Well what can I say, Gonzofest 2019 was an absolutely amazing experience. I’m still recovering from the experience and have loads of things to share. First up I just want to share a few links to some media coverage of the event, with particular thanks to Laurel Deppen of the Louisville Courier Journal who interviewed me at Gonzofest.
All the best,
Onstage at Gonzofest with thanks to photographer Jeffery Parrish
6 things you didn’t know about Hunter S. Thompson’s life in Louisville
He was arrested — and left Louisville
In 1955, Thompson’s senior year of high school, he was charged as an accessory to robbery and served 31 days in the Jefferson County Jail. Because of this, he missed his final examinations and wasn’t allowed to graduate.
Thompson’s childhood was always split between his literary side and his “juvenile delinquent side,” said Rory Feehan, a Thompson scholar.
“These two competing sides really shaped Hunter Thompson,” Feehan said. “Of course, inevitably, one side got him into a whole heap of trouble. That incident where he was arrested … is probably the most formative episode of his career — his life. It really is. That left such a mark on his psyche.”
To leave Louisville, Thompson joined the Air Force.
He’s a Kentucky Colonel
In December 1996, poet Ron Whitehead produced a tribute event to honor Thompson’s work. There, Thompson was named a Kentucky Colonel, a title that recognizes achievements and service to the community, state and nation, according to its website.
Thompson would only accept the title if actor Johnny Depp, his friend who played him in 1998’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and again in 2011’s “The Rum Diary,” received the title as well. Depp was born in Owensboro.
The pair’s Kentucky roots contributed to their bond. Feehan said Thompson was able to trust Depp because they were from the same “neck of the woods.”
After they received the titles, Thompson insisted on referring to Depp only as “Colonel Depp,” Feehan said.
“He wouldn’t do that kind of thing if he didn’t want to be associated with the culture here, so he was proud of it. He had issues with it, but he was proud of it,” Feehan said.
The ‘Year of Gonzo’ is Louisville’s love letter to Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson
Today, there is a growing and renewed literary interest in Thompson’s most iconic works, not just his caricature, according to Rory Feehan, a Thompson scholar who holds a doctorate of English language and literature.
“He is an icon,” Feehan said. “He revolutionized journalism. Tom Wolfe called him one of the greatest comic writers of the 20th century, kind of the counterculture’s Mark Twain, and I just think that Hunter didn’t quite get the recognition he deserved, which is understandable in a way because of the character.”
That’s changing today as his work is becoming more mainstream — something the author might have actually hated.
The Speed Art Museum exhibit on Thompson focuses on the years between 1965 and 1974, when Thompson wrote some of his most notable work, including “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and “Hell’s Angels.” Both Thompson’s words and the visuals that accompanied them remain relevant and timely nearly 50 years later, said Erika Holmquist-Wall, curator at the Speed, 2035 S. 3rd. St.
“I think visitors will hopefully come away with a better understanding or want to come back and revisit (Thompson’s work) and really read what he was writing and get a sense of what he was trying to achieve: calling out American culture and counterculture at the time,” Holmquist-Wall said.
Revisiting the work nearly 50 years later begs the question of what Thompson would write about American culture today, Holmquist-Wall said.
“We can only surmise,” she said. “I think it would be equally no holds barred.”
Feehan said it’s a pity Thompson is no longer alive to write about what Feehan says is the “outrage age.”
“I’ve often been thinking lately about what would Hunter be like on Twitter,” Feehan said. “What would a 4 a.m. Twitter back-and-forth between Hunter and Kanye West be like? Or Donald Trump?”
Speaking at the Speed Art Museum Exhibit with thanks to photographer Jeffery Parrish
This new summer exhibit honors the legacy of Hunter S. Thompson
This summer, the Speed Art Museum will present an exhibition centered around one of Kentucky’s most famous exports, writer Hunter S. Thompson. A lynchpin in the world of modern investigative journalism, Thompson’s approach to reporting would not only lead to the creation of the unique “Gonzo” style but would serve to change his medium forever. Gonzo! will take a closer look at the professional and personal collaborations that Thompson enjoyed with the artists and photographers who were tasked with illustrating his work and articulating his unique voice through visual means.
By narrowing the scope of the exhibition to the decade between 1964 and 1974, Gonzo! will track the peak of Thompson’s rise to success from his first major independent work in long-term investigative reporting, Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, to his sardonic analyzation of the Nixon campaign, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. The works produced within that decade led to the Thompson’s development of Gonzo journalism – a subjective, socially critical, participatory style of writing that helped to define the American cultural and political landscape of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Gonzo! An Illustrated Guide to Hunter S. Thompson is the last of three “Gonzo”-related exhibitions taking place in central Kentucky as part of the Year of Gonzo. The first, Ralph Steadman: A Retrospective, was on view at the University of Kentucky Art Museum until May 5, while the second, Freak Power: Hunter S. Thompson’s Run for Sheriff, is currently on view at the Frazier History Museum. Those who visit all three exhibitions and retrieve a novelty pin from each will receive a custom designed notebook.
In celebration of the exhibition’s beginning, the Speed Art Museum is partnering with GonzoFest Louisville, the annual literary and music festival honoring Hunter S. Thompson. The Museum’s monthly After Hours @ the Speed event on July 19 will serve as the official kick-off for the festival, featuring a panel conversation between Hunter’s son, Juan Thompson, Kentucky author Ron Whitehead, moderated by WFPL President Stephen George, as well as a gallery talk with Curator Erika Holmquist-Wall and Hunter S. Thompson scholar, Dr. Rory Feehan, and live music highlighting the songs of Thompson’s most prolific decade.
Buy the ticket, take the ride – Gonzo! An Illustrated Guide to Hunter S. Thompson opens at the Speed Art Museum on July 12, 2019 and will close on November 10, 2019.