Exclusive Interview with Alex Gibney

Happy New Year Everybody,

All rumours surrounding my absence of late are probably more interesting and entertaining than the real deal – a rotten run of bad luck and stupidity and acts of God and other worthless crap that I can do without right now. It involves water and my house being pretty much wrecked – yet I am alive, nobody is dead and things can be fixed. I need to feed on some Gonzo before I go completely mad and thanks to Mr. Charles Thomson Esq. I have just that – an exclusive interview with Alex Gibney.

Our Gonzo loving friend Mr. Thomson, a student of journalism, managed to ambush Gibney at the Trafalgar Hotel recently and here are the results:

 

 

CT: When did you first start reading Hunter Thompson’s work?

AG: College. I read the two big books, both the Fear and Loathing books, Campaign Trail and Vegas. And maybe Kentucky Derby. I loved it but I also wasn’t one of those people who had read everything, until after he committed suicide and I was encouraged to make a film about him. Then I thought ‘OK, time to do some serious reading.’

CT: And how did Thompson’s work impact on you when you first started reading it?

AG: It was electric for me because I found it so well observed but also so funny. That’s what I really got off on. I mean, it dug at key social problems and gored all sorts of sacred cows, but did so with such humour. The anger was all channelled through the humour – it just made you laugh out loud. So you felt like you were following somebody who was kind of a whacked out tour guide that was able to get you to see things about every day surroundings that you just hadn’t noticed before.

CT: You say you started filming after Thompson’s suicide, but you filmed the funeral, so how long afterwards did you start?

AG: Well, keep in mind that there were two funerals. One funeral was something that happened not very long after his suicide at the Jerome Hotel, where a bunch of people convened and they read or talked extemporaneously about memories of Hunter. But what Johnny Depp wanted to do was to honour a vision that Hunter had for his own funeral that he outlined in a BBC documentary, which was to do this big monument and to fire his ashes out over the valley. That wasn’t done until the August after his suicide, his second one. Most people only have one funeral – he had two. So I was there for that.

CT: So how long after the suicide were you contacted about making the film?

AG: Couple of weeks.

CT: And that was Graydon Carter?

AG: Yes.

CT: Was he a friend of Hunter’s?

AG: Hunter had written for him and Graydon was in touch with the estate.

CT: And once you know you’re going to make the film, what do you do first? What’s the process?

AG: You dig into the material. That’s what I do, anyway. I didn’t want to do the film unless we had total carte blanche with the estate. The estate gave us that so we went out to Aspen and also to Denver, Colorado and began searching through boxes and cataloguing stuff. That was the first step. Then, slowly but surely, we thought about what interviews we’d like to do – and which ones we decided to do were related to what we thought the focus of the film should be, which was on a certain period of time. So those are the two key steps. Then along the way we begin to build up a sense of a narrative and I begin to think of certain visual beds that might make sense within the context of the story like the motorcycle bed for the reading of Hell’s Angels, the edge speech.

CT: Once you’d started digging into all that material did you become more of a fan? Or did you get sick of him after a while?

AG: I became more of a fan. I mean, I was fascinated with how much he’d written because I dug deep into all his letters and sometimes his unpublished manuscripts, which his estate gave us access to. So it was pretty exciting – I was impressed at the volume he cranked out and the material was at a pretty high level.

CT: What were the unpublished manuscripts?

AG: Well there’s a book that will be released soon about the NRA. It’s a great book. He wrote it, I believe, in-between Vegas and Campaign Trail.

CT: Hunter was a member of the NRA, so was it a book of his own experiences? Or was it more in the vein of Hell’s Angels where he immersed himself in the subculture of gun nuts?

AG: Well, there was a little bit of both. In other words, he starts with the part that’s in the film, where he’s talking in a very confessional way;’ The day after Robert Kennedy died I received my Walther – I can’t remember the model number – pistol in the mail, you know… I went out, tried it, didn’t like it and sent it back. But it began to get me thinking about my own gun problem.’ Then he goes to the NRA and finds that these NRA guys are scaredy cats, not big tough guys, and Hunter terrified them.

CT: Did you come across his other unpublished book, Polo Is My Life?

AG: I think they’re going to publish it as a book. As you know, Polo Is My Life started off as a story, but I think he wrote enough about it that they’re going to try to spin it off as a book.

CT: What about the tapes? What was it like digging though those?

AG: It was fantastic because they’re very intimate so you hear stuff that really gives you a sense and an understanding of who he was – and who other people were, depending on what tapes you were listening to. Like the tape that we found of him and Oscar at the taco stand, that was fantastic because you know how Hunter wrote their relationship but you really want to hear what it was like and that gives you some sense.

CT: How involved were you in the compilation of The Gonzo Tapes?

AG: I wasn’t in charge but I oversaw it.

CT: How did you decide what to include?

AG: I think the idea was to start narrowing it down and to find certain tapes that didn’t need to be edited but that could be played with some integrity just by rolling forward. We looked at certain key periods in his life like the Zaire failure, the Saigon failure… But also wonderful tapes of Hunter in his heyday recording stuff on the campaign trail in 1972 and then going home to Woody Creek and pouring over it, recording kind of a second track on top of the other one giving a commentary on what it is that he’s recorded. It was great.

CT: Is that stuff on there? Hunter giving commentary on his own recordings?

AG: Yea, some of that stuff is on there.

CT: Wow, that must be confusing.

AG: It’s pretty clear actually, you know, you hear the forefront sound and then you hear Hunter comment on top; ‘This is the sound of bla bla bla…’

CT: Making the film retrospectively, did you have any problems tracking down and acquiring the rights to all the archive footage?

AG: Yea, we did. We had heard a rumour, for example, that Hunter had been on the TV show ‘To Tell The Truth’, but we searched the logs to that show and we couldn’t find it anywhere. We had to go back three or four times to finally find it in an annex. We knew about the two BBC shows so we ordered those right away and we had to make a deal on the footage. There were a lot of photographs, many of which were of uncertain providence. We didn’t know who took them. Some of them were great so there was a lot of work involved in terms of working out exactly where each one of these things came from.

CT: In the film there seemed to be a real turning point after the Zaire failure where Hunter’s work went into steady decline. How did you feel about documenting it? As a fan, were you tempted to skip over it?

AG: I felt like I had to deal with it. I didn’t deal with it at great length and some have criticised me for not dealing with it at even greater length, but I felt like I had to deal with it because his life didn’t end well, he committed suicide, and I also talked to a lot of people over time who were very pissed off about how they were treated by Hunter during that period, so I thought it was important to include something about that period. Also, it was a period that ended his marriage and I felt I had to include a little bit of that too. So all of that together made me certain I had to say something about that period of decline, even though I tried to show enough covers and suggest that, you know, there were certainly exceptions to the rule. But by and large he didn’t have that white heat of productivity that he had from ’65 to ’75.

CT: So what do you make of his later books like Kingdom of Fear and Hey Rube?

AG: Some of it is good. I included the 9/11 passage from Hey Rube. I just think it was far more uneven. It wasn’t like he totally lost it. There was some good stuff still. It just wasn’t as consistent. Also, to some extent, you couldn’t expect it to be. Fitzgerald only wrote one Great Gatsby. I also think Hunter’s excesses began to catch up with him and you can feel it in the prose, I think, where it feels somewhat forced. It doesn’t have that kind of fiery elegance that some of the earlier writing always did.

CT: You can see the physical deterioration as well.

AG: Yes, you certainly can.

CT: Especially when he speaks and you have to put subtitles over the bottom.

AG: Right, he’s slurring his words.

CT: Was there a lot of that footage around?

AG: Well that footage actually comes from his very last interview. Some kids went up to interview him about McGovern and he was very nice and straightforward when they first got there. Then he said ‘Excuse me for a second, I’ll be back’, and he came back about two hours later and he’d gone to the bar and just gotten absolutely shitfaced. Now he could barely talk, as you could see there.

CT: So he didn’t slur that much day to day?

AG: As I understand it, he was like that a lot day to day but not every part of the day. It’s like that alcoholic where you have a little bit and you get over your hangover, you’re feeling great and you’re really lucid. Then you have a little bit more and you go over the other side.

CT: You’ve mentioned Hunter’s suicide a few times, but what do you make of the conspiracy theories surrounding his death?

AG: I’m aware of some of them. I don’t put much stock in them, to be honest with you. I think he did commit suicide. I think all the signals point to it. He talked about it for a long time. He was a narcissist. He was very depressed. He was in really poor physical condition and probably an increasingly poor mental condition. So I think one day he just felt sorry for himself and pulled the trigger.

CT: Can you remember where you were when you heard that he’d killed himself?

AG: I was in New York. I don’t remember exactly where I was but I remember being shocked. There was just that little… It wasn’t like I was following Hunter’s career every day but it was just like a little bit of, ‘Oh, he’s gone now.’

CT: So between becoming a fan in college and hearing about Hunter’s death, had you remained a reader or forgotten about him a little bit?

AG: I wasn’t a hardcore fan. Every once in a while I would read something that he’d written, but I wasn’t that kind of hardcore fan. From time to time I remember picking up Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and reading bits and pieces but I kind of put him to the side, to be honest, for a while. But that’s part of what made it fun to pick him back up again.

CT: The other thing I noticed was that you skipped over Hunter’s earlier life quite a bit.

AG: We did. We felt the heart of the film was going to be this particular period – it’s called the life and work of Hunter S Thompson. So we focused on the work and, particularly, the work that I felt was in the zone. We included certain parts of his earlier life and frankly we did have a longer section on it but it felt more conventional in cinematic terms both to use lots of photographs and have explanations by Sandy or by Doug Brinkley, but also to pare it down to Hunter’s main motivation, which was anger. He had this anger about being one of the have-nots, not poor but not rich, and being left out. He didn’t have his hand in the cookie jar. That pissed him off and it gave him a motive for being the kind of wickedly angry and funny journalist that he became. So we have that kind of rosebud moment where he spends the night in jail but we didn’t go much past that. It would have been interesting to have done but I just felt like in terms of condensing it, we really just wanted to get to the part where we were going to dig in.

CT: Do you think that once Hunter found fame and success, he lost his anger and his writing suffered as a consequence?

AG: I don’t think he lost his anger. I think you can see it there at the end; ‘Goddamn your stupid ass! Just reach under there and get me some medicine!’ So I don’t think he lost his anger. But I think he lost his ability to be as deft about it. To channel it in ways that were as artful as they were when he was a younger man.

CT: So at his peak, how would you characterise firstly Hunter’s style, and secondly his impact?

AG: Hunter is a novelist in a journalist’s body. He mixes fact and fiction, pathos and comedy. He embraces contradictions and that gives his prose a kind of power. He inserts himself into his own story and becomes a character in his own narratives, either as Raoul Duke or as Hunter. In terms of his impact I think again there was a period where he was so much of his time that he was sort of the poet laureate of the American character. He was riveting in that period from the late ‘60s to the early ‘70s because he really expressed the central contradictions of the American character at a moment in time when people were really looking to him to demystify the bullshit that was all around them. But I think the other great thing about Hunter is that out of that time, you know, we can return to that book – whether it be Vegas or Campaign Trail – and see them in a kind of universal power that has been undimmed by time so he was both of his time and apart from it – and that’s a pretty great thing to be.

CT: Where do you think his influence can be seen now?

AG: In peculiar ways. I don’t see it in writing so much. I tell people I see a lot of his influence in these two shows on Comedy Central, Jon Stewart’s Daily Show and the Colbert Report. Those guys have a righteous anger that they express through comedy but they also do so by showing politicians to be liars and being rather direct about it. That’s something I think Hunter would have loved.

CT: And what would Hunter have made of the current political climate?

AG: I think he’d see this election as another struggle between fear and loathing in the sense of idealism that McGovern represented and now Obama represents. I think he saw those things as fundamental struggles and he’d be very much on the side of Obama but reckoning with the fact that McCain and Palin and the forces of fear and loathing could still triumph.

Many many thanks to Charles Thomson for the interview – I was just about to do a dance on my laptop in anger when I received your email!

More on this later,

Ron Mexico

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Official Tracklisting for Hunter S. Thompson’s Gonzo Tapes – Updated Aug: 28th

UPDATE AUG: 28th –  the set includes a 44-page booklet that includes track notes as well as archival photos courtesy of the Thompson estate.

Gonzo Tapes Tracklist:

Disc 1 – Hell’s Angels:

Bass Lake Run . . . Terry The Tramp Interview #1 . . . Driving Back Through Oakland . . . The Merry Pranksters Welcome The Hell’s Angels . . . It’s A Long Dirty Story . . . Ha-Ha, Not Thump-Thump . . . Terry The Tramp Interview #2 . . . Zing Zong Wing Ding Rush . . . A Question For The Ages

 

Disc 2 – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

We Have Seized The High Ground . . . One Toke Over The Line . . . If All Else Fails We Must Get Ether . . . In Search Of The American Dream . . . Terry’s Taco Stand, USA . . . Anybody In Search Of The American Dream Needs A Lawyer, A Doctor And A Bodyguard

 

Disc 3 – More Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Goddamn! This Monster’s Licking My Arm! . . . Oscar Fled In Terror . . . Drug Up . . . Weird Road . . . Across This Treacherous Sand . . . A Huge Tidal Wave Will Come In On Me Now . . . Vegas D.A. Final Notes . . . The Whole Room Is Total Chaos . . . Wenner Calls . . . With A Big “W” in 65-Pt Type

 

Disc 4 – Gonzo Gridlock 1973-1974

Guts Ball . . . Cozumel . . . Fear And Loathing In Acapulco . . . Freud Cocaine Papers . . . Fear And Loathing In Kinshasa

 

Disc 5 – Fear and Loathing in Saigon

I’m The One That’s Supposed To Be Crazy . . . Hotel Continental Palace . . . The Thursday Night Panic . . . Last Stand At Xuan Loc . . . Hong Kong . . . The Last Dispatch From Saigon

Jesus I can’t wait to get my hands on this !!

 

Later,

 

Ron Mexico

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Hunter S. Thompson’s Gonzo Tapes Due October

The Gonzo Tapes, a five-disc set of unreleased recordings by Rolling Stone’s own Hunter S. Thompson, will be released on October 28th. Compiled while filmmakers were producing Gonzo: The Life And Work Of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, the audio on The Gonzo Tapes was recorded between 1965 and 1975, with Thompson using the tapes to capture his thoughts and descriptions of what was happening around him or to look back at what he experienced.

Thompson’s widow granted permission to director Alex Gibney, producer Eva Orner and archivist Don Fleming to go through the tapes that were stored in boxes in the basement of Thompson’s Woody Creek, Colorado home. Disc 1 on the collection will feature Thompson’s year riding with the Hell’s Angels, Discs 2 and 3 both draw from his novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Disc 4 covers Thompson’s exploits between 1973 and 1974 and the fifth disc features his 1975 trip to Saigon. The cover features original artwork by Ralph Steadman and the package will contain essays by Gibney and Thompson’s fellow foreign correspondent Loren Jenkins. – Rolling Stone

Thoughts and more to follow…

Ron Mexico

Update: The Gonzo Tapes will be released by Shout Factory

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Fear and Loathing on a Ducati 900: Hunter S. Thompson Rides Again

“Being shot out of a cannon will always be better than being squeezed out of a tube. That is why God made fast motorcycles, Bubba…I’ve always believed this, in spite of the trouble it’s caused me.” 

Hunter S. Thompson – Song of the Sausage Creature

I was lucky enough this week to pick up a copy of Cycle World from March 1995 which contained the above article from The Good Doctor in all it’s glory complete with artwork by Ralph Steadman. You can check it out in the rare articles section. In addition to Hunter’s article there is also a two page article by Brenda Buttner about her lost day at Owl Farm. Check it out below:

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Also William McKeen will be signing his new book Outlaw Journalist at the following locations in Florida:

Jacksonville Book Signing
Date: Thursday, August 7, 2008
Time: 7:00pm – 9:00pm
Location: The Book Mark
Street: 299 Atlantic Blvd.
City/Town: Atlantic Beach,

Tampa Book Signing
Date: Thursday, August 14, 2008
Time: 7:00pm – 9:00pm
Location: Inkwood Books
Street: 216 S. Armenia Ave.
City/Town: Tampa, FL

Miami Book Signing
Date: Friday, August 15, 2008
Time: 8:00pm – 9:00pm
Location: Books and Books
Street: 265 Aragon Ave.
City/Town: Coral Gables, FL

According to Mr. McKeen he has been asked to inscribe – “You Twisted Pigfucker!” – at previous signing events to which he obliged, so don’t hesitate to buy a copy for your Gonzo friends or enemies with a suitable inscription – I’ve always liked “Chew on this you heartless swine!” 

 

Here are some links to recent interviews with McKeen regarding the book.

 

Ok for now,

 

Ron Mexico  

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Johnny Depp Purchases Hunter S. Thompson Archive.

“I knew Colonel Depp was carrying a mixed bag of personal presents, including bottles of Absinth and night-vision binoculars and frozen shirts and Nazi SS jewelry. He also had rare medicines from Europe and oriental hand fans and many thousands of dollars and perfumes and cameras and pornography and sophisticated tattoo paraphernalia. He looked like an international Pimp with no respect for the law. If his luggage was searched he was doomed.” 

Hunter S. Thompson – Ambassador to Cuba

Johnny Depp has recently purchased Hunter’s archive – consisting of approx. 800 boxes of letters, unpublished material, artefacts etc etc. Colonel Depp is now officially the custodian and owner of the majority of Hunter S. Thompson’s papers. Once his team has sorted through the extensive material he has indicated that it will go to a University so that grubby scholars like myself can root through it like savages.

In case you are wondering what kind of stuff is in there why not check out our rare articles section. It will give you an idea what Hunters earlier work was like. There is many many more articles and short stories that have yet to see the light of day. Hopefully Colonel Depp can now start the process of getting this work onto the bookshelves.

Also Anita has now started her own column over at Huffingtonpost. Check it out!

Thats it for now,

Ron Mexico  

 

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Who Killed Hunter S. Thompson?

A few weeks ago here at Totally Gonzo, I brought up the seemingly forever delayed Who Killed Hunter S. Thompson? by Warren Hinckle and appealed for any information regarding the hold up. Well thanks to the power of the internet I can now bring you some good news. I have been in touch with Warren Hinkle himself and he brought me up to speed with the project. After the book was announced over two years ago a great amount of new ‘Hunter treasures’ have been unearthed and as a result the book has doubled in size from the original 200 or so pages to approximately 400 or so. Warren also had this to say about the book –‘there’s a fascinating amount of undiscovered Thompson lore and art in there…’

Providing everything runs smoothly Warren said that he hopes the book will be out around November. As soon as there is a definite release date I will post it here at Totally Gonzo. I also came across a blog entry by Peter Richardson who ran into Warren at the recent Book Expo America in L.A. Warren was there to promote Who Killed Hunter S. Thompson? so it seems that we will have this book in our hands sooner rather than later. Speeking of books Peter Richardson is the author of American Prophet: The Life and Work of Carey McWilliams who as you all know suggested to Hunter that he cover The Hells Angels for a story. Peter also teaches a class on California culture at San Francisco State University. One of the books studied in that class is Hells Angels. Check out his blog, it is well worth a visit.

Another blog worth checking out is The Farm Report by William McKeen which is regularly updated as he travels across America promoting his excellent new book Outlaw Journalist: The Life and Times of Hunter S. Thompson.

Thats about it for now,

Ron Mexico

PS: Totally Gonzo was recently mentioned in the papers here in Ireland. You can read the articles here. Reporter Olaf Tyaransen frequently writes about Hunter in both The Herald and Hotpress Magazine. Thanks for the mention Olaf! Also the Gonzostore is now back online.

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Celebrating Hunter S. Thompson

UPDATED SAT. JULY 19th (see bottom of post)

Today July 18th is Hunter S. Thompson’s birthday. He would have been 71. Now everybody knows that Hunter liked to have a good time so lets just do that today and celebrate the man – he would have wanted to hear ice clinking in glasses and the sound of people having FUN!  

If you are lucky enough to live near a theatre that is showing Alex Gibney’s Gonzo then why not check it out tonight and then hit the town. For those of you living in Hunters hometown of Louisville there is an event on tonight that promises to be a real blast.

   

 

Today also marks the publication of Outlaw Journalist: The Life and Times of Hunter S. Thompson by William McKeen. There is a book-signing tonight by William at Explore Books in Aspen for those of you lucky enough to live nearby. You can check out a list of places where William will be signing his book here. Having read the book (along with all the other ones on Hunter) I have to say it is by far the best one out there. Check it out you won’t be disappointed.

There is also a big event at the Nomad Lounge in Omaha today with Beef Torrey & Kevin Simonson – authors of Conversations with Hunter S. Thompson. Along with signing copies of their book, there will be a screening of Breakfast With Hunter and Kevin will be sharing one of the largest collections of Thompson and Steadman paraphernalia in the country. For full details of the event check out the website.

 

Finally don’t forget our great competition!

Happy Birthday Doc,

Ron Mexico

UPDATE: Check out this great story about Hunter by Michael Cleverly.

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