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Fear and Loathing in America: The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist 1968-1976

Fear and Loathing in America: The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist 1968-1976

3.7 8
by Hunter S. Thompson, Douglas Brinkley (Editor), David Halberstam (Foreword by)

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Brazen, incisive, and outrageous as ever, Hunter S. Thompson is back with another astonishing volume of his private correspondence, the highly anticipated follow-up to The Proud Highway. When that first book of letters appeared in 1997, Time pronounced it "deliriously entertaining"; Rolling Stone called it "brilliant beyond description"; and The New


Brazen, incisive, and outrageous as ever, Hunter S. Thompson is back with another astonishing volume of his private correspondence, the highly anticipated follow-up to The Proud Highway. When that first book of letters appeared in 1997, Time pronounced it "deliriously entertaining"; Rolling Stone called it "brilliant beyond description"; and The New York Times celebrated its "wicked humor and bracing political conviction."

Spanning the years between 1968 and 1976, these never-before-published letters show Thompson building his legend: running for sheriff in Aspen, Colorado; creating the seminal road book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; twisting political reporting to new heights for Rolling Stone; and making sense of it all in the landmark Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72. To read Thompson's dispatches from these years—addressed to the author's friends, enemies, editors, and creditors, and such notables as Jimmy Carter, Tom Wolfe, and Kurt Vonnegut—is to read a raw, revolutionary eyewitness account of one of the most exciting and pivotal eras in American history.

Provocative and revealing, Fear and Loathing in America cements Hunter S. Thompson's reputation as one of the great literary and cultural icons of our time—the only man alive to have ridden with both the Hell's Angels and Richard Nixon.

Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
Reading Hunter Thompson is like using gasoline for aftershave — bracing.
—Christopher Buckley
With a little tweaking here and a whole lot of pruning there, this 800-plus-page doorstop of a letters collection could pass as an engaging revival of an anachronistic form: the epistolary novel. Its protagonist is one Hunter Stockton Thompson, a maverick journalist who has parlayed the success of his book-length account of riding with the Hell's Angels into a series of provocative, increasingly high-profile assignments for prominent national magazines. Looming large over the writer's tortured psyche is the prospect of a second book, an impossibly ambitious tome with the working title "The Death of the American Dream."

The title is the only thing that works, as he relates in dozens of letters charting its lack of progress. The book doesn't exist, not even in Thompson's mind. It is both his sophomore jinx and his Great White Whale, an obsession that he realizes could either elevate his reputation as the outlaw sage of American socio-surrealism or reduce him to the authorial equivalent of one-hit-wonder. The more committed that his editor becomes to the project, the more Thompson realizes that everything he not only writes but thinks, breathes, eats and ingests could be subsumed within the topic.

"I have no idea what I'm going to write, but if nothing else I expect to learn a lot, and that's the only part of writing I enjoy," he explains in a 1968 letter to Sue Grafton, a former Louisville, Kentucky, neighbor and devoted fan (now a bestselling mystery novelist). "The actual work—the typewriter horrors—I approach with fear and loathing."

The O. Henryish twist, of course, is that the letters he's been writing to avoid writing the book are, in fact,that book. Here is the death of the American dream; eventually Thompson's twisted idealism turns to cynicism and his main concern becomes haggling over expense checks. His primary topic becomes himself, the icon as caricature, more famous for not writing than for anything he has written in the quarter-century after this collection ends.

As with the earlier volume of Thompson's coming-of-age letters, the sheer bulk of his correspondence makes it a marvel that he ever found time to write anything else (and editor Douglas Brinkley assures that for every letter included, another five were omitted). There are letters that he acknowledges are "drafts for later things—test-runs of a sort," such as the voluminous exchanges with editor Jim Silberman over the American Dream project. There are letters that give Thompson's take on "new journalism" (which he insisted was older than Jack Kerouac), "Gonzo journalism" (a blurring of fact and fiction to achieve a truer truth) and Raoul Duke (his surrealistic alter ego, who could tread even further beyond the bounds of responsible journalism than Thompson dared). There are letters offering assistance to various liberal politicians—from Eugene McCarthy and Teddy Kennedy to Jimmy Carter—and there are others concerning his unlikely bonds with Richard Nixon and Pat Buchanan.

Then there are hundreds of pages of letters chronicling the rise and fall of his relationship with Rolling Stone, with the magazine's publisher, Jann Wenner, playing Felix to Thompson's Oscar. Through this cataclysmic period in modern American history—from Vietnam through Watergate—most of Thompson's concerns are variations on a theme of "Where's the money?" If Wenner really canceled the writer's insurance after sending him to southeast Asia and refused to cover his expenses on a London assignment, such treatment was unconscionable, though we're never given the magazine's side of the story. One senses that these two made each other's reputation and that they deserve each other.

Yet Rolling Stone was by no means the only magazine where Thompson felt persecuted. Take his description in 1971 of working on assignment for Sports Illustrated, then largely considered something of a writer's paradise: "I hate to give those doomed corporate castratos a good, first-rate piece & watch them cut it up for captions. I understand perfectly why they can't use it as an article: It's too rude & weird—but I hate to just shrug it off like a pound of used meat-writing that didn't fit SI's bridge-club format & so had to be butchered down like offal."

In the early years documented in this collection, there is much to admire about the writer beyond the outrageousness of his prose. There's an almost heroic dimension to his moral code as he castigates a New York Times editor for assigning a piece to him when he didn't really want a Hunter Thompson piece, when he refuses to accept a much-needed $500 to write a ten-word blurb for a novel he deems offensive and when he advises a young fan who wants to follow the Hell's Angels to find his own path ("You sound like you have more sense than any six Angels I can think of, and I can't quite understand why you want to defer to them").

Soon enough, however, the writer who was once so fully engaged with the world seems to retreat into a world of one. Ultimately, these years of letters start to feel like dog years to the reader, who slogs through them in retrospect.

"I've always considered writing the most hateful kind of work," confesses Thompson. "I suspect it's a little like fucking, which is only fun for amateurs. Old whores don't do much giggling." When the threatened third and final volume of letters arrives, don't expect a ton a giggles.
—Don McLeese

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"The years that were covered in these letters," says Thompson, "were like riding on a bullet train... with no sleep and no wires to hang on to." Apparently he hung onto his typewriter, though, churning out not only his drugged-up, wigged-out road book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and similarly outrageous articles for Rolling Stone but also for letter after lengthy letter, in the same white-hot, turbo-charged style. Thompson altered permanently the nature of political journalism by injecting into his reportage the personal and the pathological, and this second volume of letters reads like rehearsals for his more public utterances, almost every page ringing with the sound of gunfire, revving motorcycle engines and partying that began at a level where most partying ends. What may surprise readers is the sweetness of much of the writing. While Thompson's correspondents include a virtual who's who of the era, from Tom Wolfe and Kurt Vonnegut to Jimmy Carter and George McGovern, he wrote to his fans like a kind if slightly deranged uncle, trying to convince one not to join the Hell's Angels, offering a second help with her term paper. Despite the occasional lollipop, however, Thompson's strong suit is still invective, of which he remains the unsurpassed master. It's been 30 years since his series of sulfurous missives to a local Colorado TV station for showing only "the cheapest, meanest swill" and to mail-order companies that dared send the journalist from hell what he deemed shabby merchandise, but surely Thompson's name still provokes shudders at the Alaska Sleeping Bag Company and elsewhere. B&w photos. (Dec. 13) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This is the second of a projected three-volume edition of Thompson's letters; the first, The Proud Highway (LJ 5/15/97), covered the period 1955-67. The voluminous correspondence of this "gonzo" journalist and author covers all of the important events of this tumultuous period in American life: the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon's triumphs and ultimate disgrace, race relations, and more. These momentous events in American history are paralleled by the personal adventures of a writer who is angry, profane, and witty and yet also hopeful that his unique vision of America may eventually come to pass. Fans of Thompson will be thrilled to read this edited collection of letters; those who are not enthralled with his style and point of view may be less than enthusiastic to wade through this huge collection, which covers everything from world events to mundane, everyday episodes in his life. It also includes correspondence to Thompson, most notably letters by Oscar Acosta, the radical Chicano lawyer. For larger public and academic library collections.--Morris Hounion, New York City Technical Coll. Lib., Brooklyn Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Christopher Buckley
This makes for some pretty electric reading, and for some not-so-electric reading. During the period covered in this collection, Thompson was a vital, deliriously erratic force in journalism . . . These untidy letters are welcome, showing us as they do a great American original in his lair.
New York Times Book Review
From the Publisher
Christopher Buckley The New York Times Book Review Reading Hunter Thompson is like using gasoline for aftershave — bracing.

Product Details

Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
Fear and Loathing Letters , #2
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
6.60(w) x 9.56(h) x 1.64(d)

Read an Excerpt

From Chapter One


1967 was the year of the hippy. As this is the last meditation I intend to write on that subject, I decided, while composing it, to have the proper background. So, in the same small room with me and my typewriter, I have two huge speakers and a 100 watt music amplifier booming out Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man." This, to me, is the Hippy National Anthem. It's an acid or LSD song — and like much of the hippy music, its lyrics don't make much sense to anyone not "cool" or "with it" or "into the drug scene." I was living in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district when the word "hippy" was coined by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen — who also came up with "beatnik," in the late 1950s — so I figure I'm entitled to lean on personal experience in these things. To anyone who was part of that (post-beat) scene before the word "hippy" became a national publicity landmark (in 1966 and 1967), "Mr. Tambourine Man" is both an epitaph and a swan-song for the lifestyle and the instincts that led, eventually, to the hugely-advertised "hippy phenomenon."

Bob Dylan was the original hippy, and anyone curious about the style and tone of the "younger generation's" thinking in the early 1960s has only to play his albums in chronological order. They move from folk-whimsy to weird humor to harsh social protest during the time of the civil rights marches and the Mississippi summer protests of 1963 and '64. Then, in the months after the death of President Kennedy, Dylan switched from the hard commitments of social realism to the more abstract "realities" of neo-protest and disengagement. Hisstyle became one of eloquent despair and personal anarchism. His lyrics became increasingly drug-oriented, with double-entendres and dual meanings that were more and more obvious, until his "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" was banned by radio stations from coast to coast...mainly because of the chorus line saying "Everybody must get stoned...."

By this time he was a folk hero to the "under thirty generation" that seemed to be in total revolt against everything their elders were trying to believe in. By this time, too, Dylan was flying around the country — from one sold-out concert to another — in his private jet plane, worth about $500,000. His rare press conferences were jammed by reporters who treated them more like an audience with a Wizard than a question and answer session with an accidental public figure. At the same time, Dylan's appearance became more and more bizarre. When he began singing in Greenwich Village about 1960 his name was Bob Zimmerman and he looked like a teen-age hobo in the Huck Finn tradition...or like the Nick Adams of the early Hemingway stories. But by 1965 he had changed his last name to Dylan & was wearing shoulder-length hair and rubber-tight, pin-stripe suits that reflected the colorful & sarcastically bisexual image that was, even then, becoming the universal style of a sub-culture called "hippies."

This focus on Dylan is no accident. Any culture — and especially any sub-culture — can be at least tentatively defined by its heroes...and of all the hippy heroes, Bob Dylan was first and foremost. He appeared at a time when Joan Baez was the Queen Bee of that world of the young and alienated...but unlike Joanie, who wrote none of her own songs and preferred wistful ballads to contemporary drug anthems, Dylan moved on to become the voice of an anguished and half-desperate generation. Or at least that part of a generation that saw itself as doomed and useless in terms of the status-quo, business-as-usual kind of atmosphere that prevailed in this country as the war in Vietnam went from bad to worse and the United States, in the eyes of the whole world's "under thirty generation," seemed to be drifting toward a stance of vengeful, uncontrolled militarism.

The fact that this viewpoint wasn't (and still isn't) universal deserves a prominent mention, but it has little to do with the hippies. They are a product of a growing disillusion with the military/industrial realities of life in these United States, and in terms of sheer numbers, they represent a minority that doubles and triples its numbers every year. By 1967 this minority viewpoint had emerged, full-blown, in the American mass media...and it obviously had a powerful appeal — at least to the publishers, editors and reporters who measured the public taste and found it overwhelmingly ready for a dose of hippy articles. The reason for this is the reason the hippies exist — not necessarily because of any inherent worth of their own, but because they emphasize, by their very existence, the same uneasy vacuum in American life that also gave birth to the beatniks some ten years earlier. Not even the people who think all hippies should be put in jail or sent to the front-lines in Vietnam will quarrel with what is usually accepted as the Hippy Ethic — Peace, Love, and Every Man for Himself in a Free-Wheeling Orgy of Live and Let Live.

The hippies threatened the establishment by dis-interring some of the most basic and original "American values," and trying to apply them to life in a sprawling, high-pressure technocracy that has come a long way, in nearly 200 years, from the simple agrarian values that prevailed at the time of the Boston Tea Party. The hippies are a menace in the form of an anachronism, a noisy reminder of values gone sour and warped...of the painful contradictions in a society conceived as a monument to "human freedom" and "individual rights," a nation in which all men are supposedly "created free and equal"...a nation that any thinking hippy will insist has become a fear-oriented "warfare state" that can no longer afford to tolerate even the minor aberrations that go along with "individual freedom."

I remember that pre-hippy era in San Francisco as a good, wild-eyed, free-falling time when everything seemed to be coming out right. I had an exciting book to write, and a publisher to pay for it, and a big chrome-red motorcycle to boom around the midnight streets wearing a sweatshirt and cut-off levis and wellington boots, running from angry cop cars on the uphill blocks of Ashbury st, doubling back suddenly and running 90 miles an hour up Masonic toward the Presidio...then gearing down, laughing, on the twisting black curves with the white line leading through the middle of that woodsy fortress, past the MP shack out to the crowded lights on Lombard st, with the cold Bay and the yacht club and Alcatraz off to the left and all the steep postcards of cable car San Francisco looking down from the other side. Getting off Lombard to avoid the lights and roaring down Union st, past the apartment where that girl used to live and wondering who's up there now, then around the corner by the dentist's office (and I still owe that man two hundred and eleven dollars. Pay him off, pay all those old debts...who else do I owe? Send a bill, you bastards. I want to flush those beggar memories...).

Around the corner and down a few blocks on Union to the Matrix, a blank-looking place on the right, up on the sidewalk and park between those two small trees, knowing the cops will come around yelling and trying to ticket the bike for being off the street (Park that motorcycle in the gutter, boy...). Maybe seeing Pete Knell's orange chopper parked in that gutter. Pete was then the talking spirit of the Frisco Angels and later president of that doomed and graceless chapter...sometimes he played a banjo in the Drinking Gourd up on Union, but that was before he became a fanatic.

The Matrix, womb of the Jefferson Airplane. They owned part of the club when it still served booze, and maybe they own it all now. They've rolled up a lot of points since that night when I reeled through the door with no money, muttering "Jerry Anderson invited me," and then found Jerry somewhere in back, listening to his wife Signe wailing out in front of the Airplane's half-formed sound. Signe with the trombone voice, and Marty Balin polishing his eternal signature song that he titled, for some wrong reason, "And I Like It." I recall telling Jerry, while he paid for my beer, that this Jefferson Airplane thing was a surefire famous money bomb for everybody connected with it...and later calling Ralph Gleason, the Chronicle's special pleader, to tell him the Airplane was something worth hearing. "Yeah, sure," he said. "People keep telling me about these groups; I try to check em out — you know how it is." Sure, Ralph...not knowing if he remembered that about a year earlier I'd pushed another group on him, a group that almost immediately got a record contract without help and then exploded into oblivion when Davy, the lead singer, choked to death on his own vomit in an elegant house on the beach in Carmel.

But about a year after the Airplane opened at the Matrix, Gleason wrote the notes for their first record jacket.

The Jefferson Airplane is another key sound from that era — like Dylan and the Grateful Dead. And Grace Slick, who made even the worst Matrix nights worth sitting through. In that era she was carrying a hopeless group called The Great Society, which eventually made it by croaking the group and going off in different directions. But Grace Slick was always my best reason for going to the Matrix. I would sit back in the corner by the projection booth and watch her do all those things that she later did with the Airplane and for LOOK magazine, but which seemed so much better then, because she was her own White Rabbit....I was shocked to learn she was married to the drummer. But I got a lot of shocks in that era...my nerves were pretty close to the surface and everything registered. It's hard to understand now, why "things seemed to be coming out right." But I remember that feeling, that we were all making it somehow. And the only one around who had already made it was Ken Kesey, who seemed to be working overtime to find the downhill tube. Which he eventually did, and I recall some waterhead creep accusing me (in the L.A. Free Press) of "giving away" Kesey's secret address in Paraguay when he fled the country to avoid a marijuana rap. That was about the time I kissed off the hippies as just another failed lifestyle.

All these veteran heads keep telling me to get off the speed because it's dangerous, but every time I have something to say to them late at night they're passed out. And I'm sitting up alone with the music and my own raw nerves hearing Balin or Butterfield yelling in every corner of my head and feeling the sounds run up my spine like the skin of my own back was stretched across a drumhead and some burning-eyed freak with the Great American knot swelling up in his head was using my shoulderblades for a set of kettledrums. So I guess I should quit this speed. It tends to make me impotent, and that can be a horrible bummer when it comes with no warning. Like a broken guitar string. A gritting of teeth and thinking, Holy shit not NOW, you bastard. Why? Why?

Speed freaks are unpredictable when the great whistle blows. And boozers are worse. But put it all together with maybe sixty-six milligrams and nine jolts of gin on ice and maybe two joints...and you get the kind of desperate loser who used to crawl into the woods on the edge of Kesey's La Honda compound and drop some acid for no real reason except that the only part of his body that would still work was his mouth and his swallowing muscle. And the ears, the goddamn ears, which never quit...the terrible consistency of the music mocked the failures of the flesh. That too-bright hour when you know it's time for breakfast except that only the pure grassmasters are hungry and you want to come alive again because it's a new sunshiny day, but the goddamn speed is doubling back on you now, and although you're not going down, you can't go up either, but just Out, and stupid. An electric eel with a blown fuse. Nada.

So maybe the heads are right. Forswear that alcohol and no more speed...just wail on the weed and go under with a smile. Then get up healthy and drive up the road for breakfast at the Knotty Pine Cafe.

But despite the nature-healthy prospect of a legal grass-culture just around tomorrow's corner, I think I'll stay with the speed...even with the certain knowledge of burning out a lot sooner than if I played healthy. Speed freaks are probably the junkies of the marijuana generation. There is something perverse and even suicidal about speed. Like "The Devil and Daniel Webster." Buy high and sell low...ignoring that inevitable day when there's no more high except maybe a final freakout with cocaine and then down the tube. A burned out case, drunk and brain-crippled, a bad example for Youth. The walking, babbling dead.

And why not. Speed is like sandpaper on the nerves. When all the normal energy is down to dead ash and even the adrenaline starts to vaporize in the dull heat of fatigue...there's a rare kind of brightness, a weird and giddy sensitivity that registers every sound and smile and stoplight as if every moment might be the next to last, memories carved with a chisel....

That's what I see and hear when I look back on those pre-hippy days in San Francisco. I remember a constant excitement about something happening, but only the fake priests and dingos called it the wave of the future. The excitement, for that matter, was all done in by the time the big-league press got hold of those "hippy" spokesmen and guru caricatures like Tim Leary and the press-conference Diggers. By that time the Haight-Ashbury had become a commercial freak show and everybody on the street was selling either sandals or hamburgers or dope. The whole area was controlled by "hippy businessmen" who wore beards and beads to disguise the sad fact that they were actually carbon copies of the bourgeois merchant fathers whom they'd spent so much time and wrath rejecting.

But despite all that, and probably because of it — a sense of doom generates a weird, intense kind of light — that whole pre-hippy scene lent a special kind of élan to everybody who blundered into being a part of it. And the root of the excitement was the black certainty of a time limit, a euphoric, half-wild fatalism about the whole thing coming to a bad end at almost any moment. But this was the special light, and it was good while it lasted.


Although he admired Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs, Thompson had turned on the President for escalating America's military involvement in Southeast Asia. By 1968 Thompson was so drawn to Senator Eugene McCarthy's anti-Vietnam War candidacy that he offered his services to the Minnesota Democrat's long-shot presidential campaign.

January 3, 1968
Woody Creek, CO

Dear Senator McCarthy:

I just read William S. White's comments on your potential candidacy — your "grandiose design," as it were — and I thought I'd send a note to offer any possible help I could lend to this hideous plot you're unfolding.

I'm not sure how I could help, but given the fact that I make my living as a writer, it would have to be in that area. I see your efforts more as a tactical — and not a determining — factor in the '68 elections, so I don't feel any real compulsion to volunteer for Ward duty.

Any ideas about how I could be of help would have to come from you...but if you have any, I assure you I'll go out of my way to deal with them. At the moment I'm fairly loose, in terms of assignments, etc. — but that changes weekly and even daily. I move around quite a bit, but I can always be reached here in Woody Creek (Aspen), Colo., at (303) 925-2250...or via Random House in New York (Selma Shapiro).

For your own information and perspective, I'm enclosing a copy of a book I wrote more or less recently. It might help you to know more about what — if anything — I might be able to do. In any case, good luck....

Hunter S. Thompson


The success of Hell's Angels had brought Thompson numerous high-profile free-lance assignments, including "The 'Hashbury' Is the Capital of Hippies," which he wrote in May 1967 for The New York Times Magazine. Walker, the assigning editor, next commissioned a piece from Thompson on the Nevada state prisons' new "therapy retreats," designed to teach guards and inmates to coexist more agreeably.

January 3, 1968
Woody Creek, CO

Dear Gerald...

Like I've been saying for months, this is a bad year all around. 1967 is the Year of the Overall Freak-Out. Which is neither here nor there...for now.

Anyway, I found out what my trouble was. I had a serious case of flu and I was trying to cure it with what those in the trade call "speed." This does not mean methedrine, despite what you read in Newsweek...and I suspect there are people over there who know better.

But back to the general badness....I talked to Paul Semonin the other night and he said the Times refused to publish the "Hell No, We Won't Pay" ad. I'm a bit surprised, for reasons I should probably examine...desperation makes for strange bed-fellows and a few strange prickteasers in the bargain. And how's that for a head on the Times' editorial page: "Desperation Makes for Strange Prickteasers."

And so much for that. You can apply the $10 I sent against the $366 expense money you sent me. It came on the same day, and in the same mail, with a letter from one of the NSP convicts, asking when the article would be published. That thing has become a terrible albatross around my neck...not a day goes by without somebody claiming that I let them down, and of course they're all right. That expense check from you was close to the final straw. I told my wife I was going to send it back and she began screaming. She handles the finances and knows our treacherous score. I sense it, but I'd rather not know the details. Things have been rather tense here since the Tahoe article crisis and my simultaneous derailing of two other projects totaling $3700. We are into another one of those nightmarish pregnancy scenes — whacking God in the teeth again — and that helps. Life should be made as difficult as possible...so that the victims might develop more character.

(...Jesus, I just went outside to piss and got whacked in the eyes by the results of what looks like a 7-8 inch all-nite snow, the first of the year...it's 6:45 a.m. here, with the sun just coming up...everything is fat white, even the sky is white. Dead silence, no color...this is what should happen in Vietnam. It gives you a sense of mortality...like if anybody was unnatural enough to drop a bomb in my clean white front yard this morning, I'd natcherly blow his head off with a 12 gauge shotgun. And then I'd eat all the flesh off his bones, just to teach him a lesson.)

Christ, it feels good to be out of the flu funk. I'd like to go out in the snow and fuck some corpse in the neck. I'm sure there's one out there. [Outgoing U.S. Secretary of Defense] Robert McNamara came last week to check on his new house; he arrived in a black car with six Secret Service men — acting like some humanoid from another planet — and since he had to drive through an area of dope-smoking construction workers who once tried to burn his house to the ground, I'm sure he created some corpses — if for no other reason than to take them back to LBJ, who likes his erotic brunch.

And so much for that, too. The point of all this, I guess, is that those dirty bastards from Tahoe have loaded me with so much guilt about that failed article that I might, despite my better judgement, attempt to resurrect it. I don't know exactly how, because it's obviously no longer a news item and in fact it never was. But I still think it's one of the best subjects I've dealt with in several years. It reminded me of the first article I did, somewhat reluctantly, on the Hell's Angels — which gave me an incredible amount of trouble because of all the confusing action it kicked off in my head — which wouldn't fit into an easy 20-page article, and which eventually wound up as an 800-or-so-page manuscript that had to be cut in half (by me) to fit into book covers.

But...back to the point: How do we deal if I actually do a rewrite on that article? I assume you should have first reject rights...and I also assume it'll be rejected, since I don't have the vaguest idea how to make the thing work as an acceptably contemporary news item. But I might try, and I stress that word "might." Probably I will, so give me a guideline about how to proceed diplomatically. The only other markets that seem even possible right now are Ramparts and The Nation, but considering the circumstances and the onus that settled on me, I'd much prefer that any resurrected article appear in the Times — if only because that's how I represented myself in the first place.

In any case, send a word or two as to etiquette. And obligations. And possibilities. My agent used to handle these things, but he's now suing me or at least forcing me to sue him for not leaving me alone. That's Scott Meredith, in case you're curious and even if you're not...that evil pigfucking skunk. For the past year he's been hounding me like some sort of cop out of [nineteenth-century Russian novelist Feodor] Dostoyevsky. It's a nightmarish story — maybe even a book. Yeah: "Only You, HST — Or, How to Make a Million Dollars by Taking Scott Meredith's Advice and Identifying with Norman Mailer, the Only Meredith Client Who Lives in the Black — And Any Punk Who Don't Like It Can Sue." There's another good title for you. Maybe I should get a job with Time, eh?

Yours in deep snow,


A few days into the New Year Thompson flew to New York to negotiate a deal with Random House for a book on "The Death of the American Dream." At this early stage Thompson envisioned it as a scathing exposé of the U.S. armed forces' Joint Chiefs of Staff.

January 5, 1968
Delmonico's Hotel
Park Avenue at 59th Street
New York

Dear Mom...

I've just about finished here — & things seem to have gone as well as possible — although no contracts are signed yet. Wednesday night I had a five-hour dinner with the Vice-President of Random House, the editor-in-chief of Ballantine (& my lawyer) at the Four Seasons, the most expensive restaurant in N.Y. That's a good omen. Especially since nobody blinked when I wore my boots & my shooting jacket. I'm still being sued for $5.5 million in Calif. — I thought that had collapsed. But the other legal problems seem manageable, at least for the moment.

In all, I have a hell of a busy year ahead of me — three & possibly four books. The big one is being referred to as "The Death of the American Dream" — which makes me nervous because it's so vast & weighty. Hell's Angels is past the 500,000 mark in printing, not sales — but if they all sell, that's a lot of nickels for your black-sheep son. I keep borrowing against earnings — to the point where I stay about even — but after April I should be able to send Jim a few dollars if he gets in trouble.

The Xmas visit was good — sorry my nerves were so edgy, but the miscarriage thing had me worried ever since we left Aspen — that's why I decided at the last moment to go to Florida — I didn't want Sandy to be alone in planes & airports if the thing was going to happen any moment.

Anyway, it was good seeing all of you — I enjoyed the stay more than I expected to — & it was good getting to know Jim again. It was even better to see that you've got the drinking under control. I'm proud of you.

That's it for now. I still have to re-write that N.Y. Times article.



While in New York, Thompson pitched his idea for a savage fictional attack on President Johnson to Bernard Shir-Cliff, who had edited the paperback of Hell's Angels for Ballantine Books. Shir-Cliff asked to see a written proposal.

January 12, 1968
Woody Creek, CO


Here's a Lyndon Johnson idea. I was talking to Peter Collier at Ramparts tonight, trying to buck him in on a Super Bowl bet...and somewhere along the line I mentioned our Johnson project. He suggested a serious, non-fantasy preview of the Demo convention, based on his "certain knowledge" that all manner of hell is going to break loose in terms of critical protests, demonstrations. Ramparts has numerous connections with SDS and other radical types, and Collier says they're going to freak out the convention. At first I said no, but then I added the fantasy element and saw a possibility...which is fading almost as fast as I can type. Maybe a good pamphlet, but probably not a book...unless you can figure out a new twist.

What I came up with, and this was just a few minutes ago, was a very straight-faced — and very night-marish — handbook for convention delegates. Like when the 10,000 rats are going to be released on the convention floor, and which organization is planning to kidnap an entire state delegation in order to degrade and humiliate them for the purpose of making an underground film. We have to keep in mind that various outrages are in fact being planned, and that I probably wouldn't have much trouble getting a vague battle plan...but of course that wouldn't be enough. I'd have to mix up fact and fantasy so totally that nobody could be sure which was which. We could bill it as a fantastic piece of root-hog journalism — The Thompson Report, as it were. This courageous journalist crept into the sewers of the American underground and emerged with a stinking heap of enemy battle plans — and just in time, by god, to warn the good guys what to watch out for. Oh, I could have a rattling good time with it....I could even compose a fictitious interview with Guru Bailey, the Demo chieftain, during which I try to warn him of this impending disaster and he reacts first in anger, then with tears, throwing down hooker after hooker of gin during our conversation. And a private chat with Johnson, who heard of my dread information and summoned me to the White House for a toilet-side interview with two recording secretaries — a prancing fag and nervous old lady from New Orleans — taking notes on a voice-writer(s) — echoing my words, and Lyndon's, for the private record.

Yes indeed, I'm beginning to hear the music. Did you ever see the Walter Jenkins, Dean Rusk, drugs and leather cults section that I had, at one point, in the H.A. [Hell's Angels] manuscript? I don't think I ever sent it in. Some of the best parts of the H.A. book never made it past the first-draft because they wandered too far afield. (The Case of the Naked Colonel...did you ever see that? A fantastic story, and absolutely true...a Pentagon colonel found naked in his car, passed out on the steering wheel with a pistol in each hand...no explanation.)

The music, yes. I hear the sound of drums now...an interview with Richard Nixon, who calls me at my Chicago hotel, during the course of my research, and offers me $20,000 for my information...then a meeting with Nixon and his advisors, they want to exploit the freak-out...but an argument erupts when one of Nixon's aides makes a crude remark about his daughter — undertones of drugs and nymphomania, Julie caught on the 14th green at Palm Springs with a negro caddy at midnight, the caddy now in prison, framed on a buggery count.

Well, I guess you have the drift by now. Sort of a "Report from Iron Mountain," as rewritten by Paul Krassner. I see it as a ding-dong seller, given adequate promotion, at least until the convention. But I'm not sure what kind of staying power it would have unless we could come up with a longevity gimmick. The key, I think, would be pre-convention publicity — the existence of this frightful report by the well-respected, hard-digging author of Hell's Angels, a known confidant of all undergrounds, a man with his ear to the sewer at all times. But if we couldn't promote it fast and fat enough to sell 100,000 copies, I'm not sure I could work up the superhead of steam that I'd need to get the thing done. The idea of writing against a fiendish deadline, with $10,000 at stake, gets me high and wild just thinking about it. I hear gongs and drums and whistles all around me...not even the Green Bay Packers roll that high. The SuperBowl stake is only $7,500 per man.

What do you think? Any ideas for keeping the book alive beyond the convention? Needless to say, most of the fantasy content would be based on fact...and for that I'll need the 1964 Theodore White book, Nixon's Crises bullshit, and the Iron Mountain thing that I asked for quite a while ago. The more I think about this, the more I think in terms of fictitious interviews and bogus secret meetings with the principals. What about lawsuits there? If it rings any bells at all, let's ponder it on the phone...or if this idea kicks off any others in your head, let's talk about those too. Send word, make contact, etc....



Thompson rented his house in Woody Creek, ten miles outside Aspen, from a good-humored friend — fortunately for both.

January 13, 1968
Woody Creek, CO


I came by the house twice last week and called tonight, so I assume you're off somewhere, and for god knows how long.

Anyway, in lieu of rent money, I'm sending another mean bitch about foul-smelling water backing up in the basement. This isn't directed at you, but I figure you can use my complaint as reason for refusing to pay those incompetent fucks a penny until they finish the job they agreed to do. I was going to call Holub tonight, but he disregards everything I tell him until you vouch for it, so I don't see any sense in calling him a lying pigfucker for nothing. In any case, this goddamn water scene is going to have to be cured eventually — no matter who is, or isn't, living in the house. I've been waiting for months to make something out of that big room in the basement, but with all of Springer's gear in the way, and a flood of shit-water every night, it's impossible to do any work down there. Even the lumber I bought is getting wet and warped (the lumber for building in the room).

All this brings me to ponder a much longer view — which includes the fact that I'm due, sometime this spring, for a fat royalty on the paperback Hell's Angels sales and I intend to spend it on some kind of real estate. So if you're at all inclined to think about selling either this property or the (east) mesa or any combination, we should probably talk seriously about it sometime soon. Because I've never been known to hang onto money — and this next check will be no exception. So let's get together, when you get back, for a serious rumble about money, acreage, etc. And water rights. Which brings to mind that you still owe me a bottle of Old Fitz. But I might let you off the hook for some blue-chip ski instruction. I suspect we can work out a deal. Which leads me to the point of the whole rude note, to wit: give a ring when you get back; among other things, I have a Lord Buckley record for you.



Silberman had edited Hell's Angels for Random House, and would continue to provide Thompson with editorial guidance.

January 13, 1968
Woody Creek, CO

Dear Jim...

A late-rising thought: What happened to my Hell's Angels manuscript? I asked Margaret [Harrell] about it several times last spring, but it was always "somewhere else." I just read where D. H. Lawrence traded the ms. of Sons and Lovers for a ranch in Taos, so I'm naturally concerned about mine. I'm land-hungry right now, and maybe the ms. will come in handy if I want to buy a ranch from a dirty old rich woman. Which I might. Half the land around Aspen is owned by dirty old rich women who are also cousins of Paul Nitze — and friends of McNamara. I suspect that my probing of the Joint Chiefs will reveal that one of them is the real owner of the house I live in. Anyway, send word on my manuscript — or, better still, send the manuscript.



In its first year in print, Hell's Angels sold nearly half a million copies and generated a torrent of fan mail. Thompson occasionally replied to the most thoughtful letters.

January 15, 1968
Woody Creek, CO

Dear Kelly...

I just got back from New York and found your letter...and for a moment I was going to throw it in the fire because I found it depressing, but on second thought I decided to answer it.

First, thanks for the good words on the book. One of the best things about writing for publication is getting letters from people who read what you tried to put down...I think the shrinks call it "communication." Anyway, it's a good feeling to know that somebody in Herrin, Ill. is hearing my music, however weird or warped it might sound at that range.

But I'll be flat goddamned if I can understand how a guy like you, who sounds pretty bright and on top of things, can take the Angels seriously enough to want to go to all that trouble to Join Them. What the fuck would you want to do that for? You sound like you have enough going for you, as an individual, so that you wouldn't need some kind of bogus identity like a H.A. jacket. Do you really need Sonny Barger's O.K. to do what you feel like doing? If so, here's the last address I have for him, which is at least a year old: 9847 Stanley, Oakland Calif. I doubt that he still lives there, but he might. You can try.

As far as I know, Sonny is still pres. of the Oakland chapter, but I haven't followed that scene for a long time. As for the rest of your questions, Sonny could answer them better than I could...especially since I view your whole notion of getting "approval" from the Angels as a bad joke. I'm not trying to put you down here; if that was the idea, I wouldn't have bothered to answer your letter, so don't take it that way.

The thing is that you sound like you have more sense than any six Angels I can think of, and I can't quite understand why you want to defer to them. But that's obviously none of my business, and that's why I'm sending the only address I have for Sonny. But I'm also sending my own ideas on the subject — which you didn't ask for, but which you can't keep me from laying on you anyway — and the main one is, "Play your own game, be your own man, and don't ask anybody for a stamp of approval." For the past two years the Angels have been creatures of their own publicity; I wouldn't get fucked up with them any more than I would with the FBI or the Lyndon Johnson Fan Club. To hell with organizations. There's a lot of things wrong with this country, but one of the few things still right with it is that a man can steer clear of the organized bullshit if he really wants to. It's a goddamn luxury, and if I were you, I'd take advantage of it while you can.

Hunter S. Thompson

Copyright © 2000 by Hunter S. Thompson

What People are Saying About This

Nelson Algren
His hallucinated vision strikes one as having been, after all, the sanest.
Tom Wolfe
There are only two adjectives writers care about anymore..."brilliant" and "outrageous"...and Hunter Thompson has a freehold on both of them.
Garry Wills
He amuses; he frightens; he flirts with doom. His achievement is substantial.
Kurt Jr. Vonnegut
Hunter Thompson is the most creatively crazy and vulnerable of the New Journalists. His ideas are brilliant and honorable and valuable...the literary equivalent of Cubism: all rules are broken.

Meet the Author

Hunter S. Thompson was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. His books include Hell's Angels, Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, The Rum Diary, and Better than Sex. He died in February 2005.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
July 18, 1937
Date of Death:
February 20, 2005
Place of Birth:
Louisville, Kentucky
Place of Death:
Woody Creek, Colorado
U.S. Air Force, honorably discharged in 1957

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Fear and Loathing in America: The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist 1968-1976 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
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For those of you with an unabashed knowledge of the great Dr. Gonzo, Hunter S Thompson, this is the book for you. Not really a journalistic stance, not really an anthology, this book follows Hunter S through the most influential and heavy times of his life. Through his own personal letters to/from people like President Jimmy Carter, George McGovern or Allen Ginsburg, one can get a grasp on the man that is Gonzo better than ever before. Although many points that are made throughout his books of that time (Hell's Angels, F&L in Las Vegas, F&L on the Campaign Trail '72) are emphasized and defended in this great work, I do not recommend it to a first time Thompson reader, as you must already have at least a rudimentary idea of what he is all about before diving into this one. Otherwise, I would've given it 5 stars, as it is an incredible groundwork book for those of us who know. A fine piece of biography, shown through the eyes of Gonzo and weirdness...
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