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Review: The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved (Live at Town Hall NY 5/5/17)

May 15, 2017

Hi folks,

Here is a review of the recent performance of The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved which took place at Town Hall New York on May 5th last. Many thanks to Peter Knox for sending in this great review.

The crowd at Town Hall on the night before this year’s Kentucky Derby was a bit different from the types of people you’d usually see around Times Square on a Friday night. There were the men, lanky yet somehow fat with long hair beneath Jazz Fest hats sporting sandals and smoking. There were the women, past middle age, wearing clothes that might have passed for fancy forty years ago that could be from a thrift store or their own closets. But my wife and I won’t forget entering the theater behind an old woman with her dog in a carrier (“It’s my service animal, you have to let us in!”) and wondering the whole night what the poor working canine would think about the event.

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We were settled into our seats for the stage premier of The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved, to be performed live on Broadway – New York City! I could only imagine what the Good Doctor would make of such an event, but having greatly enjoyed the 90 minute production – I would like to think he’d be enamored with a room full of people roaring from his words aloud . Or at least pleased with how the bartenders were asking everyone whether they wanted a double or triple whiskey mint julep.

If you’re reading this here, you’re familiar with the 1970 Scanlon’s Monthly Derby article that gave us “Gonzo” and gave NPR something to repost every year on Derby day. But you may not be familiar with the 2012 radio show style audio recording of Thompson’s words and Bill Frisell’s original orchestra score. Add Ralph Steadman’s artwork projected onto a screen behind Tim Robbins, three other voice actors, a dancing horse marionette, and Frisell’s capable musicians – then you can get a sense of what I can only call performance art on the big stage, this story re-imagined and brought to life.

And what life it is! The show starts with two old times projector clips; a cartoon short of a few characters meddling with horses (including sniffing glue as running motivation) to outsmart each other, then a black and white Seabiscuit documentary (that while providing cultural and historical context, went on far to long for your correspondent’s liking – but I guess they had to pad the show length to warrant the ticket price).

Then the main event began: Tim Robbins embodying the narrative and spoken voice of our protagonist Hunter S. Thompson, steady, clear, animated, lively, sarcastic, clever, cutting, and every bit as you tried to imagine it in your head as you read those words for the first time. His supporting cast comes in at the right beats, three pros playing several different distinctive voices and each shining in their own sections.

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The orchestra really ties the whole operation together and gives it purpose. The jazz of the horns, the tension of the strings, the beats of the drums all keep the story moving forward, the action building to peak after peak. Robbins drives the entire enterprise, with everyone falling in line, even as one of the voice actors steps away to don a horse’s head (sunglasses and light up cigarette in a holder of course) terrorizes the audience and engages Robbins in an impromptu dance onstage.

The story, one I’ve read dozens of times, is so delightfully hilarious (easy to forget when in the depths of Derby-induced stupor), it’s a joy to see how Robbins plays it up and to laugh at the right moments among a huge crowd of Totally Gonzo fans.

But the savagery of Derby drunks feels as timely and relevant as ever – we could all do well to keep this classic alive and in the conversation. Robbins, Frisell, and company do exactly that. We’re left to wonder what HST would think of this story retold now 47 years later, but at least we know Steadman is seeing it – Friday’s performance was recorded for him to see.

Many thanks again Peter, sounds like it was a great night.

Rory

 

 

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Who Killed Hunter S. Thompson: An Inquiry into the Life & Death of the Master of Gonzo by Warren Hinckle

May 8, 2017

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Hi folks,

Just spotted this updated listing on Amazon.com. It carries a release date of June 1st 2017.

From the details in the listing it looks like a very interesting book! If anyone can hook me up with a review copy I would love to hear from you – totallygonzo@gmail.com

Rory

 

An inquiry into the life and death of the master of ‘gonzo’ – Hunter Thompson – with candid memories and appreciations by many of his closest friends and co-conspirators.

Thompson’s compatriots, observe and comment on the journalistic legend’s life and death.

Contains: transcripts of his rants and idiosyncratic phone messages, The Gonzo Master’s Midnight Faxes, The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved, and a humungous introduction (a book in itself!) by Warren Hinckle III.

BOOK ONE

The Crazy Never Die

including The Night Manager

Warren Hinckle

BOOK TWO

The Kentucky Derby Is

Decadent and Depraved

Hunter S. Thompson & Ralph Steadman

BOOK THREE

Adventures with Hunter

including Shotgun Art & Shotgun Golf

John G. Clancy A Master Of Tools

Bill Cardoso The Origin Of Gonzo

Dennis P. Eichhorn What Is Gonzo?

Roger Black Waiting For Copy

Jerry Brown Res Ipsa Loquitur

Ben Fong-Torres Janis Joplin Knew What She Was Doing, Too

Paul Krassner Blowing Deadlines With Hunter

Timothy Ferris Fear And Loathing

William Randolph Hearst III How The Doctor Rated The Game

Terry McDonell The Smoking Lamp Is Off

Martin F. Nolan Hunter By Moonlight

William Kennedy A Box Of Books

Chris Felver Shooting Hunter In f8

Phil Bronstein A Night At Hunter’s

Barbara Wohl-Littinger I Told You I Was Sick

John R. MacArthur A Night On The Town

Jack Thibeau One Of Those Learning Experiences

Michael Stepanian Life Was Perfect, Life Was Real

Eugene “Dr. Hip” Schoenfeld, M.D. Medicating Hunter

Matthew Naythons 16 Alexander Avenue

Wayne Ewing Never Call 911

Deborah Fuller Owl Farm Album

John Walsh Hunter As Elvis

Jeff Goodby Hunter Makes A Commercial, Sort Of

Ralph Steadman I Knew He Meant It

Jonah Raskin The View From The Left

Tom Wolfe As Gonzo In Life As In His Work

Garry Trudeau Some Nasty Karmic Shift

Jonathan Shaw & Johnny Depp The Gift of the Severed Finger

Wavy Gravy A Haiku For The Good Doctor

Stephen R. Proctor Heir Aberrant

BOOK FOUR

They Came For Blood…

We Gave Them Ink

R. L. “Bob” Crabb

including The Topless Caravan to Woody Creek

BOOK FIVE

Midnight Faxes

Hunter S. Thompson To Jeff Armstrong, Road Manager

including Other Faxes from HST

BOOK SIX

Requiem

Susie Bright

Juan Thompson

Wayne Ewing

Town Hall Presents: The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent And Depraved

May 3, 2017

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The Town Hall Presents
Hunter S. Thompson’s
THE KENTUCKY DERBY IS DECADENT AND DEPRAVED
with Tim Robbins & special guests Brad Hall & Chloe Webb
Music Composed and Conducted by Bill Frisell
Performed by Ron Miles, Curtis Fowlkes, Kenny Wollesen, Jenny Scheinman, Doug Wieselman, Eyvind Kang & Hank Roberts
Scripted from the original article by Hunter S. Thompson
Artwork by Ralph Steadman
Produced by Hal Willner
Directed by Chloe Webb

Only a writer as perceptive, talented and insanely fearless as Hunter S. Thompson can turn the coverage of a horse race into an incisive, and savagely funny, snapshot of a society in all its glory and miseries.

As it happened, three days before the running of the Kentucky Derby in May 1970, Thompson, a Louisville native, pitched a story on the race to the editor of Scanlan’s Monthly, a short-lived but feisty political magazine. He got the assignment and was paired not, as expected, with an American photographer but with an English illustrator, Ralph Steadman.

The resulting story, headlined The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved, was Thompson’s first “gonzo journalism” piece and a warning shot announcing a powerful new voice in American journalism. He went on to write other influential works including Fear and Loathing in Las VegasFear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, and The Rum Diary.

The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved will be brought to life in all its hallucinatory splendor at The Town Hall in New York on Friday May 5 by an extraordinary production team comprising actors Tim Robbins and Brad Hall, producer Hal Willner, composer and conductor Bill Frisell and actor and director Chloe Webb. Featuring a live cast, Steadman’s original artwork and a superb music ensemble performing Frisell’s original score, all of whom performed on the original 2012 CD release — Ron Miles (trumpet), Curtis Fowlkes (trombone), Hank Roberts (cello), Jenny Scheinman (violin), Doug Wieselman (woodwinds), Eyvind Kang (viola) and Kenny Wollesen (drums) — the show’s East Coast premiere takes place on the eve of this year’s Kentucky Derby.

“This is such a great piece. People try to define it: Is it music? Is it theater? What is it? And I tell them that it’s performance art – and entertainment,” says Webb. “It’s almost like vaudeville. The music is beautiful, the words are funny, the story is ridiculous – but it’s all very pointed in terms of what is happening now. More than 40 years later, what is different now? It’s still about the rich ol’ white boys in their private boxes and the rest of the people raising a ruckus down on the field. It’s an exploration of ‘So, what’s your excuse for bad behavior?'”

Robbins and Hall play Thompson and Steadman, respectively, and Webb notes that “this piece is in great part about Hunter meeting Ralph and the beginning of their partnership.” An American madman and brilliant writer meets an Old World gentleman with a penchant for drawing observant but horribly unflattering portraits — an odd couple from the beginning, yet the start of a remarkable and fruitful collaboration.

Get tickets here – Ticketmaster

Between Journalism and Fiction: Hunter S. Thompson and the Birth of Gonzo

April 19, 2017

Boom California have published an excellent essay by Peter Richardson on Hunter S. Thompson’s formative years in California and how his time there shaped his development of Gonzo Journalism. It is a well written and well researched article which comes as no surprise as Peter Richardson is the author of A Bomb In Every Issue: How the Short, Unruly Life of Ramparts Magazine Changed America and No Simple Highway: A Cultural History of the Grateful Dead both of which are highly recommended.

To read Richardson’s essay on Thompson, click the link under the image below to be taken to the Boom California website.

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Boom California

Review – Freak Power: Hunter S. Thompson’s Campaign for Sheriff

August 3, 2015

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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.

Happy Birthday Hunter

July 18, 2015

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

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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,

Rory

10 Years

February 20, 2015

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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

Of Falling

– 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?

– R

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