Friday, December 12, 2008

Gonzo: The Book

Between the research for the McWilliams and Ramparts books, I've spent a lot of time learning about Hunter Thompson. Toward the end of his life, I also spent some time trying to get him on the telephone to comment on Carey McWilliams, who helped put Thompson on the literary map. I even received instructions from Juan Thompson about how to entice his father to pick up the phone. (The method involved calling the fortified compound every hour starting at midnight.)

But it wasn't until I read Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson that I realized what those final months were like. Fanatical readers of this blog will recall that I admired William McKeen's bio as well as Alex Gibney's recent documentary film. But this oral history, pulled together by Jann Wenner and Corey Seymour, manages to be even more revealing, especially about the details of HST's life in Woody Creek. Lots of humor, high jinks, and high audacity here, but also a good deal of nuance and pathos. Highly recommended, even for Thompson aficionados.

I see that many reviewers regard this book as a hatchet job engineered by Jann Wenner. In that sense, it resembles one of my favorite books of the last decade, Paul Theroux's Sir Vidia's Shadow, a memoir of Theroux's multi-decade friendship with V.S. Naipaul. Some of that book's reviewers saw only treachery and betrayal there, but I saw an extraordinary portrait which, evidently, has been elaborated in Patrick French's new Naipaul biography, The World Is What It Is. In that case, Naipaul cooperated with French in what appears to be an effort to tell the truth--an intellectual's first obligation.

None of the Gonzo reviews I read faulted the book's accuracy. If some HST intimates see disloyalty here, I get that. I also understand why fans wouldn't want their HST fantasies challenged. But loyalty and fantasy, as important as they are, aren't terribly helpful when it comes to telling the truth--something HST valued.


At 2:44 PM , Blogger ♫ Ashley ♫ said...

During the KCSB fundraiser, one of the more popular gifts requested after listeners give a donation is the Gonzo documentary...that and a t-shirt.


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