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

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.


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.


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.




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


Hi folks,

Just spotted this updated listing on 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 –



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.


The Crazy Never Die

including The Night Manager

Warren Hinckle


The Kentucky Derby Is

Decadent and Depraved

Hunter S. Thompson & Ralph Steadman


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


They Came For Blood…

We Gave Them Ink

R. L. “Bob” Crabb

including The Topless Caravan to Woody Creek


Midnight Faxes

Hunter S. Thompson To Jeff Armstrong, Road Manager

including Other Faxes from HST



Susie Bright

Juan Thompson

Wayne Ewing

Town Hall Presents: The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent And Depraved


The Town Hall Presents
Hunter S. Thompson’s
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