Ask any person familiar with Hunter S. Thompson to name the first thing they think of upon hearing his name and you will get the full gamut of responses – from literary legend to hellraiser extraordinaire, author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and inspiration for Uncle Duke, loyal friend or sworn enemy. Yet one association always stands out – Sheriff of Aspen. In a life and career as remarkable as Thompson’s, his campaign for Sheriff of Aspen ranks close to the very top of his greatest achievements, as bizarre as it is unlikely, not to mention touched with the same genius as his most celebrated literary work. And Thompson lost the election.
Thompson memorably documented this campaign in “The Battle for Aspen“ – his first article for Rolling Stone magazine. Running under the Freak Power banner, Thompson demonstrated that Gonzo was far more than a literary technique. It was a philosophy, an approach to life that he unleashed upon an unsuspecting Colorado town, leaving the political establishment there utterly bamboozled. Though Thompson lost the battle that year, his campaign laid the foundations of a political alternative that ultimately won the war.
It seems all the more remarkable then, in light of the importance of Thompson’s campaign, that the story behind it has to date been largely untold. Sure there is Thompson’s account in Rolling Stone and various stories and anecdotes peppered throughout the numerous biographies and memoirs that have been released over the years. The overall impression however, was that this merely scratched the surface of what really happened, not to mention what the legacy of Thompson’s campaign was for the political landscape in Aspen.
The first taste of this larger story came back in 2011 with the release of Thomas Benton:Artist/Activist by DJ Watkins, which I previously reviewed here. In cataloguing Benton’s incredible work, Watkins scoured high and low in Aspen and beyond in search of his art, which threw up a veritable treasure trove of material relating to Benton’s collaboration with Thompson on the Aspen Wallposters and other political endeavours. Given the focus on Benton, Watkins opted to include only the Aspen Wallposters and a handful of other Gonzo material, the rest he set aside for future consideration. Thankfully he has spent the years since then delving into Thompson’s campaign and gathering material to produce the above book Freak Power: Hunter S. Thompson’s Campaign for Sheriff.
Make no mistake about it, this is one of the most significant publications to date concerning Hunter S. Thompson. The book contains a wealth of vintage articles and campaign material that Watkins unearthed in The Aspen Times microfiche at the Pitkin County Library, which were then restored from their original condition for this book. Unless you were on the ground in Aspen during Thompson’s campaign then you are unlikely to have ever seen this material. On top of this Watkins also includes the campaign photography of David Hiser and Bob Krueger alongside the artwork of Tom Benton (including the Aspen Wallposters).
However I think the real value of this book, aside from the aforementioned material, is that it fundamentally re-shapes how we look at Thompson’s Campaign for Sheriff and the legacy of the political revolution he kickstarted in Aspen. Before now there has been a tendency to look at the campaign in terms of its more colourful Gonzo moments – Hunter shaving his head so he could refer to the incumbent Sheriff as his “long-haired opponent,” his promise to not eat mescaline on duty, his well publicised platform for Sheriff including a proposal to rename Aspen to Fat City. Though typical of the kind of humour that characterised Thompson’s work, they also unfortunately serve to draw attention away from the more serious issues he sought to address at the heart of his campaign – police harassment, corruption, threats to the environment and overhauling the archaic drug laws. One could be forgiven for thinking that Thompson’s sole proposals were those of his well publicised Tentative Platform for Sheriff. This could not be further from the truth, as Watkins includes Thompson’s detailed plans for the establishment of a police ombudsman, an environmental crime detection office, a drug abuse control center and school community drug education programs.
Another area that has been previously overlooked is that of Thompson’s opposition. Here Watkins includes such gems as the illegal campaign mailer that was sent to every post office box holder in Pitkin County days before the election. The culprit was none other than former Aspen mayor Bugsy Barnard who was later convicted for election fraud. The campaign mailer in question describes Doctor Hunter (Maddog) Thompson’s Great Puppet Show, depicting him as a Hell’s Angel reject whose henchmen will roam the streets of Aspen setting up “Potshops” and describes Rolling Stone magazine as Thompson’s Mein Kampf. To emphasis the point a cartoon depicts Thompson in full Nazi regalia conducting a puppet show in his office, with a Swastika emblazoned flag hanging behind him.
Finally, Watkins examines the political legacy resulting from Thompson’s campaign, illustrating that although Thompson lost the battle, ultimately he won the war, leading to the election of Bob Braudis who overhauled Pitkin County’s sheriff’s office. Braudis was subsequently re-elected five times. In a fitting touch, he contributes both the foreword and afterword to this wonderful book.
Freak Power: Hunter S. Thompson’s Campaign for Sheriff can be pre-ordered here.
Details for international orders forthcoming.
Today is The Good Doctor’s Birthday. He would have been 78.
His voice and insight continues to be badly missed by people all over the world. What starnge times we live in today, it would have been great to hear what Hunter thought of the current climate.
Below is a photo of Hunter when he ran for Sheriff of Aspen. As to why I picked this particular photo…keep reading below
Birthdays mean presents and I am delighted to tell you that fans of the Good Doctor are in for a real treat soon.
A new book – Freak Power: Hunter S. Thompson’s Campaign for Sheriff is on the way this summer and it is absolutely brilliant. Stay tuned…review is coming this week.
All the best,
In my own country I am in a far-off land
I am strong but have no force or power
I win all yet remain a loser
At break of day I say goodnight
When I lie down I have a great fear
– Francois Villon
Ten years? Has it been that long? I have been thinking about what to write here all week long and even as I sit typing this I am still not exactly sure as to what I want to say or where to even begin for that matter.
Those of you who are long time readers will no doubt have noticed that I haven’t posted here consistently for a long time and for that I do apologise. This site means a lot to me and I have spent a considerable amount of time, effort and a bit of money in keeping it going over the years. Despite the radio silence over the past two years I have no intention of letting this site fall by the wayside. It is here to stay and I do have plans to crank it back into high gear.
I originally set up this site back in 2008, shortly after I began my doctorate on Hunter S. Thompson. I should acknowledge that in the very early days this was a joint venture with my good man Marty Flynn of HSTbooks. Over the years we have both covered all things Gonzo and I’d like to thank Marty for his friendship and all the help he has given me over the years in finding obscure Thompson references, not to mention helping me gather quite a collection of rare Gonzo books and articles.
The past few years working on my doctorate and this site have been a real pleasure and I’d like to thank all of YOU for sticking with me along the way. The feedback I have received from all over the world has been incredible and I am very thankful for all the great people I have gotten to know through this site. I never expected it and it has been humbling to say the least. I’ll blame Hunter for that, he was always good at making worthwhile connections.
Outside of this site and my work unfortunately life has not been quite so smooth. In the second year of my doctoral studies I managed to tear the cornea in my right eye. I had to see a whole bunch of specialists and quacks of every description you can imagine as they tried to figure whether to operate or not. I ended up travelling to London to see more doctors and the whole thing was utterly exhausting. In the end, after a year or so my eye miraculously healed and believe it or not my vision actually improved. My work however had taken a severe setback.
Then the Irish economy crashed. You may or may not be familiar with what happened here but needless to say it was pretty horrific. The past few years have been extremely tough, not just for me but for everyone in Ireland (except the usual suspects) I’m not going to go into it here, it is neither the time nor the place and I’m not even sure I can find the right words to do it justice. Not yet anyway. It is the reason however as to why I have only checked in here sporadically and as to why I am only finishing up my doctorate this year. You could say that life got in the way.
So what has this all got to do with Hunter I hear you ask? Well, I didn’t feel like just posting some tribute and leaving it at that with no explanation as to where the hell I’ve been. I felt I owned you all an explanation and I know there have been many unanswered emails and messages on social media. I hope this goes some way as to explaining why I haven’t replied to you all.
As for Hunter, I guess I wanted to write something a bit more personal than trying to comment on his legacy etc. I’ll leave that to others this time. However I do want to talk about how Hunter’s books and words have kept me sane through this seemingly endless shitstorm. I really mean that. Writing about Hunter, when I was able to get the opportunity, was an immense source of comfort amid all the madness going on around me. Writing about his struggle to make it as a writer, dealing with poverty and unemployment and the constant feeling that the deck was stacked against him – yeah that certainly connected. Hunter never gave up though, no matter how disillusioned he felt with his homeland and the way politicians and other people abused their power – he always felt it was a worthwhile fight to stand up to these whores and not let them get away with it.
Which brings me to the quote at the top of this post. You’ll probably recognise it as the preface to Hell’s Angels. Hunter later revealed why he chose that particular verse in Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72 – ‘‘At the time it seemed like a very apt little stroke – reaching back into time and French poetry for a reminder that a sense of doomed alienation on your own turf is nothing new.’ Which kind of bring me to a comment on his legacy, the very thing I said I wouldn’t do at the start of this post. (I told you this wasn’t planned out!)
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Hunter was keenly aware of this and many other choice morsels of Wisdom. His work is peppered with it. I’ve often wondered what Hunter would have thought of the past decade and where we find ourselves in this foul year of Our Lord, 2015. Horrified is the conclusion I come to every time. You only have to read Kingdom of Fear and Hey Rube to see his very warnings about the road We have been dragged down in the past ten years by the stupid, vicious, corrupt thieves and warmongers in power around the world.
This has happened on our watch however. We elected those people. I better bite my tongue here or this will veer off into a rant like no other. So I only have to say this – read Hunter’s work. He showed what people who Know the Past can do when they decide they have had enough of these swine and actually Do Something About It. As he was so fond of saying – ‘Politics is the art of controlling your environment.’ He also had another eloquent one – ‘There Is Some Shit People Won’t Eat.’
Have you had your fill?
First of all a belated Happy New Year to you all! Lets hope 2014 is a good one to everybody.
I know updates have been few and far between in recent months, which is due to the amount of PhD related work that I have been wading through. As my thesis is now in the final stretches I hope to be able to devote a little more time to the site this year, not to mention finally finish that damn PhD once and for all.
Anyway, I have been in touch with DJ Watkins recently and he was kind enough to update me on changes to the official Gonzo Gallery and Tom Benton websites.
Here is what he had to say:
Fear and Loathing in Los Angeles
Saturday, August 24–Saturday, September 14, 2013
Subtlety is really the hallmark of my art.
– Hunter S. Thompson
BOA/SOA Art Gallery is pleased to present Fear and Loathing in Los Angeles an exhibition in conjunction with the Gonzo Museum, which will be on view at the gallery starting August 24th, 2013.
The exhibition will feature shotgun artwork by Hunter S. Thompson, signed prints by Ralph Steadman, vintage “Thompson for Sheriff” campaign posters by Thomas W. Benton as well as special works by William S. Burroughs and Warren Zevon. This traveling exhibition of thirty-six artworks marks the first time these works have been shown outside of the Gonzo Museum in Aspen, Colorado. These seminal works defined the gonzo aesthetic and became the symbols of an irreverent literary and journalistic style.
In conjunction with the exhibition, The Cinefamily will be presenting two Gonzo films based upon the works of Hunter S. Thompson at the Silent Movie Theater, 611 N Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90036.
The BBC documentary “High Noon,” a rarely seen film about Hunter’s run for sheriff will be followed by “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” A selection of vintage posters from Thompson’s campaign for sheriff of Aspen will be on display at the theatre.
Hunter S. Thompson (1937- 2005) was an American outlaw journalist and author, famous for his books; Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the heart of the American Dream, and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.
Thomas W. Benton (1930-2007) was an American activist and silkscreen printmaker based in Aspen, Colorado, best known for his political posters. Benton created campaign posters during Hunter S. Thompson’s “Freak Power” campaign for the position of sheriff of Pitkin County in 1970, as well as the cover of Thompson’s work Fear and Loathing on the campaign Trail ’72.
Ralph Steadman (1936- ) is a British illustrator best known for his art in the novels of the author Hunter S. Thompson including “Vintage Dr. Gonzo” and the iconic “Bat’s over Barstow”, which appeared on the cover of Thompson’s novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the heart of the American Dream (1972).
For further information please contact Daniel Joseph Watkins at email@example.com
If we cannot produce a generation of journalists – or even a good handful – who care enough about our world and our future to make journalism the great literature it can be, then “professionally oriented programs” are a waste of time. Without at least a hard core of articulate men, convinced that journalism today is perhaps the best means of interpreting and thereby preserving what little progress we have made toward freedom and self-respect over the years…without these men we might as well toss in the towel and admit that ours is a society too interested in comic strips and TV to consider revolution until it bangs on our front door in the dead of some quiet night when our guard is finally down and we no longer even kid ourselves about being the bearers of a great and decent dream. – Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
First post of 2013 and a long overdue one at that! Some of you will recall the review I posted a while back of Thomas Benton: Artist/Activist by DJ Watkins which I thoroughly recommended at the time as an excellent addition to any Gonzo library. Well DJ Watkins didn’t just finish there and has since established The Gonzo Museum in Aspen. Check out the videos below to see the excellent museum that he has managed to put together. An absolute must see for any Gonzo fiend that finds themselves in that neck of the woods! If you are lucky enough to get to see this, make sure to tell the folks there that you heard about it at Totallygonzo. I promise they won’t run you out of the building.
All the best,