Saturday, 6 February 2016

Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas - Hunter S Thompson


For reasons too manifold to go into, he's a man after my own heart is Hunter S Thompson. For reasons of his own, sadly he left us in 2005 but at least his masterpiece, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, remains as his ode to excess and the joy of drugs taken exuberantly.

We've all been on dangerous drug binges and blinding drug benders, have we not? But how many of us actually remember anything from them, I wonder? It's like the old Woodstock adage: If you can remember it, then you weren't there. Which calls into question the authenticity of Hunter's story but then whether it's authentic or not isn't really the point because this is Gonzo journalism. You just need to buckle-up and enjoy the ride and then at a place of your choosing, unbuckle and float away free from the restraint of reality and simply go into freefall.

Were it not for the drugs element (and it's a major element), Fear And Loathing would perhaps have been a little boring, centering around a journalist and his attorney going to Las Vegas to report on a giant off-road dune-buggy and motorbike race called the Mint 400.
Attending or better still, participating in such an event might be good, or even just viewing photos or film of it come to that, but who would want to read about such a thing? The story zigzags into them also attending a National District Attorney's Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, an event it's hard to imagine would be much fun attending, participating in, or viewing photos or film of, let alone reading about. The introduction and massive consumption of drugs in the story, however, changes everything.
And of course, the drugs are introduced immediately in its famous opening line: 'We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold', which when it comes to opening lines of books is up there with Moby Dick's 'Call me Ishmael' and 1984's 'It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen'.

Grass, mescaline, acid, cocaine, uppers, downers, screamers, laughers, tequila, rum, beer, ether, opium, amyls, etc, etc. It's an impressive menu attacked with gusto and what I want to know is why this book isn't on the National Curriculum of every Secondary school in Britain for books to be read, rather than the likes of Animal Farm and Lord Of The Flies? Might it be considered too controversial? That it might be a bad influence upon kids? That it might corrupt them? If so, then whoever sets the Curriculum is seriously out of touch because Fear And Loathing is exactly the sort of book that would get kids away from their computer games and get them interested in reading. And that's a good thing, isn't it?

Importantly, beneath the lurid drug abuse there is a seriousness of intent in Hunter's tale; that being the quest of man to rise above the given and the accepted. The death of the Sixties Dream and the cause of it is pondered, taking in along the way Timothy Leary, Altamont, Sonny Barger and his Hells Angels, the drift away from uppers and LSD to downers and heroin, the prevalence of ignorance and the Dollar over consciousness expansion and life, the rush to self-preservation over experimentation and experience... and the breaking of waves...

There's no intrinsic value in gorging on drugs. It doesn't make you a better person but then neither does indulging in all that Las Vegas (as an example of gross Americana) has to offer. Drugs aren't 'cool', 'groovy' or 'hip' but neither are they 'square'. There's no need to mistrust anyone who's never done acid (as Julian Cope once suggested) but neither should those who have indulged be viewed in any way differently to any other sentient life form stalking this earth.
None of this alters the fact, however, that Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas is an exceptionally good book. A masterpiece.
                                                                                                                                                                             John Serpico


  1. A mainstay of everyone's library - well, in a perfect world it should be. Kingdom of Fear is also well worth a read - my favourite bit always being where our hero runs for mayor on a freak ticket and shaves all his hair off so he can refer to his Republican opponent as 'my long haired friend'...

    1. You are a man of discerning taste, Mr Bel Mondo.