding with the notorious biker gang, then a symbol of everything that made Middle America nervous. Overnight Thompson had become a literary enfant terrible, his book climbing onto best-seller lists. After appearing on NBC’s Today Show with host Hugh Downs, the chain-smoking Thompson had a singular request of his publicist, Selma Shapiro. “I insisted that we take a break from the grueling schedule for a few minutes,” Thompson recalled. “I was desperate to hear the just-released Jefferson Airplane album.”

  Together they found a record store on Madison Avenue that carried Surrealistic Pillow, a soaring soundtrack from the carnival-like streets of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, where Thompson had written Hell’s Angels and befriended the psychedelic band. While writing the book, he would often zoom through North Beach on his BSA Lightning motorcycle, park in front of The Matrix, and listen to the Airplane’s lead vocalist, Grace Slick, belt out rock classics like “White Rabbit.” It was Thompson, in fact, who had introduced The San Francisco Chronicle’s music critic, Ralph J. Gleason, to the Jefferson Airplane, insisting that they were as good as, if not better than, the Grateful Dead. Now, with Shapiro at his side, Thompson went into the store’s listening booth and spun the disk.

  “Upon hearing the first note I smiled,” Thompson recalled years later. “This was the triumph of the San Francisco people. We were all making it, riding a magical wave which we didn’t think would break.” Thompson kept dropping the stylus onto every track, anxious to hear a sampling of each cut. When he got to the fourth song—“Today”—he could no longer control his enthusiasm: “‘Hot damn, Selma,’ I remember saying. ‘You’ve been asking me pesky questions about what I think. Listen to this. Wow! I could have written these lyrics myself. Today is my time.’”