Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone: The Essential Hunter S. ThompsonHunter S. Thompson
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Thompson, Hunter S.
Fear and loathing at Rolling stone : the essential writing of
Hunter S. Thompson / edited and with a foreword by Jann S. Wenner
and with an introduction by Paul Scanlon.
I. Wenner, Jann. II. Rolling stone (San Francisco, Calif.) III. Title.
ISBN 978-1-4391-7023-6 (ebook)
Foreword by Jann S. Wenner
Introduction by Paul Scanlon
The Battle of Aspen: Freak Power in the Rockies
October 1, 1970
Strange Rumblings in Aztlan: The Murder of Ruben Salazar
April 29, 1971
Memo from the Sports Desk: The So-Called “Jesus Freak” Scare
September 2, 1971
Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, Part II . . . by Raoul Duke
November 25, 1971
The Campaign Trail: Is This Trip Necessary?
January 6, 1972
The Campaign Trail: The Million-Pound Shithammer
February 3, 1972
The Campaign Trail: Fear and Loathing in New Hampshire
March 2, 1972
The Campaign Trail: The View from Key Biscayne
March 16, 1972
The Campaign Trail: The Banshee Screams in Florida
April 13, 1972
The Campaign Trail: Bad News from Bleak House: Total Failure in Milwaukee . . . with a Few Quick Thoughts on the Shocking Victory of Double-George . . .
April 27, 1972
The Campaign Trail: More Late News from Bleak House
May 11, 1972
The Campaign Trail: Crank-Time on the Low Road
June 8, 1972
The Campaign Trail: Fear and Loathing in California: Traditional Politics with a Vengeance
July 6, 1972
The Campaign Trail: In the Eye of the Hurricane
July 20, 1972
The Campaign Trail: Fear & Loathing in Miami: Old Bulls Meet the Butcher
August 17, 1972
The Campaign Trail: More Fear and Loathing in Miami: Nixon Bites the Bomb
September 28, 1972
The Campaign Trail: The Fat City Blues
October 26, 1972
Ask Not for Whom the Bell Tolls . . .
November 9, 1972
Memo from the Sports Desk & Rude Notes from a Decompression Chamber in Miami
August 2, 1973
Fear and Loathing at the Watergate: Mr. Nixon Has Cashed His Check
September 27, 1973
Fear and Loathing at the Super Bowl
February 28, 1974
Fear and Loathing in Limbo: The Scum Also Rises
October 10, 1974
Interdicted Dispatch from the Global Affairs Desk
May 22, 1975
Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’76: Third-Rate Romance, Low-Rent Rendezvous
June 3, 1976
Fear & Loathing in the Graveyard of the Weird: The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat
December 15, 1977
Last Tango in Vegas: Fear and Loathing in the Near Room and the Far Room
May 4 and May 18, 1978
A Dog Took My Place
July 21, 1983
The Taming of the Shrew
May 30, 1991
Fear and Loathing in Elko
January 23, 1992
Mr. Bill’s Neighborhood
September 17, 1992
Letter to William Greider
January 27, 1994
He Was a Crook
June 16, 1994
Polo Is My Life: Fear and Loathing in Horse Country
December 15, 1994
Memo from the National Affairs Desk. To: Dollar Bill Greider
August 24, 1995
Memo from the National Affairs Desk. To: Jann S. Wenner.
August 8, 1996
The Shootist: A Short Tale of Extreme Precision and No Fear
September 18, 1997
Memo from the National Affairs Desk: More Trouble in Mr. Bill’s Neighborhood
March 19, 1998
Hey Rube! I Love You: Eerie Reflections on Fuel, Madness & Music
May 13, 1999
The Fun-Hogs in the Passing Lane
November 11, 2004
Postscript: Letter from HST to JSW
Jann S. Wenner
The record shows that in 1970 we published Hunter S. Thompson’s “The Battle of Aspen”; in 1971 he wrote about the stirrings of Mexican unrest in East Los Angeles, featuring a fiery lawyer named Oscar Zeta Acosta, who later that year emerged as Dr. Gonzo in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”
In 1972, we began nonstop coverage of the Nixon-McGovern presidential campaign. Hunter took over my life then—and for many years after that when he was reporting (long, nocturnal telephone calls and frequent all-night strategy sessions), and especially when he was writing.
After “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” everything else he wrote was a full-on siege. Setting up the assignment was easy—Hunter was pretty much welcome everywhere and had the skills and instincts to run a presidential campaign if he had wanted. But then came the travel arrangements: hotels, tickets, researchers, rental cars. Later in the process, finding a place for him to hunker down and write—The Seal Rock Inn, Key West, Owl Farm, preferably isolated and with a good bar. Flying in IBM Selectric typewriters with the right typeface; booze and drugs (usually he had this part already done); arranging for a handler-assistant at his end. Back at Rolling Stone, I had to be available to read and edit copy as it came in eight-to-ten-page bursts via the Xerox telecopier (the Mojo Wire), a primitive fax using telephone lines that had a stylus that printed onto treated, smelly paper (at a rate of seven minutes per page). I had to talk to Hunter for hours, then track and organize the various scenes and sections. He would usually begin writing in the m
iddle, then back up or skip around to write what he felt good about at the moment, reporting scenes that might fit somewhere later, or spinning out total fantasies (“Insert ZZ” or “midnight screed”) that would also find a place—parts that were flights of genius. Generally the lede was easy, describing the invariably dramatic weather wherever he was writing from. Then a flurry of headlines and chapter headings and the transitions he had to produce on demand to create the flow and logic, and always, sooner or later, the conclusion, which we always called “the Wisdom.”
He liked to work against a crisis, and if there wasn’t a legitimate one, he made one. We never had a fight about the editing. I never tried to change or “improve” him, but since I had a pretty deep understanding of his style and his motives, I could tell where he was going and sit at his side and read the map to him. If I didn’t personally supervise everything he wrote for Rolling Stone, he wouldn’t finish. It was a bit like being a cornerman for Ali. Editing Hunter required stamina, but I was young, and this was once in a lifetime, and we were both clear on that.
We were deep into politics and shared the same ambition to have a voice in where the country was going (thus the “National Affairs Desk”). We became partners in this as well, as mad as it may have seemed at the time—a rock-and-roll magazine and a man known for writing about motorcycle gangs, joining forces to change the country. We used to read aloud what he had just written, get to certain phrases or sentences, and just exclaim to each other, “Hot fucking damn.” It was scorching, original, and it was fun. He was my brother in arms.
Now those days are gone. I still feel deeply in debt to him, and I never seem to stop working for him. And so it goes. And here we are publishing yet another volume of his work.
After Hunter’s death, we produced a special tribute issue of Rolling Stone based on memories and vignettes from nearly a hundred of his friends, colleagues, and coconspirators. It took ten days, with a half-dozen editors working around the clock against a hellacious deadline, and once again we were in service to Hunter S. Thompson, busting our asses on his behalf. He had again touched us in some magical, unforgettable way, even affecting those on our staff who had never met him.
That special issue was commissioned as a full-length book, Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson, a one-hundred-fifty-thousand-word oral history. For now it stands as the definitive Hunter S. Thompson biography, and an essential companion to any understanding of his work and life; I edited it word by word, with much devotion.
I’ve always thought that Hunter had, in a sense, written his own autobiography in the pages of Rolling Stone, and that if there was a way to take his collected work and edit it properly, there would emerge a narrative of Hunter’s great and wild life, a story about himself, who was, after all, his own greatest character.
This notion was among the things I discussed with Paul Scanlon, who was my trusted right-hand man and managing editor for many of our San Francisco years, when we sat down to edit this book. Paul knows the Rolling Stone lore thoroughly, was a tasteful and meticulous editor, and was a natural to work with me on this comprehensive look at Hunter’s years with the magazine.
We’ve also included some correspondence between Hunter S. Thompson and me (actually a very small sample), as well as a couple of thoughtful—and hilarious—memos to the staff that bring yet another subtext and flavor to the arc of his work. Hunter lived a great life of genius, talent, and righteousness. It is reflected in these pages.
FEAR and LOATHING
at ROLLING STONE
When I first met Hunter S. Thompson in 1971, I didn’t know what to expect. I was familiar with his work, of course, and had read the wonderful account of his campaign to become sheriff of Pitkin County (Aspen), Colorado, in the pages of Rolling Stone. He had been in Los Angeles working on a piece about the murder of newspaperman Ruben Salazar. There had been talk—very vague talk—about his writing something about Las Vegas. Then, one fine spring day, he appeared in Rolling Stone’s San Francisco office. For me, and the magazine, nothing would ever be quite the same.
If you were a progressively minded college student in the 1960s, certain books were required reading: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, A Confederate General from Big Sur and Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan, The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe, and Hell’s Angels by Hunter S. Thompson.
As an undergraduate majoring in journalism, I was drawn to the writing of Wolfe and a few others who were practicing what was not yet being called the “New Journalism.” It’s funny, but even at an überliberal school like San Francisco State, there was a schism—what was known in the day as a “generation gap”—between faculty and students over this new kind of writing. Our professors considered Wolfe and his ilk poseurs, inspiring some kind of journalistic vaudeville by applying fictional techniques to reporting. We thought our instructors intended to mold us into drones, destined to carve out careers at small-town dailies.
I guess it was my junior year when I pulled a copy of The Nation from the student lounge magazine rack and had my first encounter with the writing of Hunter Thompson. It was the first of his two-part report on traveling with the Hells Angels. The outlaw motorcycle club’s Oakland chapter was a fixture in the Bay Area. Encountering a group of Angels was not uncommon, especially after they embraced LSD and began hanging out at dance-rock concerts in places like the Fillmore Auditorium and Winterland. Big Brother and the Holding Company became their “official” band. The rule of thumb was simple if you were nearby: keep your distance and try not to make eye contact. Even in their brief, acid-drenched benign phase, the Angels were downright scary, clearly capable of unpredictable violence.
So it was a revelation to me that there was a writer who could figure out a way to win their trust and run with these characters. Hunter Thompson clearly had the smarts and the courage to do so. Or he was a hell of a salesman and a little bit crazy. Whatever. That early installment in The Nation convinced me he was the real deal. Later that day, I wondered aloud to my fellow campus newspaper staffers what our faculty advisers would make of him.
Rolling Stone in the early 1970s was an exciting place to be. Social, cultural, and political unrest was in the air and we tried to cover that turbulence in ways that newspapers and newsweeklies did not. I was the managing editor for many of those years and was fortunate to work with some of the finest journalists in the land, including several on the magazine’s masthead. My colleagues were a gifted bunch of renegades who had served apprenticeships in places like the Los Angeles Times, the New York Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and the Wall Street Journal. Two of our most talented staffers came from the creative writing programs of San Francisco State and Stanford. Our first copy chief, who kept the place from coming unglued every two-week publishing cycle, was a Middle East scholar who had once roomed with Owsley Stanley III. We all shared a disdain for traditional, mainstream journalism and a penchant for hard work.
When Hunter entered our ranks he quickly became, in many ways, our team leader. He had already established his credentials as an outlaw journalist, and the Salazar piece would demonstrate his investigative zeal.
You had to like the guy. I think some of it came from his innate Southern charm and the contradictory fact that he was, well, a little shy. He was in town that spring to work on “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Part I,” and had set up shop in the basement of Jann Wenner’s house. His visits to the office, a converted downtown warehouse with lots of exposed brick and wooden beams, were infrequent, but always memorable. Hunter was a big, hulking but graceful guy who clearly had charisma, and we responded to it.
Standing about six-foot-two, usually clad in khaki shorts, high-topped sneakers, a baseball cap, and either a parka or a safari jacket, he’d amble into the office with a bowlegged quickstep, making the zigzagging, seriocomic, dramatic entranc
e we had come to expect. There was a big, round oak table in the middle of the editorial department, a sort of central gathering spot, where he’d plop down his leather rucksack, open it, and wordlessly proceed to remove the contents, which varied, but usually included something edible, like a grapefruit, a carton of Dunhills, a large police flashlight, a bottle of Wild Turkey, and a can of liquid Mace.
Next, he’d open his mouth and speak. I called it “Hunter-ese.” His delivery was something akin to a lawn sprinkler or a Gatling gun, a rapid-fire baritone mumble that was hard to understand at first. But once you caught on to the rhythms, you realized he was spitting out perfect sentences.
Late one morning, Hunter came in and handed some manuscript pages to a couple of editors and me, then turned and motored out with nary a word. He had given us copies of the first section of “Vegas,” and by late afternoon most of the staff had read and digested them. We were flat knocked out. Between fits of laughter we ran our favorite lines back and forth to one another: “One toke? You poor fool. Wait until you see those goddamned bats!” Delivered in Hunter-ese, of course.
Between bouts of serious writing there was the usual goofing off and troublemaking. There were evenings of drug-fueled adventures that left more than a few staffers dazed and worn out. There were interesting characters who were part of his—and subsequently our—orbit, including Oscar Zeta Acosta, who was the model for the “three-hundred-pound Samoan attorney” in “Vegas,” and his sometimes sidekick, a fellow named Savage Henry.
Early on we became familiar with Hunter’s penchant for fright wigs, bizarre recordings of animals in their death throes that would somehow find their way onto the office public address system, and novelty store pranks. One evening Jann invited a few of us over to his place on some pretext or other. We walked in and saw Hunter standing there in a torn tie-dyed T-shirt covered in red splotches. Brandishing what looked like a giant horse syringe, he announced that he was going to inject 151 proof rum directly into his navel. He then jammed the “needle” into his belly and doubled over as he let out a series of wails and groans. One of my companions almost fainted.