It slipped my mind last Friday while sitting in the Triangle's first screening of the new Hunter S. documentary Gonzo that it was the good Doctor's birthday. Of course, it was fitting that I would be spending an afternoon, alone save one other fellow, in a theater watching a movie that celebrated both his life and death. I have mixed feelings about the documentary. It does a good job of revealing the character, and by that I mean the persona, but it doesn't really peel away what must have been some pretty thick layers, doesn't aim to get at what made the man what he became. There was very little discussion about his childhood or of his decline, and too much going back to the utterly annoying Johnny Deppness of Thompson's life. But it was worth the time, if for no other reason than it got me out of the non-air conditioned house for a couple of hours.
Toward the end, I kept wondering what would Hunter S.'s reaction to this campaign be and whether or not he (the persona, not the writer) would even make it in today's political (and publishing) climate, both questions The Boston Phoenix's Mike Miliard takes on in this column:
In case you weren’t aware, Thompson was a man with many bad habits — not least when it came to his work routine. It may have been true, once upon a time, that “he was a tireless round-the-clock worker; no lead was too small to follow up, drunk or sober,” as Thompson’s partner in crime, illustrator Ralph Steadman, writes in his memoir, The Joke’s Over: Bruised Memories: Gonzo, Hunter S. Thompson, and Me (Harvest, recently out in paperback).
It’s also true, Thompson confessed, that “I am not an easy person to work with, in terms of deadlines.” During the ’72 campaign, he marveled at other reporters filing stories daily, with ease. For him, each two-week deadline was an ordeal: “There is hardly a paragraph in this jangled saga that wasn’t produced in a last-minute, teeth-grinding frenzy,” he wrote in Campaign Trail ’72 — “the bloody product of fifty-five consecutive hours of sleepless, foodless, high-speed editing.”
While the lucrative Gonzo brand may have been incentive for some editors to deal with his act back then, it’s hard to imagine many today who’d put up with a similarly inclined young writer.
That’s to say nothing of his other habits. Can you imagine, say, Anderson Cooper climbing aboard the Straight Talk Express, dragging a half-drunk six-pack as his carry-on luggage? Would the Globe outfit one of its political reporters’ expensed motel rooms — acquiescing to an aversion to office cubicles — with “two cases of Mexican beer, four quarts of gin, a dozen grapefruits, and enough speed to alter the outcome of six Super Bowls,” as Thompson alleges Rolling Stone provided in ’72? These days, you can’t even smoke cigarettes inside.
More to the point, which political reporter today can you imagine staying as an overnight guest of someone like Carter, as Thompson did, talking into the night about the Allman Brothers and stock-car racing? Or sharing a limousine with Nixon, talking football, just the two of them? (“I don’t know,” Thompson deadpanned in a 2003 interview. “I don’t think Bush would want to talk to me.”)