‘Freak Power: The Ballot or the Bomb’ is the documentary that Hunter S. Thompson has long deserved

Hunter S. Thompson gives his concession speech. Credit: David Hiser

As we close in on election day in the most contentious and insane presidential election in living memory, one question that keeps popping up across the media landscape is this – “What would Hunter S. Thompson have to say about the current election and the sorry state of American politics?”

It is a fair question to ask. As the author of Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72, Hunter S. Thompson was responsible for one of the most incendiary and celebrated books on the circus that is American politics. His coverage for Rolling Stone was a revelation at the time and is as fresh and compelling today as ever. Indeed, many so-called journalists and pretenders to the throne could do well to go back and read Thompson’s coverage and learn about the difference between actual insightful and revealing writing and that of merely serving up sycophantic bulletin board puff pieces for their preferred candidate. Thompson took no prisoners and skewered politicians on both sides. It was a brave thing to do in the era of Nixon but then Thompson was no ordinary journalist. He refused to merely stand on the sidelines, sniping at the participants – Thompson got directly involved. In 1970 he ran for Sheriff of Pitken County, Colorado, on the Freak Power ticket in a surreal campaign that drew international attention. And he almost won. Though he lost the battle, his campaign kick-started a political movement in Aspen that ultimately won the war, the reverberations of which still ripple throughout the community today.

The new documentary Freak Power: The Ballot or the Bomb, co-directed by Daniel Joseph Watkins and Ajax Phillips, tells the story of Thompson’s campaign and builds upon Watkins’ previous effort, the hugely impressive book Freak Power: Hunter S. Thompson’s Campaign for Sheriff (reviewed here). In addition to the massive volume of research that they had from that project, they discovered a virtual treasure trove of original campaign footage, some of it not even developed, which forms the basis of this new film. Essentially, this allowed Watkins and Phillips to tell the entire story of Thompson’s run for sheriff using original footage from 1970, filmed as the campaign progressed. Watkins also discovered nearly 3000 photographs from the campaign taken by David Hiser and Bob Kreuger. It is truly remarkable material that presents the real Hunter S. Thompson, totally unfiltered as he makes a serious attempt to affect political change in his home town.

Hunter S. Thompson and supporters writing campaign newsletters. Credit: David Hiser

The directors made the sensible decision to let this extraordinary footage tell the story through the participants own words, captured as they were on the scene in 1970. Complimenting this are several voice-overs from the individuals involved, from Bob Braudis (former Sheriff of Pitken County) and Joe Edwards (former Pitken County commissioner) to the artist Ralph Steadman and Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone. In a clever move, we don’t actually see these people until the very end, 50 years later, which proves to be strangely poignant.

I don’t want to give a complete breakdown of all the footage here or indeed the story. I think it is best that you see it unfold for yourself but I will say this – the parallel with what is happening today is uncanny. Through sheer serendipity, Freak Power: The Ballot or the Bomb serves to show us how little has changed in 50 years. The dynamics involved, the generational clashes and dirty political tactics deployed by the establishment are frighteningly familiar and relevant. One such powerful example of this is the scene at the beginning of the film as the incumbent Sheriff, Carrol D. Whitmire, representing the Democratic Party, debates Thompson. When asked about the source of Thompson’s support, Carroll responds – “I don’t know what Freak Power is. I don’t know what they are talking about when they talk about Freak Power.” Thompson’s answer was as salient then as it is today – “[Freak Power] is the ability to act, to have control over your environment, to have control of your government. My idea of running for sheriff is to expand the notion of the office. As it is now you just don’t talk to a cop, they are the enemy and that’s true not only of Aspen but of all over the country. That’s a dangerous situation when the enforcement arm is totally out of communication with the reality…It is time that we either bridge that chasm with some kind of realistic law enforcement or else I don’t think it is going to be bridged in this country, we are going to have revolution.”

Hunter S. Thompson conspires with Oscar Zeta Acosta about his campaign. Credit: Bob Krueger

As someone who has invested many years writing and researching about Hunter S. Thompson for my PhD, I have to say it is a delight to see the man treated onscreen in a serious, respectful manner. Hunter on film has been very hit and miss over the years and there has always been a temptation to indulge the Gonzo persona or idle celebrity gossip. The film also benefits from the focus being solely on his pre-Fear and Loathing days, with none of the over-the-top theatrics that define his later career. I have always maintained the view that Hunter S. Thompson’s career in the decade prior to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is actually the most interesting period of his life and the one which arguably contains his best work. Thankfully, more and more people are now discovering the incredible output from Hunter during this period (I highly recommend his letters collection The Proud Highway in this regard)

Freak Power shows us the serious writer and concerned citizen from that period, determined to take a stand against the greedheads that threatened his community. It reminds us that there was a lot more to Hunter S. Thompson than drugs and bad behavior. Clearly the film was a labor of love for all involved and this is reflected in every aspect of the production, from the soaring soundtrack to the unmistakable film poster by none other than the legendary Ralph Steadman. I also believe that the film contains the only known footage of Hunter with his legendary attorney, Oscar Zeta Acosta, who is shown briefly with Thompson on election night as he learns of his political fate.

On that note, I will leave you with words from Thompson himself, from his concession speech, as though he is speaking to us today – “Unfortunately I proved what I set out to prove ….that the American Dream really is fucked.” However, as Thompson’s campaign manager Ed Bastian added – “In retrospect, we can see that it was a really powerful oar-stroke forward for the change and political dynamics in the valley area around Aspen. All of the things we did…they all set the stage for what was to soon follow.” Thompson’s would later offer the mantra – “Politics is the art of controlling your environment.” He proved that to be the case by getting involved and taking action. We can all learn from that.

Freak Power is out now on Amazon, Vimeo and Apple – visit freakpower.com to learn more.

Watch the trailer below:

Appearance at Las Vegas Book Festival

I had the honour of appearing at the Las Vegas Book Festival this year to discuss the legacy of Hunter S. Thompson, alongside Hunter’s son Juan F. Thompson who is the author of Stories I Tell Myself: Growing Up With Hunter S. Thompson, Margaret Harrell who was Hunter’s copy-editor for Hell’s Angels and author of the recently published The Hell’s Angels Letters: Hunter S. Thompson, Margaret Harrell and the Making of an American Classic and Timothy Denevi, author of Freak Kingdom: Hunter S. Thompson’s Manic Ten-Year Crusade Against American Fascism. It was a very enjoyable discussion and many thanks to Scott Dickensheets and all at the Las Vegas Book Festival for making this happen.

Panel discussion on The Hell’s Angels Letters

I was delighted to participate in this two hour panel discussion on The Hell’s Angels Letters with some of the best experts out there on Hunter S. Thompson. Here’s the lowdown on all involved:

Margaret Harrell is hands on with Life. A dual national, she has lived and written in Morocco, Switzerland, and Belgium as well as the U.S.
The copy editor/assistant editor of Hell’s Angels and other remarkable books at Random House, she also was the international coordinator
of a museum project in Belgium. Now living in Raleigh NC, she is a longtime freelance book editor, a light body meditation teacher,
and a cloud photographer. She has thirteen published books, including the Keep This Quiet! memoir series.

Professor William McKeen is the author of eight books and the editor of four more, including Mile Marker Zero (Crown, 2011), a non-fiction narrative about Key West; Outlaw Journalist (W.W. Norton, 2008), a biography of Hunter S. Thompson; Highway 61 (W.W. Norton, 2003), a memoir of a 6,000-mile road trip with his teenage son; and two anthologies, Rock and Roll is Here to Stay (W. W. Norton, 2000) and Literary Journalism: A Reader (Wadsworth, 2000).

His most recent book is Everybody Had an Ocean (Chicago Review Press, 2017), about the intersection of music and crime in Los Angeles during the 1960s. It focuses on how Charles Manson was able to infiltrate the peace-love-and-flowers world of rock’n’roll royalty in Laurel Canyon, becoming a roommate to Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys.

McKeen also produced an anthology about Florida, where he spent most of his life. Homegrown in Florida (University Press of Florida, 2012) celebrates childhood in the Sunshine State. In addition to writing two stories in the collection, McKeen gathered contributions from Carl Hiaasen, Michael Connelly, Kristin Harmel, Fabiola Santiago and Tom Petty.

His major teaching areas are literary journalism, history of journalism, reporting, feature writing and history of rock’n’roll.

Ron Whitehead is the founder of the Louisville Gonzo Fest. He is also the Beat Poet Laureate of Kentucky (2019‒2021) who received the City of Louisville Proclamation (2019) for a Lifetime Achievement of Supporting the Arts. A poet, writer, editor, publisher, organizer, scholar, Ron has produced over 3,000 Arts Events from New York City to the Netherlands. Whitehead has also taught at the University of Louisville, New York University, Trinity College Dublin, and the University of Iceland.

Professor Peter Richardson teaches humanities and American Studies at San Francisco State University. His latest book, about Hunter S. Thompson, will be published by the University of California Press. His previous publications include books about the Grateful Dead, Ramparts magazine, and Carey McWilliams, Thompson’s editor at “The Nation” magazine.

And of course, myself. Many thanks to Alice Osborn for bringing all this together, it was a great discussion.

Interview with Genevieve Walker for GQ Magazine

Had a really enjoyable chat with Genevieve Walker of GQ Magazine before Christmas for an article that she was writing about how Louisville is embracing Hunter’s legacy. We talked for almost two hours and the article turned out great. I am quoted a few times throughout and it was a strange feeling seeing my name in GQ Magazine!

Here’s a snippet of the article where I am quoted, for the full article click the link below the extract:

When Dr. Rory Feehan, a Hunter S. Thompson scholar based in Limerick, Ireland, visited Louisville for the first time this year, he noticed an absence of permanent public embrace of Thompson. “Why don’t they have a boulevard or street named after him? He’s an icon. This great writer is part of the cultural heritage of Louisville.”

This year’s GonzoFest kicked off with an evening at the museum on the 19th of July (a day after Thompson’s birthday). The festivities included a panel discussion between Juan Thompson and Whitehead, moderated by WFPL President Stephen George. The Curator, Erika Holmquist-Wall, gave a gallery talk alongside Dr. Rory Feehan.

Flying into Louisville for the first time, Feehan said, “I saw that flat, green land. It was like Ireland in the sun.” Not unlike Kentucky, said Feehan, Ireland is known for whiskey and horse racing. Not unlike Louisville, Dublin had a contentious relationship with its own James Joyce, who is now very celebrated.

Thompson died over a dozen years ago, which for a historian, is no time at all. Already, though, there has been significant renewed interest and engagement with Thompson’s work. “In the last 15 years there has been an explosion of research papers,” said Feehan. As the Gonzoville movement builds momentum and academics fine-tune theories, reframing Thompson’s situation in literature, it makes sense to start defining his place in his hometown, too.

The goal, said Whitehead, is to have a permanent place for all things Hunter S. Thompson. A place that can showcase, and maintain, all of his personal archives.

There are many parties interested in the Thompson archives, and where they’ll eventually come to rest. (Johnny Depp owns a portion.) Will a multi-million dollar facility, like the Muhammad Ali Center, ever be built for them in Louisville? Right now it seems unlikely. But, as Lindenberger said, “If anybody can do it, Ron would pull it together.”

Ron Whitehead—the Outlaw Poet, as he calls himself—will be 69 years old this November. He cares deeply about Thompson’s work, and giving him his proper due in Louisville. He’s also ready to pass the torch. “I’ve been doing this for 25 years,” said Whitehead. “Juan [Thompson] has moved to town. I’m turning this all over to him. Everybody knows that I’m going to stay on top of whatever is going on. I’ll work behind the scenes, but 25 years is enough. This is an ending and a beginning.”

To read the full article on GQ.com click here

Memo from the Sports Desk

The real power in America is held by a fast-emerging new Oligarchy of pimps and preachers who see no need for Democracy or fairness or even trees, except maybe the ones in their own yards, and they don’t mind admitting it. They worship money and power and death. Their ideal solution to all the nation’s problems would be another 100 Year War.

– Memo from the Sports Desk, Kingdom of Fear 2003

Detail on recent auction of Hunter S. Thompson letters

A collection of over 180 letters by Hunter S. Thompson recently went up for auction in Los Angeles but failed to meet the reserve of $110,000.

Nate D. Sanders Auctions posted a detailed breakdown of the entire collection which can be read below.

I’ve posted these here mainly as a form of record, given that this is the only public information available on these remarkable letters.

I’ll be posting a further update regarding the importance of this collection in due course.

Stay Gonzo,

Dr. Rory Patrick Feehan


Extraordinary archive of over 180 letters by Hunter S. Thompson during the pivotal period of Thompson’s life during the 1960s, with nearly every sentence bursting with visceral, incisive, creative and confessional observations in Thompson’s quintessential Gonzo journalistic style. Archive includes Thompson’s famous letter written the day of JFK’s assassination (the complete letter, which was only partially published in “Proud Highway”), and other extremely controversial letters, such as brutal and unpublished details of his time at the Slates Hot Springs in Big Sur, where he patrolled the grounds, including the baths, when he served as its caretaker. Many letters deal with writing “The Rum Diary”, his time with (and beating by) the Hell’s Angels and the book about them that made him famous, and trying to get published in the early 1960s when he was a struggling author. All but two of the letters are written to Thompson’s childhood friend, Paul Semonin, with one letter written to another friend, and a telegram written to the author Tom Wolfe. Many letters are signed with Thompson’s initials “HST” with others signed in type (and circled by Thompson), and numerous others concluding with funny epithets such as “Mister Magnum”, “Boomer”, “Dr. Bloor” and “Whitey”. Letters total 182 plus three drawings; of these, 49 are autograph letters signed, 126 are typed letters signed (with many of these containing handwritten notes by Thompson), one is the Wolfe telegram and 7 are postcards containing short notes. Of the 182 letters, 25 have been published in “The Proud Highway: The Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman 1955-1967”, leaving over 150 unpublished with very personal content, giving insight into Thompson’s belief system and influences as a young man. The quotes shows here are excerpted in very small part from what is hundreds of pages of Thompson’s writing.

Letters begin in February 1955 when Thompson was a 17 year old, writing to Semonin at Yale University. Signed “Hunter S. Thompson”, he writes in small part about their friendship, “…the knowledge that I can think of you as my friend means more to me than you might suspect…As you know, there are degrees of friendship and I’ve always felt that your friendship for me has been of a condescending nature…you’ve always seemed to have a Midas touch so far as accomplishment was concerned, while I was the ‘black sheep'”. He also writes about his problems with the law at that time, and having to testify against the man who sold him liquor, as an underage adult; Thompson famously spent what would have been his high school graduation in jail. He finishes the letter with a drawing of a coffin to symbolize Yale basketball.

Thompson’s next letter is dated 6 September 1958, on “Time” magazine stationery, where he worked as a copy boy at the time. Signed “Hunter”, letter reads in part, “The egalitarian haste of the modern american negro will put us all in the grave: all in the same grave…so that no one shall be either higher or lower than anyone else in the final worldly reckoning. / I trust this letter will find you in a frenzy of spine-snapping patriotism…the queers in Washington are predatory as hell…I think they’re pushing this ‘democracy’ thing too far when they insist that all of us–men and women alike–have the same sexual tastes…”

Thompson’s next letter, published in “Proud Highway” is dated 26 September 1958, with his thoughts on Khrushchev, Mao and other world leaders. He writes, “…Is it any wonder that Billy Graham is so popular? Oh God give us anything but reality!” In his next letter sometime in 1959, he writes about “lecturing on the Beat Generation [for] $20 an hour”, and then follows it up with several letters back home in Louisville, Kentucky, where he writes, “…my trip convinced me that the white, southern anglo-saxon ‘race’ is without a doubt the world’s stupidest…” He continues with an odd-funny story about being in the apartment of a possibly married woman, “I woke up…and found a huge man in shorts and a cigar standing over the bed, jabbering about friends and bastards sleeping in his bed…”

On 14 September 1959 he mentions an article he was writing entitled “The Dry Rot of American Journalism”, and contacting William Styron, asking for his agent’s name and address. He composes a bit of prose, “I give you a thought, my man, for the season: ‘The child that sucketh long is shooting up……’ / ‘Shooting up?’ you ask. ‘Shooting up where?’ And I shall say to you: ‘Shooting up the soft and hairless leg of God, in search of fiery loins to rub against his own’…”

In a letter dated 2 October 1959 from Louisville he writes about a mutual friend of theirs, “Listening to him was a stinking nightmare! He is, in all seriousness and compassion, a really frightening ass. And god knows, it’s people like Rutledge who’re trying to keep the vote from the niggers!…Things here are otherwise bleak and depressing…I’ll drown if I stay here much longer…” He follows up with a letter dated 14 October 1959, in part, “And for God’s Sake, don’t tell anyone that I’ve left Louisville. All sorts of people are after me – police, creditors, ins. companies, etc…Everything is vile and threatening…Cheerio: HST”.

The next chapter of Thompson’s life begins in 1960 with his move to San Juan, Puerto Rico where he wrote for “El Sportivo” and other newspapers. In one of his first letters he writes, “…if nothing happens to foul the water, I think I’ve come upon the good life…By February 1, I should either be fired or solidly entrenched…” On 18 January he writes, “Dear Bullroar: Lightning-quick Thompsonesque coup shatters dwelling barrier! Beach house acquired…it’s about the size of a toad’s crotch in a freezing rain…I’ve contracted dandruff, rummism, and the jungle rot…”

At the end of 1960, Thompson and Semonin traveled cross-country together from New York to Seattle, and then hitchhiked down the coast to San Francisco, where Thompson settled. In a stream of consciousness letter dated 25 October 1960, Thompson writes from a bar in the Fillmore district, referring to himself as “Doctor Jazz”, who “prowls the foggy streets, seeking food. / O where is the jazz of yesteryear, the lost paycheck of my servile youth? where are the sacked liquor lockers of my Kempian days?…” Four days later he writes, “I commence walking my thumb toward Carmel & Big Sur…found slur on my ego…”

In an undated letter written just after the 1960 election, Thompson refers to the Kennedy win, “we got the touchdown – where do we go from here?…Drinking continues. Sex enters…trouble looms…” Also in this letter, Thompson types up a funny full page parody of the Nixon-Kennedy debate entitled “THE GREAT DEBATE”, where JFK answers “Foah” to the question of “What is two plus two?”, whereas Nixon equivocates on the answer in a long self-congratulatory monologue, finally disagreeing with Kennedy that the answer is “two TIMES two.”

On 20 November, he’s still without a job, “Meanwhile I fester…Queers have taken me in…I am destitute.” On 1 December, his girlfriend Sandy has arrived and he mulls over the meaning of the term “human garbage” used by a mutual friend; he concludes, “that segment of the un-washed masses prone to art, writing and other ‘time-wasting’ devices.” He also writes of a mutual friend, whose “‘good friends’ are G[regory] Corso & William Burroughs. Corso, she says, is writing a novel called ‘Fuck.'”

On December 15 he pens a letter, “The Lord knows where I’m going and the Devil knows who I’ll marry, but everything else is up for grabs…Big money looms. Great Puerto Rican novel now underway.” In late 1960 he writes, “Merry Xmas. No one is pregnant here; how about your shop?…Leechfully, Scarcrotch”. In this letter, he also mentions his novel “Prince Jellyfish”, but here refers to it as “Princess Jellyfish”.

His luck turns in early January 1961, where he sends a picture postcard of Big Sur, with an arrow pointing to Slates Hot Springs, writing, “Just spent Xmas & X-eve in hot sulphur baths…Just me & Sandy.” In a letter dated 6 January published in “Proud Highway”, Thompson writes in the third person, “Mr. Thompson…was kidnapped by queers on NYeve and borne off to the south country…Mr. Thompson will probably deny this, but I think he feels a bit insecure these days…’A woman is fascinated not by art, but by the noise made by those who have to do with art…Massively, [signed] HST”.

On 18 January 1961 he writes, “…am moving into massive castle on cliff above sea, rent $15 per mo. Have also gained control of Eng. Triumph motorcycle (a wild and terrible thing…Fat days are here.” On 3 February from “Manor House”, he refers to the “Birmingham bit”, his suicide plan to drive off a cliff in a car filled with dynamite. He adjusts the plan slightly here to drive off the cliff on a motorcycle (“less impressive, but more personal”). He continues, “…Or as a symbol of ‘the promise of life’…my pendulum has swung toward the sun, and now I fear the inevitable plunge toward darkness…My other plans are to remain on this warm cliff until the completion of The Rum Diary…” In early February he writes, “I have turned my genius to re-creating Big Sur in the image of Playboy. If it bounces I will do the blood-dance…When the big money is there in front of you…strange things will happen in a poor-boy’s brain.”

On 13 February 1961 he writes about wanderlust and giving his dog a “flea massacre” in the sulphur springs, “…You should have heard the queers howl when I plunged this huge dog into the roman tub. They pay $1.25 each for their baths; I living on the property, pay nothing…” He continues, writing about his desire to travel, “…it lays there like a talking sugartit, luring me on, coaxing me out of my sunset womb…”

Also in February he sends a handwritten note, in part, “I am once again headed for fatherhood. I am getting tired of it. A bad joke is funny once…but not twice of three.” Accompanied by a three-paragraph story entitled “It’s Cheaper to Buy Sandals” about a struggling author and journalist who dies of Hutchinson’s disease, “nobody gave a damn. He didn’t even get an obituary…”

An incredible letter is written on 20 March 1961 to Semonin as “Dear long-slick haired queer”, in part, “This is the 13th consecutive day of jabbering whiskeythink…I sense another orgy of destruction, the second in ten days. Last friday I beat down a door with the riding crop and hurled several bed-size benches down the cliff to the sea, drove a horde of queers from the baths, denounced all the sick fuckers in Big Sur, and generally fouled my image in this area…The smell of eviction is in the air…I seriously feel my sanity slipping…”

On 23 March he writes, “On Monday gave a display of mild violence for the crowd — most of them left quickly. Violence, it seems, is its own reward.” A few days later he writes a funny letter about sending photos of Semonin that he took of him during their cross-country trip, “If you can find nothing in this batch to equal your vision of yourself, I can only wonder what the snow has done to your mind…Now working on Rum Diary & will finish it before leaving.”

On 10 April he writes, “Also get my human-skin lamp from Syracuse…Just got back from week of skin-diving in Baja Calif.” And then on 8 May, “New version of an old problem here. This time my balls appear to have done the deed…” Also on 8 May he writes to his friend George Logan, referencing JFK’s problems after the Bay of Pigs, “…It appears that Mr. Kennedy has at least a few false teeth & I am beginning to think we might be better off with Nixon…”

On 21 May 1961, Thompson writes from Big Sur in small part, “In Tiajuana [sic] I bought a switchblade knife for 70cents, one of the finest purchases I have made in many months…” He gives comments on Semonin’s book concluding with, “it sounds good — good enough, in fact, that the only advice I can offer is to count on it falling through…My shallow experience is: when you count on things, they go boom — and when you forget about them they sometimes work…” He then writes, “Yes, the Big Sur thing was all lies.”

In late May or early June he writes in part, “…am working fitfully on Great PR novel – The Rum Diary. Also …stalking boar & generally raising hell…” Also in June he berates a mutual friend for accepting a slot in a bank training program, “When I get back to Louisville I’m going to come steaming into your apartment…like a beast of hell, the sun flashing on my stained teeth and my lips curled back with thirst for whiskey…Rum Diary progressing viciously…”

On 24 June 1961 he writes, “The Rum Diary is mush-rooming into a beastly thing, full of hell and humping and slander…Boomer”. He follows up on 1 July, “…I hauled out a small letter from Rogue magazine…Now, 3 days later, I am flat broke & not a bill is paid…But I am armed at last” (referring to his use of the money to buy a pistol rather than paying rent).

Dated 14 June, but likely 14 July, Thompson writes in small part about a visit from their mutual friend, Eugene McGarr, “…McGarr seems to have either lost or buried a chunk of himself that I kept looking for, but never reached, not once, during the entire week, did we talk of anything but food, money and stale politics…I think McGarr has merged so completely with Eleanor that he is no longer himself…this is a bit disturbing to see in a man…The Rum Diary is moving at a speed that pleases me. It has balls so far and I think it will do the trick…” He adds a handwritten note, “I bought a huge Doberman name of Agar for $100 (on hundred) Yes. Also a pistol for $70. & now I can’t pay the rent”.

In one of the most disturbing letters in the collection, Thompson’s tendency for violence meets his disdain for the clientele that frequent the Hot Springs. In a highly edited excerpt, and perhaps exaggerated, Thompson talks about the event that started with disrupting a friend’s wedding held on the estate, “I write this with…a fresh dose of the Fear. The dirty paw of violence gave me a long shove down the path to eviction…After shooting a bottle of brandy off the table, blasting all the glasses & a head of lettuce, destroying the windows, I headed for the baths…I may or may not be visited by the sherrif [sic]…but the main thing at the moment is to get this goddamn book finished and keep out of jail.”

In a letter dated 13 August, Thompson writes that he has “staved off the dogs” of eviction. He tells Semonin to “hurry over & we will shoot & drink & flatter each other.” On 26 September he writes, “bad deal in TiaJuana [sic] – blew $400 on phoney operation – doctor did nothing – now we face it again – time passing, child growing, terror mounting…Poverty is setting in & disaster looms. I may flee.” Three days later he writes, “Have just been evicted…down to $8…” In early November, he writes on a train en route to Louisville, “I am traveling with 3 guns, 2 gallons of wine, no money, Agar & a big can of gun powder…must finish Rum Diary in rent-free premises. Sandy in N.Y…”

In a long letter dated “Nov ? 1961” from Louisville published in “Proud Highway” (though incorrectly identified as sent to Eleanor McGarr), Thompson writes in small part, “Through the empty house floats the voice of Joanie Baez, an eerie sound to my restless ears…I get the Fear whenever I go outside…Pawned the rifle this morning & put $10 down on a Luger…”

In his last letter of 1961, dated “NY eve”, Thompson writes, “Novel is bogged down horribly. Starting over again…too many details & errands & wasted time saying old things to old people. Only the shooting has kept me clean…Yeah. – H”

Over the next five months, Thompson lived in New York, working on “The Rum Diary”, before he left for South America in May 1962 as a reporter. On 8 January he writes from Louisville, “Dear Wordman…Novel exploded, guns unsold, nothing written, confusion all around. My lowest ebb since SF – ugly…” In the next two letters from New York, spanning 7 pages and published in “Proud Highway”, he writes in small part, “you’ll have to pardon me for not having the faintest idea what the fuck a trump card is……except that it sounds big and bad…I am just becoming aware that a man must literally squeeze his own balls to write a good book…I have lost faith in the system…It’s this money hanging over me that does it. That and the novel…”

On 11 March 1962, he writes, “Dear Humbert…The RD is almost there. I can hardly belive [sic] it, but feel certain it will never be published. No matter. Just to finish the bastard is enough…” On 21 March he writes about time and aging, and also about Peron in Argentina, noting “South America is blowing wide open now & I’m half-wild to get there”. He tells his friend, “I’d advise you to stop thinking about age 30. The future is the next 6 months — no more…Writing a novel is the shittiest thing a man can undertake…My final word is don’t waste your money on clocks.”

On 19 April 1962 he writes, “The Rum Diary went to an agent last Friday & I await comment, but with little optimism. It is 366 pages long & I think you might like it, but god knows who else. Except me, and I’m not even sure of that…It is easy to see now, Why The Man Who Goes to the Right Parties gets published, and the Man Who Stays Home gets fucked.”

On 10 May, he writes from Aruba en route to Bogota. Published in “Proud Highway” (mis-datd as 5 May there), he notes that since he’s broke, “I am going to have to do a lot of smiling.” He then sends a picture postcard of himself, as a model, writing over it, “el poseur”. In the next two letters, published in “Proud Highway”, he writes in small part, “there is at this moment a beetle the size of god’s ass on the table about 6 inches from the t-writer…worse than anything Kafka ever dreamed…a sexual deadness in the air that makes me feel I might be locked up for looking at women on the street…Sandy reports that the agent still has not read the novel after six weeks. It will take him six minutes, I think, to skim 15 pages & toss it aside as the work of a crank…”

From Bogota on 13 June, he writes, “I sold my Aruba piece to the National Observer…Sent them another & they said it was ‘magnificiently [sic] funny’ but they didn’t know if they could use it. God I hope so – probably $150 more!…3 people just escaped from Alcatraz – the foundations are going.”

In a very lengthy letter written 27 July 1962 from Ecuador, Thompson writes in part, “it is late as hell and I am in a shitty town, writing on pills…I am so starved for a sane soul to punch at that I would sit up all night on nails if I thought it would mean a contact…the massive lonliness [sic] is my only real bitch…I feel like I am in it alone here, that even the most enlightened people I talk to don’t have the faintest idea what I’m talking about…Inquisitively, H”.

On 4 August from Peru, he writes an epic letter, published in “Proud Highway”, in very small part, “Dear Niggerboy…They made a show of having free elections here, a queer won, the army didn’t like it and the army took over. The fact that the army and the bankers are still very much on speaking terms sort of speaks for itself. The only ones who think democracy is going to work here are the people in Washington…The grey areas are missing and the whole picture is vastly clearer…”

His 28 August 1962, published in “Proud Highway” reads in part, “I for one see definite humor in the rape of nuns…Life has improved immeasurably since I have been forced to stop taking it seriously…”

In a quick letter penned from Rio on 18 September he writes, “Brazil is the noise I’ve been after. Rio is the nuts. A madhouse if one was ever built…” Writing on “Brazil Herald” stationery on 29 October from Rio, he writes, “it gives me an odd feeling to know there is a pistol in the pocket…The lust to fictionalize is coming back…”

From Rio on 1 November 1962, Thompson writes, “We cannot afford to take ourselves too seriously. That is inevitably the fate of those who get mixed up with studying the habits of niggers. And if this be prejudice, for gods sake have the vision to laugh at it…We have a long way to go and we don’t need any black furhers to take us there. (Fuehers? Fuerhers?) Fuck it…HST”.

He continues in his next letter on 1 December, published in “Proud Highway”, “Jomo Kenyata is a man with a beard and a spear and bright eyes and probably a cyst or two on his balls whose only ambition as far as I know is the acquisition of power. The fact that he is black is incidental, but it is also a fact…I have tonight been reading a stupid, shitty book by Kerouac called Big Sur…”

1963 begins with a busy Thompson, writing from Rio on 20 January, “I am writing constantly for the Observer and pulling in about $400 a month — $500 of which goes to meet my expenses…[William] Kennedy has the Rum Diary and I curiously await a verdict…I am pondering Africa. Send word and advice. I am also pondering suicide. If you have any advice on that, you may as well send it. Bingo, H”.

An extremely dense, near-novella letter is written on 22 February 1963, in small part, “Dear Blackbuster:…I seem to be losing the thread — not so much in my thinking, which is becoming more lucid and tormented (yeah) as time goes by — but by the act that my thoughts and my actions no longer jibe. I am so fucked up that I don’t even have carbon paper to preserve this letter…The horrible thing about it is that I am now making money…Sandy thinks I am going to pieces and I have to deny it because I am…[I] savagely attacked two punks on the street for teasing a dog; beat the shit out of them both in the middle of Av. Copacabana, right in front of a police station with a crowd of about 200 people looking on…I am beginning to believe that in the malignant massiveness of society it is only by single, senseless acts of violence that a man can define himself…”

In his next letter on 29 February 1963, in addition to a lengthy letter, Thompson draws a funny cross-eyed picture of himself as “man in a funk”. He follows it up with a 15 March letter from Rio, in part, “right now i need a break from the spics and I need it bad. Maybe Copenhagen…I am living in a world of cracks, breaks, fizzles, lies, treachery, & overall thirdrateness. My desire to get out is at the point of desperation.” He writes on 29 April from Lima to “Sr. Balderdash…I am off on a mad scheme…absolutely penniless except for a British pound note & the glorious remnants of a half-made reputation…I am running out of sanity & today tore up a hotel room like a wild dog.”

In May, Thompson was back in New York, and writes about a week before his marriage to Sandy Conklin, in part, “…I desperately need peace and thinking room. Big Sur has gone chintzy on me. No hope there. Maybe Aspen…I am going bald…” He writes from Florida on 6 June, “Dear Karl…Our disasters are private, our bombast is public, & our shame & desperation is secretly shared.” In this letter he draws a stick figure of “God” over the sun.

The Thompson clan then head to Woody Creek, Colorado, where they spent the rest of 1963 and early part of 1964. In a letter on 4 November, Thompson goes into great detail in recommending a gun to Semonin and concludes that paragraph with, “You should only purchase a Luger after first laying hands on a dependable killer…I will attempt to communicate at a later date, when rage, hysteria and poverty have somewhat abated.”

Hunter keeps a watchful eye on Semonin’s property while he’s in Colorado and writes on 11 November, “The influx of deadbeats has begun…More people know about the place than you think — and all the worst people. Word is out that you’re a rich communist…” In an undated letter written sometime in mid-November, published in “Proud Highway”, Thompson writes, “…The fucking Reds are putting the pressure on me…I have reliable information that the Denver branch of the IJC is behind this harrassment. [sic] Those communist shits! I used to blame the Wall Street warlords for my troubles, but now I know better…”

On 14 November 1963, Thompson writes, “Forsake your African habit of procrastination…The Reporter…bought my Louisville piece after the Obs. had the shitty gall to bounce it…Maybe now I can write for people I might want to talk to…I feel like the clouds parted.” Thompson then gives Semonin a good deal of helpful advice on how to get his photos published in newspapers.

One of the most famous and important letters that Thompson wrote, the lengthy 2pp. single-spaced letter written the day of John F. Kennedy’s assassination is included in this archive, showing Thompson’s most idealistic feelings, and without his usual bravado. In “Proud Highway”, this letter is combined with Thompson’s letter dated 28 November, so page 2 of this JFK letter is unpublished. Dated 22 November, letter reads in part, “I am trying now to compose a reaction to the heinous, stinking shit-filled thing that occurred today…That the bullet should have come from the Far Left is the filthiest irony of all…I started to cry but figured that was not called for, so cursed instead…Where do we go from here? All of you cheap book-store Marxists who had the answer yesterday had better buy bullets…HST”.

Thompson’s next letter, written 28 November, spans two pages, with the second page published in “Proud Highway”. Letter reads in part, “And when you want to ‘intimidate’ me, try something besides threatening me with your friends. They may be intimidating people, for all I know, but your vague ‘mentions’ thus far smack of such in-group hero-worship that I don’t feel particularly unjust in expecting just a bit more…It may be that the facists [sic] will do us all in the end, but not before getting their balls twisted. ”

Thompson next writes an epic 5pp. letter on 1 December 1963, most of which concerns Kennedy’s assassination and world politics, but also includes a detailed story about Thompson almost losing his life to a speeding automobile that took off one of the doors to his car: “it’s as close as I’ve come in a while to a religious experience”, after he and a friend parked to look over the side of a cliff where they saw a car at the bottom. He then jousts with his friend, who seems to have embraced extreme left wing politics, at least according to Thompson: “your group…a half-baked gang of ‘revolutionaries,’ basking in the dubious status of a Marxist pecking order that impresses me the same way I was impressed by Esquire’s ‘establishment’…Certainly the killing of Kennedy is part of the pattern; he might have been the big maverick to queer the odds, but now I see no hope of it…there is big talk of a Nixon win in ’64…Regardless of the outcome, I think the U.S. has shot its wad in this world…I see a downhill run like England’s…the East, controlled by China, is in the ascendancy…” Thompson then compares Thomas Jefferson to Karl Marx, regarding each man’s writings on the “Rights of Man”, and then continues, “Castro said Oswald couldn’t have killed Kennedy because nobody uses a scope except to shoot 500 or 600 yards. You know how true that is, so try to avoid that sort of bullshit and tell me something original…It is a terrible thing to have Kennedy killed and still not know exactly who did it, or why. The whole thing has been a goddamn nightmare…Lengthily, HST”.

In the next few letters written in late 1963, Thompson continues to challenge Semonin in his political beliefs, but with wry humor always running throughout. He lists a series of questions that Semonin must answer, beginning with “1) Where did you lose your sense of humor?” and then, “11) Is it healthy to have no doubt? / 12) Why is Nixon dangerous? / 13) How do you skin a deer with a dull knife?…A man must keep his sanity and his balls…Dr. Bloor”. He writes about hunting and politics in his next letter, “Johnson is coming on strong: he just announced that the U.S. was ready for talks with Mao whenever they felt up to it. That’s progress. Unlike Kennedy, he is going to have to work for the ‘liberal’ vote, and it may push him to wild action…Keep the faith — HST”

In a letter dated 3 January (1964) from Woody Creek published in “Proud Highway”, Thompson writes, “You accuse me repeatedly of being ‘anti-Marxist.’ I am not…There are two main evils in the world today: One is Poverty, and the other is Governments…maybe that it’s just that I won’t play the Big Game until it stops looking phoney…HST”.

On 20 January 1964, Thompson writes in small part, “I hear you are going to Harlem…Shit, you’ll be a hero in Harlem. Go somewhere and find out how it is to be a bum. Go to Dallas…Johnson’s bullshit is beginning to drive me wild…God fuck us all…I think poverty looms. It may be the only salvation — unless I run for president…HST”.

Thompson’s letter dated 31 January is published in “Proud Highway” and reads in part, “Between Fanon and Bob Dylan I think the blood is moving in my brain again. Dylan is a goddamn phenomonen [sic], pure gold…The tension is ugly. Sandy is in the eighth month…Returning to this country has crippled my spirit; it is easier to be an American abroad…HST”.

Thompson writes a funny/cutting eulogy of his friend in his 1 February 1964 letter, in part, “in his middle years he grew dogmatic and retired into books and theories. Some witchdoctor is said to have inserted a needle into his coxyx [sic] bone and drained out all the fluid. Mr. Semonin then took solace in his own balls, which he could no longer see, due to rigidity of the spine…That is the problem in this country; the network of pleasant ignorance that surrounds nearly everything…Sincerely, Lord Chesterfield”.

In a 11 March 1964 letter published in “Proud Highway”, Thompson writes from Glen Ellen, California, where the family moved. In part, “Dear Doctor Strangelove:…And for shit’s sake stop calling me a ‘liberal.’ I gave up calling you a Communist a long time ago, and the least you can do is return the favor…I am still writing for the White Negro press, alias The Reporter, and am considering a spot with the Saturday Evening Post…Why don’t you subscribe to Time?”

In an informative letter dated 16 March with “I was evicted again” scrawled in his hand at top, Thompson writes in part, “I have just had my first belly to belly encounter with your ‘phoney liberals.’ Both ‘writers.’ And sellers. In the end, one proved out to be an Eisenhower Republican and the other an out-right, fuck all Bircher. And I turned out to be a ‘stinking, sleazy sellout to the Reds.’…” Thompson continues the letter with detailed thoughts and observations on the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X, the “white power structure” and the establishment who’s “got the fear”.

In a letter dated 7 April 1964 published in “Proud Highway”, Thompson writes in part, “Dear Blowhole…the idea of a Negro Nationalist party in this country is madness, because there are too many people in this country just waiting for an excuse to act like the racists they are. Hell, I have a strain of it myself, and the only thing that has brought me around this far is the fact that every time I’ve seen a black-white confrontation I’ve had to admit the negroes were Right…”

In his letter dated 28 April 1964, published in “Proud Highway”, Thompson is worried about the responsibility of fatherhood, “For the past two months I have been in a black bog of depression, fathering a son, living among people more vicious and venal than I ever thought existed, and bouncing from one midnight to the next in a blaze of stupid drink…”

In a letter dated 23 May, published in “Proud Highway”, Thompson writes, “…we will both be old men before the world power structure rests on another three-cornered sense of humor like Khrushchev, Kennedy and Pope John. / I was wrong when I said the negro had already won his right in this country…” A month later, on 23 June, he writes, “Dear X…Unlike you revolutionaries, I can’t get a dole from the Ford Foundation…’The people’ are a myth. They are their own enemies – life is a bread riot…HST”.

On 31 September 1964, Thompson writes a lengthy letter from his 318 Parnassus apartment in San Francisco, where he would live while riding with the Hell’s Angels. In part, “I carry a billy in my pocket and mean to inquire as to the feasibility of carrying a .44 magnum. It is dangerous to walk around this city at night. Beatings, mugging, rapes and no help from onlookers have become so common that ‘vigilante committees’ are forming…I just finished a review of Donleavy’s latest ‘collection.’ He’s done for. Gone creepy sentimental, like Salinger, who may be dead by now.” On 7 October, Thompson writes, “At times I get a feeling that I’m coming back to my sanity, but then the noise begins again and I hit the sink…The nagging lust to rewrite the novel prevents me from focusing on journalism, and the necessity of paying the bills with journalism keeps me from focusing on the novel. There is no excuse for my chaos…”

Another epic 4pp. single-spaced letter is dated 12 October, reading more like a non-fiction novella than a letter; pages are numbered up to six, so it appears that pages two and four are missing. Letter reads in part, “Drink and TV football. Sudden, senseless boozings in this rollercoaster fog. A land of the dead and dying, the desperate fat and fanatically fit, icepick smiles above wooden tits, the dull end of a bad dream…Wiser, perhaps — or ‘more mature,’ in the argot of the whipped — but not much smarter…The gimmick is to survive…The secret is in believing your own bullshit…I think I might have a go at the bible, see what those people meant when they talked about Faith. Faith in what?…Your letter was the usual mass of lies, ignorance and innuendo…You devious red muthorfuckor I know better than to take your garbage seriously. I heard about you and [Porter] Bibb’s wife in the pantry…Don’t come around here you godless creep…Zapata”. Thompson goes into detail about politics, Malcolm X and his theory that everything revolves around man’s universal fear that someone is “fucking his wife”.

Thompson’s next two letters, totaling 6pp. with handwritten notes, was written over the course of ten days, from 15 November-25 November 1964. Published in “Proud Highway”, letters reads in part, “Juan Lechin [Vice President of Bolivia, in exile in late 1964] has become astonishingly rich…he had himself shaved and barbered. He then emerged, looking and smelling somewhat like Ronald Reagan, and mingled with the mob like an oily Lyndon Johnson…A true anarchist is the only man who can afford to relax in this world; his vision is clear and true, his aims are simple…Johnson doesn’t know Chile from chili, and doesn’t give a damn either. I think we are in for the final slide; eight years of it, unless he dies…You are the Gatsby of the Marxist Left, old sport; he had his silk shirts and you have Tomorrow’s Gospel…The enemy is any man who is willing to take the necessary steps to protect his own short-term interests…often never admitting it even to himself…” He also talks about watching Goldwater’s speech on the floor at the Republican convention and feeling afraid because he was the only person not cheering.

In his last letter from 1964, Thompson writes, “Dear Ringo” on 18 December, in part, “why I feel the need for a half-apology re: my last screed. For some reason I misread the tone of yours and replied with uncontrolled spleen…I feel accusations all around, zeroing in on me…I spent all last night in a bitter clash with three Wall st. journal staffers…These people feel guilty and don’t know why; it is the radical hangover, a nagging fear that they have not lived up to the dream they were taught to worship…Whitey”.

In a letter dated 5 February 1965 published in “Proud Highway”, Thompson writes a humorous 2pp. letter from his San Francisco home, in part, “Well Bobo…discount any propaganda you get from Marin County. That is like somebody from Greenwich telling you NY is ‘great, man, just great.’…I’m struck again by your apparent assumption that you have somehow crossed the color line…Why are you the only white man that all your negro friends will tolerate?” He finishes with a funny nod to is infant son, “Juan says Fuck off”.

In Thompson’s next letter from 18 April 1965, also published in “Proud Highway”, and spanning five pages single spaced, he details the genesis of his relationship with the Hell’s Angels, and continues to effortlessly throw down quotable sentences. Letter reads in part, “…If you get arrested once, for instance, a smypathetic [sic] friend or liberal benefactor might be happy to make bail. The second time, maybe…wrote Carey McWilliams, editor of the Nation — for whom I just did a piece on outlaw motorcyclists…this marriage thing is not a killer in itself but in the small routines and trivial obligations that come with it…In closing I remain, increasingly savage and unreasonable — HST”.

On 23 April 1965 Thomson writes Semonin in Senegal, Africa, in part, “…the System kills those who actively fight it just as surely as it does those who love it, and that the only hope is to quit for real. Whether I have the guts to do this or not is another question.” He follows up with a letter dated 17 May with further movement on the Hell’s Angels book, in part, “Dear Punk:…On the day I was evicted the Nation arrived with mine as the lead article…I may be on the verge of writing a book for Pantheon (Random) on what they call ‘fringe types.’…I think it’s about time you started dealing in the real world where people fuck you with a smile and a 5 cent stamp…The trouble with this country is that the poor don’t trust each other.”

In his 9 June 1965 letter published in “Proud Highway”, Thompson writes in part, “I have just finished the most biased, violent and wholly political piece I’ve ever written. [“The Non-Student Left”, published 27 September 1965] For the Nation…HST”.

On 22 June 1965, Thompson gets a check to write “on Cycle gangs”, in part, “you are thinking in terms of 40 years from now, while I hesitate to think beyond 40 days. Or — at the moment — six months, due to the contract I just signed: $6000 guarantee against royalties for a paperback on Cycle gangs…Things are hopping and I shouldn’t be writing letters. I have to whip up an outline for the Cycle book and right now I don’t have the vaguest idea what I’ll write…Incredible. I’ve been drunk for two weeks.” He continues on 6 July, “I warn you that you are going to find me a much tougher and shittier person than the one you left in Louisville 2 years go…It has finally come home to me that I am not going to be either the Fitzgerald or the Hemingway of this generation…I am going to be the Thompson of this generation, and that makes me more nervous than anything else I can think of…Senor Fatback”.

On 24 August 1965, Thomson writes a thick 2pp. single spaced letter, worried about impending deadlines in part, “Dear X…Spent tonight updating a piece for Pageant, weaving in the L.A. riots…Tomorrow a first draft of a Playboy piece on the Hell’s Angels…the awful shadow of the book — not even begun as yet — hangs on me like a pending shitrain…the Rum Diary…I now consider nearly worthless, but what the hell…I have to go on the Labor Day run with the Hell’s Angels…Mr. Fun”.

The next piece of correspondence is Thompson’s telegram to Tom Wolfe, whom he had met after his review of Wolfe’s “Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby” was rejected by the Observer in 1964. Dated 17 October 1965, telegram reads in part, “The addict in the street becomes more alarmed as the instruments of control become more sophisticated…Contact me at Hells Angels Oakland Temple Wednesday morning.”

Dated “Fri late”, in his letter from October 1965 Thompson first describes a story of getting Semonin’s manuscript back from the editor of the magazine “Black Dialogue”, in part, “He acted a bit funny and at first I figured it was because he didn’t like the idea of a white devil claiming something in his possession, but when I saw the crumpled ms. [manuscript] I realized he was just embarrassed. The thing looks like four people slept and fucked on it. But it’s legible, so I’ll suck it up and render a massive judgement…”

In a postcard from 31 October 1965, Thompson writes, “Am considering a total change of a ‘Hell Angels Notebook,’ instead of a standard type book, which bores hell out of me. What do you think – a short of Journal, from my first contact to my last? H”. He follows up a few days later, “finished 35 pages of chapter 1 and will send it off next week. Terrible fatigue here. No word from Playboy.”

In a handwritten letter dated 10 November, Thompson details his motorcycle accident while riding with the Angels, “I have now blooded and broken myself on the machine ‘Over the high side,’ as the Angels would say. 18 head stitches, broken rt hand, concussion, shoulder separation & a very raw back…”

A week later he writes, “Took the cast off 2 wks early and am now going with a ‘floating finger,’ as they say. Word from Ballantine and Random says my fist lump of text is ‘magnificent.’ I think they were afraid to say anything else, for fear I might quit… Sincerely – H”. On 30 November he writes a quick letter, in part, “Playboy bounced…my fink called this morning, full of apologies and saying ‘Hefner himself’ had vetoed the piece…Yours in fear”. Deadlines continue to loom in Thompson’s 28 December 1965 letter, “Word here is ugly…Still not even half through the book and now there is talk of missing the ‘spring list’, which sounds bad & costly”.

1966 begins with a letter dated 6 January, in part, “200 pgs. now sent – feel over the hump…Bike still wrecked & rusting… H”. On 12 January he writes, “going to Sacramento tomorrow (thurs.) for a Hells Angels funeral…Mother Miles got snuffed…”

On 19 January 1966, Thompson writes in part, “Dear Fatjack…I was really taken with the [Hell’s Angels] funeral. It was a gutty thing. They did plenty of showboating, but there was a hard dark tone in the thing…My whole fiscal framework is collapsing. All insurance cancelled, ultimatum on the rent, guns lost in pawn, etc…Dr. Bloor”.

On 23 January, Thompson asks for a $200 loan and warns Semonin, “…For jesus sake be careful what contracts you sign. And if the editor seems like a good fellow, get a lawyer at once.” He thanks Semonin for the loan in a 28 January letter, which has more details on publication of the “Rum Diary” and other works, signed by Thompson, “LSD”.

In his 9 February 1966 letter, published in “Proud Highway”, Thompson makes another reference to LSD, in part, “…My ambition now is to ride the bike to the NCAA basketball finals and then load up on LSD for all four games. I’m looking for a Ky-Duke final, which should generate real hysteria even without acid…”

In his 14 April 1966 letter, shades of “Fear and Loathing” are starting to emerge. Letter reads in part, “…My Quick Raid on NY turned into a 2-week battle of wills, desperation and LSD…Random has reluctantly agreed to do the Rum Diary, but for minimum money. Hell’s Angels is unexplainably postponed to fall…Just heard on the radio that the Angels got busted for a riot with cops in south SF. Wild drunk now, but I think I’ll go out and check…”

On 1 April 1966, Thompson is excited with news of a deal, “Kazinga. The zip is on. Got a call from my tambourine man agent tonight, saying we just cracked Random for $10,000…it’s like this: $3000 for rewrite of Rum Diary and $7000 for as yet unspecified nonfiction book.” He follows up on 5 May, “if the second chunk of the advance doesn’t come through in 3-4 days I’ll be back to pawning guns. I thought the $900 would give me elbow room, but with $200 for you, $200 for the bike, $200 for rent and $150 for a Doberman pup I was left with chickenfeed…”

Still in San Francisco on 29 July 1966, Thompson hints and then later confirms the dangerous break he had with the Hell’s Angels. Letter reads in part, “…Just coming back from a six-day flip on the bike – booze, drugs, no mufflers, burglary, the works…trying to stay alive…I think maybe I am about to be snuffed…Sluggo”. In a 7 September postcard he confirms, “Your word came into the chaos…Pills, 24 hr-writing, no sleep, packing, fear, etc…Am badly beaten here – the Angels turned on me – Ignominiously – H”.

In a letter dated 26 October 1966, Thompson makes the move to Woody Creek, Colorado, where he’d make his home the rest of his life. He writes, “I am now the proprietor of Trudi Pederson’s spread up Woody Creek. It came by accident, but was too good to refuse…” He writes again on 13 November after a ten day trip, signing the letter “THE WIZARD of Woody Creek”, in part, “Have you finally figured out that the geeks are going to get us?…The middle of America is a terrifying place…I want to do a profile on ‘Los Angeles as the Full and Final Flower of the American Dream.’ But they say it won’t sell. Meanwhile I’m trying to get up enough steam and angst to rewrite the Rum Diary, which is already sold…”

1967 begins with a letter on custom-made Woody Creek stationery, showing a mystic, psychedelic owl. Dated 14 January, letter reads in part, “Punko…As for here, it’s the same kind of good-life dullness – maddening stupor, but I’ll take it any day to life on the West Side. The answer is mobility – this is a nice gig to come back to…H”. Thompson’s roots were quickly pulled up, however, in a letter dated 17 March 1967, where he writes “Ugly times here. Friend Trudi has decided to make the ranch into a pottery shop as of May 1 – which means we’re evicted”. It wouldn’t be until early 1969 that Thompson bought the property himself, using proceeds from the paperback sale of “Hell’s Angels”.

On 3 April 1967, Thompson writes, “Dear Fuzzy…It’s been made very clear to me recently that this is not a friendly community to those who can’t pay. And now the same money-grubbing swine call me ‘Hunter’ and offer me credit…I haven’t been doing too well. It’s an ugly game…” On 17 April he writes with money concerns, “I’ll be in a rotten, pill-freak scramble to get this bullshit done to buy myself a summer of peace – for the Rum Diary…Your best bet is to deal hard for possession of the cabin – because otherwise you’re going to be down in the ditch with the rest of us niggers.”

On 17 October 1967 he writes, “Dear Karl…tried to bear down to write on a fuel mixture of 10% natural energy & 90% pills – The result was a raging stupor & no writing progress at all. I finally blew it all & went to sleep for 3 days…Sandy is pregnant again, and crazy like the other times – tears, screaming – like the good ole days…”

In the next handful letters, Thompson addresses Semonin as “Honkie”, “Hero of the People”, “Flojo”, “Wispy”, “Geek”, “Afro”, “Dilletante” and “Dingo”. On 6 December 1967, he writes in part, “I hear rumors that the paperback HA [Hell’s Angels] is selling fatly, but so far I haven’t received a pfenig. Beyond that, my only significant mail concerns lawsuits…”

On 22 February 1968 he writes about the upcoming Democratic convention: “…Any chance of your making the Demo convention this summer? I plan to be there, in one guise or another. I sense some rare photo possibilities. And a chance to use my new karate techniques.” On 2 March he writes about overly convoluted writing, “[SDS leader Carl] Oglesby…is a powerful example of a ‘writer’ whose work I approach with respect and even eagerness, but whose sentences — in print — don’t make any sense to me…It may be bad thinking, too, but the writing is so bad that I can’t understand the thinking behind it. The other side of that coin, of course, is that I’m simply too stupid to grasp it…HST”.

Thompson reacts to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in his 10 April 1968 letter. He writes, “Maybe we’re not all niggers, as somebody once said, but it’s beginning to look like we’ll all end up working for Puerto Rico News Service…The King business has pretty well soured me on the future of this evil fucking country…”

On 13 May 1968, Thompson writes about a story he’s working on, “I’ve spent the past two weeks going very deep, very fast, into the Oil Shale question — on the pretense of writing an article for the L.A. Times. It’s a fantastic piece of action. All technical and geological and $10 million ‘experimental leases’ shrugged off in the shadow of $100 billion possibilities…”

Thompson uses the phrase “Fear and Loathing” in his letter from the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. He writes on “Wed”, 28 August 1968, the night that Chicago police and the National Guard attacked protestors in Grant Park. Scrawled in red ink, Thompson signs the letter “Raoul”, the alter ego he used in his unpublished story about the event entitled “Chicago 1968”. Letter reads in full, “I came & watched it happen – & it’s true. Are you ready for the crunch? A redistribution of the cattle-prods. Fear & loathing. Beware / Raoul”.

On 24 October 1968, Thompson writes, “…I have finally devised a formula for the book – a novel within an article, or a bunch of articles. It will spin their heads & outrage their concepts. Fuck them…Raoul”.

On 14 December 1968, Thompson begins the letter writing “Merry Xmas” and then segues into using the phrase “massive capitalistic peace orgy”. He continues, “Your cabin here has become a snow-bound commune, the source of many foul rumors. There is talk of the new tenants being responsible for the napalm death of a local dog…”

On 14 May 1969 Thompson writes keenly about moneyed interests in America, “You can’t get it out of your head that the people you want to ‘expose’ don’t give a fuck about anything except making money. They are beyond shame & without conscience. I see no serious point in mocking them publicly, because they don’t care what we say about them…You are still living in the ‘We Shall Overcome’ era.”

In late 1969, Thompson writes his second to last letter, upset that Semonin didn’t visit him when he came out to Colorado. Letter reads in part, “You came out here and pulled a bad echo of my NYC act — but without my excuse. Which was at least valid, if not honorable. I got the quick impression that your head has turned to water…We are into different drifts — and no doubt for different reasons — but until last month it hadn’t occurred to me that we might be heading in different directions. Which is worth talking about, if it’s true…Ciao…..H”.

The two men continued to stay friends, evidenced in Thompson’s last letter in the collection, dated 5 December 1974 on custom “Rolling Stone” stationery with his Woody Creek owl logo. He writes in part, “Right now I’m sitting here with a case of malaria & strep throat – an ugly combination…But something has to give, with all this pressure – it’s the silent kind, the worst…Anyway, read a book called ‘Dog Soldiers’, by Robert Stone. See you soon / Doc”.

In addition to the 182 letters in this archive, collection also includes four letters by Sandy Conklin, as well a synopsis of all the letters by Semonin, who provides additional information and context, and also identifies many individuals that Thompson writes about. Letters are all very good to near fine, on paper of varying sizes, with most measuring approximately 8″ x 10″. An extraordinary collection, full of biting wit and sharp observations by a man who, in these letters, evolves from a young 17 year old still in high school in 1955 to one of the most important writers to document the cultural and political landscape of the 1960s and 70s.



GonzoFest 2018 Literary Journalism Contest

Reposting from LibraryJournal


Together with the Louisville Public Library and BiblioBoard, We’re celebrating the national expansion of the GonzoFest Literary Contest — and invite all public libraries, their independent authors, and writer communities to enter a single piece of literary nonfiction journalism in the tradition of the late Hunter S. Thompson.

Has there ever been a more suitable time than 2018 for fire-honed and razor-edged journalism in the tradition of the late Hunter S. Thompson?

To encourage such work, and to honor our hometown hero Thompson’s memory, the directors of the annual GonzoFest Louisville event invite writers and artists from all corners of the world to enter a single piece of literary nonfiction journalism and art of any kind to enter this year’s literary and art contests.

There is no type of story preferred over another — so long as it’s true, and interesting. The emphasis will be on the quality of the writing, and the significance of the story it tells.

Entries between 1,250 and 2,000 words are encouraged. They must be unpublished non-fiction, based on the author’s original reporting, observations or insights. Please include a cover page containing the author’s name, address, and contact information — as well as a brief statement attesting to the entry’s originality.

Entries must be submitted via the Literary Contest Portal.
All 2018 literary submissions are due by 11:59 p.m. EDT on March 28, 2018.

Link for submitting 

The winning entry will be considered for publication in the GonzoFest edition of the Louisville Eccentric Observer, Louisville’s venerable alternative weekly.  The author will also be honored during the festival, and receive a $1,000 cash prize, thanks to contest sponsor BiblioBoard. BiblioBoard is a community engagement platform for libraries, helping the library connect with and distribute works from local writers, journalists, musicians, artists, filmmakers and other cultural partners.  Also supporting the contest as BiblioBoard’s Media Partner is Library Journal, which will feature the winning entry on its website.  Library Journal is the most trusted and respected publication for the library community.

The judges, which include prominent journalists from across the U.S. and Europe, encourage work that is reported with a keen eye for detail and written in a bold and elegant style, as Thompson’s best work was. The judges for 2018 will be posted soon.


Michael Lindenberger
Gonzo Festival Literary Contest coordinator
The Dallas Morning News

Gonzo Gallery and Thomas W. Benton Update

Hi folks,

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:

The Gonzo Gallery is now officially broadcasting from www.gonzogallery.com. Artwork by the usual cast of characters – Thomas W. Benton, Ralph Steadman, Hunter S. Thompson, and William S. Burroughs – is now online including work that’s never been available for purchase before. 
We also decided to leave behind the old Thomas W. Benton website and showcase his work in a lavishly post-modern style at www.tomwbenton.com. Unlike our previous, quasi-analog site, you can actually purchase original prints and paintings now.  
And if two new websites weren’t enough, curators, important curators, who stand as pillars of artistic acumen have chosen to include The Gonzo Museum in the Art Genome Project (Think Pandora for artwork) and feature the Museum on their website Artsy. Thus, Gonzo joins the illustrious ranks of The Getty and The Guggenheim in the annals of art history proving that savage genius will survive in an era of reality television and Snapchat. 
I have said it before and I will happily say it again – DJ Watkins has really done a sterling job on the above. Delighted to hear about the Art Genome Project and it is a testament to the fine job he has done in bringing the collections into the digital age. A lot of this material would be simply unavailable to people if it wasn’t for DJ and his dedication. He also has some more plans in store for 2014 so stay tuned to find out more.
All the best,


An unabridged live reading of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: a Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream” By Hunter S. Thompson

Aspen— Hunter S. Thompson very much enjoyed hearing his work read out loud and in the moment. It could be an older piece or something new. Reading aloud made the writing come alive.

In that spirit and to celebrate what would be the journalist’s 75th birthday, The Gonzo Reading Project is hosting a continuous reading of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” on Saturday, July 14th. at The Hotel Jerome in Aspen, Colorado. The live performance project is scheduled to begin atnoon and take about seven hours—depending upon circumstances.

Friends from far and wide will gather to participate and read at one the iconic institutions in Gonzo literature.

“Slower,” Hunter would inevitably say to the reader. He wrote his work to have a certain cadence, and he liked to hear every comma. If you are interested in reading a part of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas please email: info@gonzoreadingproject.com.

Will you buy the ticket and take the ride? Are you ready to read?
WHAT: Unabridged live reading of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: a Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream” By: Hunter S. Thompson

WHO: The Gonzo Reading Project, Friends and Family of the late Hunter S. Thompson

WHERE: The Hotel Jerome’s Green Library, Fat City, USA

WHEN: Saturday, July 14, 2012 at High Noon


You can also watch the event on a live webcast at the following link: –  http://www.ustream.tv/channel/gonzo-reading-project 


Many thanks to the folks over at The Gonzo Reading Project for the info.


All the best,



An Excerpt From Beatdom #11

Hunter S. Thompson – Gonzo Frontiersman

“My only faith in this country is rooted in such places as Colorado and Idaho and maybe Big Sur as it was before the war. The cities are greasepits and not worth blowing off the map.”

– Hunter S. Thompson (from a letter to Lionel Olay, February 16, 1962)

Hunter S. Thompson is a name that will always be associated with a variety of locations – from his birthplace of Louisville Kentucky to his longstanding fortified compound in Woody Creek Colorado, from San Juan Puerto Rico courtesy of The Rum Diary to Las Vegas and his journey to the heart of the American Dream. Thompson was a seasoned traveller and indeed such was the extent of his time on the road in his early twenties that he once declared that his wanderlust made ‘Kerouac look like a piker’ (Thompson 1997, p.244). Although the natural environment has always played an integral role in the make-up of Thompson’s work, it remains an element of his writing that is all too often overlooked in favour of focusing on the more radical characteristics that have come to define both his literary persona and Gonzo Journalism. In order to fully understand and appreciate the various underlying principles that motivated Thompson and shaped his development as a writer, attention must be paid both to the manner in which he utilises the natural environment as a literary device and how the frontier as a concept lies at the heart of his literary oeuvre. Interestingly, the very point in Thompson’s life where the aforementioned come into being, a time and place that could be considered the genesis of both the fictive persona of The Hunterfigure and Gonzo Journalism, is actually one of the most overlooked periods in his life. That place is none other than Big Sur, California. Thompson arrived there in November of 1960 in the hope of settling down to write what he called “The Great Puerto Rican Novel” inspired by his experiences living in San Juan. His journey from the Caribbean island to his new home on the west coast of America had been far from straightforward however, with New York City being the first port of call in July of 1960 in what would become a westward bound voyage across the country that echoed Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. It is important however, to first examine how and why Thompson ended up in Big Sur from San Juan, as the journey itself reveals important details concerning Thompson’s motivationsthat ultimately find their ultimate expression through his writing.

The West Is The Best – Goodbye to the Rat Race

 The catalyst that spurred Thompson on his travels echoed that of certain frontiersmen that first journeyed westward across the land in search of pastures new; they were both equally motivated by a desire stay one step ahead of the law. In the time honoured tradition of the Outlaw heroes that he so admired in his youth, Thompson had fled Puerto Rico whilst out on bail awaiting charges of breach of the peace and resisting arrest, following an incident in which he had first refused to pay for his meal at a restaurant and subsequently got into an ugly confrontation with the police, of whom he compared to Nazi’s when asked to explain his actions in front of a judge in San Juan. Rather than await his fate, Thompson as ever opted to control his own destiny and thus returned to the familiar scene of New York. Though he had become disillusioned with journalism following his stint in Puerto Rico, he still had a strong desire to get his fiction published and whilst in New York he made one final pitch to Grove Press to garner interest in Prince Jellyfish, his first novel. Success however, was far off, and upon receiving yet another rejection letter, Thompson decided to move on from the novel, declaring to William Kennedy that he would ‘chalk that year up to experience’ (Thompson 1997, p. 22). For Thompson though, New York proved to be only a temporary stay. His focus quickly switched to the horizon and an escape route away from the big city. He was never comfortable living in a city the size of New York, though he did find it to be a never ending source of intrigue. When he first arrived there on Christmas Eve, 1957, the towering skyscrapers made such an impression that he later wrote:

I’d never been there, never even seen it. I remember being stunned at the New York skyline as I drove over this big freeway, coming across the flats in Secaucus. All of a sudden it was looming up in front of me and I almost lost control of the car. I thought it was a vision. (Thompson 1992, p.39)

However, the constant struggle to survive on a meagre wage in New York had been the principle reason for Thompson fleeing to Puerto Rico by January of 1960 and now, six months later, he had come full circle. The city had proven to be a rich learning experience in the past, from his stint working as a copyboy at Time, to the classes in “Literary Style & Structure” and “Short Story Writing” that he had taken at Columbia University. Living in New York had also exposed him to the very epicentre of the Beat Generation universe, and their rise to literary prominence did not escape his attention. He was particularly taken by Jack Kerouac whose “confessional prose made quite an impact on Thompson’s philosophy for living, if not on his writing style” (Brinkley in Thompson 1997, p. 110). For Thompson though, the negative aspects of living in New York far outweighed the positive, to such an extent that he harboured a life long aversion to the “rat-race” reality of big city life, a sentiment that was all too clear from even the earliest days of his time in New York, as is illustrated in his letter to his former English teacher at Louisville Male High School, Arch Gerhart, dated January 29, 1958:

Anyone who could live in this huge reclaimed tenement called Manhattan for more than a year, without losing all vestiges of respect for everything that walks on two legs, would have to be either in love, or possessed of an almost divine understanding. The sight of eight million people struggling silently but desperately to merely stay alive is anything but inspiring. For my money, at least eight million people would be much better off if all five boroughs of New York should suddenly sink into the sea. (Thompson 1997, p.106)

In the two years that followed that appraisal, Thompson had only found more reason to convince him that his time was best spent elsewhere. He had hoped that Puerto Rico would have been the solution to his problem, but even a supposed Caribbean paradise turned out to have a dark side. Thompson however, had not entirely given up on the region and by August of 1960 he had another island in the Caribbean in his sights – Cuba.

As with all of his endeavours, the potential for excitement and adventure was always paramount and in 1960 Cuba was at the centre of attention following the exploits of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara a little over a year earlier. The image of the Guerrilla fighter in the Sierra Maestra Mountains, fighting to overthrow the Batista regime, greatly appealed to Thompson’s romantic sensibilities. There was also the Hemingway connection to contend with which only served to heighten Thompson’s desire to travel to the country in search of work and indulge his fantasy of following in his literary heroes footsteps. The dream however quickly fell by the wayside once Thompson realised that work opportunities on the island were scarce and his own financial situation had deteriorated to the point of making any return to the Caribbean impossible. Undaunted by this disappointment, a new plan of action swung into gear by September of 1960, with Thompson and his friend Paul Semonin deciding to undertake the cross country road trip that would culminate in his arrival in Big Sur.

The duo’s first destination was to be Seattle, which involved delivering the vehicle they were journeying in to a car dealer, after which they hoped to make their way down to San Francisco. Once they took to the highways though, they quickly found themselves paying homage to Kerouac’s On the Road:

Their first rule of the road was to pick up every hitchhiker. In western Kansas, Semonin stopped for a man carrying a five-gallon gas can. When the hitchhiker got into the backseat, he flipped the latches on the can to reveal it was stuffed with clothes. “No one will pick you up if they think you’re a hitchhiker,” he explained. “You have to be a motorist in distress.” Hunter smelled a story and interviewed the man about the difficulty of getting rides. When they neared a signpost that proved they were in the middle of nowhere, Hunter made Semonin stop and take a picture of the interviewee with his thumb out, looking forlorn. (Perry 2004, p. 53)

Given the nature of their expedition and literary sensibilities, the Beat Generation connotations are unsurprising. Thompson was particularly fixated on the image of the lone hitchhiker during this jaunt, with multiple photographs taken by both Thompson and Semonin along the way consisting of a solitary figure standing at the edge of an empty highway, awaiting the opportunity to catch a ride to the next town from a stranger that might never materialise. The sheer vastness of the landscape in the background creates an overwhelming sense of isolation but also raises the alluring prospect of endless possibilities and unlimited freedom. It was an intoxicating picture for Thompson but one that he felt was increasingly under threat, as is evident from his article Low Octane For The Long Haul:

Hitchhikers have fallen on bad times in recent years. The raised thumb, long a symbol of youthful adventure, suddenly took on a threatening aspect when both Hollywood and the Readers’ Digest decided the public would be better off if hitchhiking were a lost art. It almost is – and things have come to such a sad pass that only uniformed servicemen and Jack Kerouac seem to be able to move about the country with any ease. The others are having trouble. Most people are afraid of them, insurance regulations prevent truckers from picking them up, and a good many of those who still stop for the stranded thumb are often more dangerous than the hitchhikers themselves. (Thompson 2006, p. 23)

It was a doomed image that Thompson himself brought to fruition in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, with his alter ego Raoul Duke and attorney Dr. Gonzo terrorizing a hitchhiker on the desert highway to Las Vegas, a place that we are ominously reminded as being the last known home of the Manson family.

In 1960 however, there was a still a vestige of innocence and youthful optimism that had yet to be swept away by the tide of violence that would come to define the decade ahead. Upon his eventual arrival in San Francisco in October of that year, Thompson delighted in seeking out the North Beach haunts of the Beats, including the City Lights Bookshop owned by Laurence Ferlinghetti. The novelty of the city by the bay soon wore off though and once more Thompson found himself cursing the pressures of city life. The task of finding accommodation was temporarily eased by his friend John Clancy offering him the use of his vacated apartment until the lease had expired. Clancy was moving across the bay to Berkeley and so Thompson seized the opportunity with relish. Yet the perennial problem of employment once more reared its ugly head, with a soon-to-be despairing Thompson applying for everything from bartending to selling encyclopaedias. He was met with rejection across the board. When his application to the San Francisco Chronicle for work went completely unacknowledged, Thompson sent editor Abe Mellinkoff an Orwellian inspired put down entitled – Down and Out in San Francisco:

City of hills and fog and water, bankers and boobs – Republicans all…city of no money except what you find at the General Delivery window, and somehow it’s always enough – city, like all cities, of lonely women, lost souls, and people slowly going under. City of newspapers for Nixon (“careful now, don’t upset the balance of terror”)…where you talk with editors and news directors and creative directors and hear over and over again how easy and necessary it is to sell out…(Thompson 1997, pp. 237-8)

There was now also a notable political edge seeping into Thompson’s writing, no doubt a reflection of the extraordinary political circus that was unfolding before an electrified nation – the first televised presidential debates between Vice President Richard Nixon and Senator John F. Kennedy…

Okay folks if you want to read the entire article, which is a good deal longer, then head over to Amazon where you can pick it up in either paperback ot for kindle. Beatdom #11 also includes interviews with leading Kearouac scholar Ann Charters, Al Hinkle (Ed Dunkel from Kerouac’s On the Road), musicians Hank Williams III & Richie Ramone, alongside articles on William Blake, William S. Burroughs and Arthur Rimbaud.

All the best,