The Footloose American: Following the Hunter S. Thompson Trail through South America

Hey folks,

I recently received an email from a writer by the name of  Brian Kevin who is currently on an epic trek across South America as part of his latest book project. I was intrigued to learn that he is attempting to retrace the route that Hunter S. Thompson took when he travelled around South America between 1962 & 1963, no mean task and one that will take Brian the first half of 2012 to complete. He has already secured a book contract with a division of Random House and he expects that his work – The Footloose American: Following the Hunter S. Thompson Trail through South America – will be published in the spring of 2013.

 Brian first got the idea for this project a few years ago, when he visited Columbia and travelled the route that Thompson took across the country in 1962, when he arrived in South America to report for the National Observer. It is a period in Thompson’s life that interests Brian and one that he has always felt gets short shrift in terms of the various books and documentaries out there.

According to Brian, this book is not going to be a biography as such but rather a narrative travelogue:

(excerpt from email – I trust Brian doesn’t mind that I quote him directly here)

“I’m interested in how Thompson’s time in South America shaped him as a writer and a social critic who would come to fame years later.  But I’m also interested in “following up” on the topics he covered fifty years back — resource extraction, the marginalization of indigenous peoples, the allure of leftist populism, and the consequences of dramatic income inequality.  All topics that remain super relevant in Latin America today (and, I suppose, back at home, too).  My thesis, in part, is that Thompson found something here that took him off the path of a Lost Generation dilettante novelist and put him onto his famous beat, “the death of the American dream.”  He said as much towards the end of his trip, writing in a letter, “The main thing I’ve learned is that I now understand the United States, and why it will never be what it could have been, or at least tried to be.””

To whet our appetite Brian was kind enough to share a very cool piece of Gonzo history that he managed to unearth already and is a testament to his detective work and dedication. Below is a copy of the front page of the El Heraldo of Barranquilla, dated May 26, 1962. In The Proud Highway Hunter mentions that his arrival in Columbia made it onto the social page of the daily paper in Barranquilla. Thanks to Brian Kevin we can now all see this little write up for ourselves. The paper was sitting in an archive all these intervening years, yellowed by time, as it was never archived in a digital format.

(Full Page – Click on image to enlarge)

(Close up of column – Click on image to enlarge)

I have to say it was great to receive this material from Brian as I am currently writing about this period of Thompson’s life in my PhD thesis. I am really looking forward to his book and I have to say that research of this dedication is a very welcome addition to the Hunter S. Thompson & Gonzo community. Brian has also added a number of posts to his blog documenting his time in South America and the above is only the first of many cool observations and discoveries that he has made down there. To see what I am talking about, check out his blog here – A Footloose American

Ok for now,

Rory

Review: Keep This Quiet! – Margaret A. Harrell

“This is my life,

I’m satisfied.

So watch it, babe.

Don’t try to keep me tied.”

And I Like It –JeffersonAirplane

In the ever expanding list of biographies and memoirs about Hunter S. Thompson, this latest offering, Keep This Quiet! by Margaret A. Harrell, is quite simply a breath of fresh air. This is by no means intended as a slight against previous publications, the majority of which are solid and have contributed much to our understanding of Hunter S. Thompson – the man and the myth. However, what sets Keep This Quiet! apart is the extent to which Harrell explores the question of identity and myth, in her quest to simultaneously answer questions concerning her own character and that of one Hunter S. Thompson. As Harrell writes early on – “Who was he? There was no indication how complicated that answer was.”

Keep This Quiet! is a fascinating memoir in this regard, one that is multi-faceted in terms of Harrell’s own journey of self-discovery, both in a personal and artistic sense and the manner in which this is mirrored by the events of the period, with the tumultuous Sixties marking a nation tragically losing its innocence courtesy of the assassins bullet and the toil of war. It is also, of course, a time of exuberant creativity and this is evident throughout, with Harrell also detailing her relationship with “poète maudit” Jan Mensaert andGreenwich Village “poet genius” Milton Klonsky. Working at Random House placed Harrell at the centre of a literary world and this is reflected by the many different characters that make an appearance – from Hunter’s oldest friends William Kennedy and David Pierce to non other than Oscar Zeta Acosta, of whom Harrell includes rare letters that he sent to her concerning getting published at Random House.

It is Harrell’s insight into the development of Thompson both as an author and a character that truly set this memoir apart. There are two quotes in particular that illustrate this understanding – the first is a quote of Thompson’s that Harrell singles out as key to understanding his motivation as an author (incidentally one that I have also identified in my PhD – a nice bit of synchronicity):

            “The psychology of imposition…the need to amount to something”…”if only for an instant, the image of the man is imposed on the chaotic        mainstream of life and it remains there forever: order out of chaos, meaning out of meaninglessness.”

The above quote comes from a letter in The Proud Highway and Harrell is absolutely correct in singling it out for its importance. As Harrell states – “Like Faulkner, Hunter wanted to leave his life in stone tablets, mark time with a sign KILROY WAS HERE.” To understand this in relation to Hunter and how it shaped his creative development is absolutely essential.

In closing, this book is a joy to read, particularly for anyone that has that urge to express themselves through the creative arts in all their forms. In terms of its importance to the Hunter S. Thompson world I would have to say that there are not many other books out there that have the same intimate understanding of the man behind the myth. Keep This Quiet is not just a reflection on the past but also a rediscovery of that period, with a new understanding of the events and the people that populated that particular corner of the era of rapid change and growth, one of both personal discovery and cultural revolution, whose effects to this day are still rippling across the consciousness of the American psyche.

PS: I meant to post this review ages ago but I have been crazy crazy busy with my PhD. I hope to also post a review of the upcoming record from Paris Records – The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved and also report on the trip of a wayward American in South America. Stay tuned!