Jennifer Waite's Reviews > Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson

Gonzo by Jann S. Wenner
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's review
Jun 23, 2012

it was amazing
Read from May 07 to June 23, 2012

Gonzo was published in 2007, but I guess I was busy. Rolling Stone's Jann Wenner and Corey Seymour (mainly Seymour), gathered insight and anecdotes from those closest to him to compile this biography. It's a great read that goes all the way back to his boyhood in Kentucky. It's a must read for anyone who considers themself a fan and fascinating for aspiring writers (who should be forced to sign a contract pinky-swearing to stop trying to be the next Hunter Thompson). However, one should be positive they want to know the real HST before reading it.

The counter-culture stuff attracted us when we were young, but I've grown to like him more as I get older. It might be because adult social roles are such a clusterfuck that curling up with HST at night reminds me I'm not obligated to pretend things are any different from what they are, do things any other way than as I see fit or apologize for any of it.

Fuck 'em.

His hijinks aren't surprising, but tender memories like those of his high school sweetheart, a friend recollecting the impact of being left in jail after his accomplices had been bailed out by their daddies and his closeness with his mother are endearing. It's also interesting to read the accounts of how his writing and career developed, and how he saw himself as a writer. More importantly, how badly he wanted to be a prolific writer and recognized for it. Sometimes there's an impression that these great writers just got wasted and rambled and magic appeared. Writing is indeed really hard work, and Thompson worked really hard at it.

His first wife, Sandy, has a lot of interesting things to say. Not surprisingly, the gist is that he was a super-fun date, not a great boyfriend, even worse husband. That's no surprise, but it's not in the ways I would have thought. He was very bossy and possessive, yet they were both madly in love. She was an educated, independent woman, but she still followed him around the world just taking care of him. She found out they were getting married when he told her so in the car on the way to the wedding after he decided it was time, likely at the urging of his mother.

Sandy also gives her account of the infamous Merry Pranksters/Hell's Angels party, which Thompson helped arrange and ended with him walking in on a gang bang. Sandy attests to how sick it made him. Little anecdotes like this pepper the book and confirm that he wasn't the animal his persona portrayed him to be. The animal many fans still seem to want him to have been. Many fans are selfish and dense.

Aside: If someone hasn't made a ridiculous porno entitled "The Cum Diary" they should.

The book is littered with stories about Thompson being a deadbeat, taking advantage of friends and generally not seeming appreciative or acknowledging what people did for him. He was really bossy. But Rolling Stone's Tim Ferris tells a story about calling Owl Farm right after being laid off. Sandy answered first and mentioned they were having money problems. They only had $400 and nothing expected to come in. Then he talks to HST, mentions getting canned and HST asks Ferris if he needs to borrow money because he could loan him $400.

Jann Wenner gives insight into Thompson's writing process as far as Rolling Stone went. It took a harem of babysitters and asskissers to get him to deadline, but the end product was worth it, at least for a few years. In my opinion, the booze and the coke specifically devoured his talent. On the other hand, who would he have been without the booze and the coke. Doesn't matter.

In 1974 Wenner and Thompson held a conference in Elko, Nevada with handpicked liberal members of the media (including Sandy Berger and the guy responsible for Ted Kennedy's absurd Chappaquiddick response) to plan a conspiracy to use their positions to win the next election. Assholes (except for Caddel, everyone loves Caddel). It was a disaster, and Wenner comes off as the pompous yin to Bill O'Reilly's yang in this section.

Sally Quinn is a piece of shit feminist. She uses her measly paragraph to outline her affair with him and blather about how well he treated her. She isn't an idiot; she had to know that would bother Sandy. I'm not saying she shouldn't have discussed the affair, but the way she did it stunk. Then she dismisses his defamation allegations against her in a later interview as "bluster".

It sounds like after Sandy finally left him things got weird, and not in the fun way. He brought in an a series of female assistants who became his girlfriend until they couldn't take it anymore. He seems to have been a lonely man.

I don't have a clever transition, but I feel compelled to mention that in 1984 Margot Kidder got an emergency call from him when he needed to be rescued from someplace where he punched a hole in a wall and called Linda Ellerbee a fascist dyke. That is hilarious.

The last couple hundred pages are really sad. He was a chronic alcoholic and drug addict, and he was completely out of control. His writing circled the drain, largely because of all the coke. I'm an absurd comparison, but at this point his friends' anecdotes become a justified bitch fest about babysitting him and all the bullshit he put them through. I had a pretty self-destructive period of my own, and there are a handful of people who are fairly cold to me know, and I completely understand. That part of myself disgusted me too; I'm not sure Thompson was that self-aware. .. but then he must have been.

I think his real undoing was trying to live up to his persona. What he had to do to be that caricature people wanted could only end one way.

"What happened, of course, was more about the image. And the way it turned out was absolutely not the life he dreamed." -Sandy Thompson

When Doug Brinkley writes about helping put together the Gonzo papers he mentions that Thompson was very open about himself as far as which letters would be made public, but he was very protective about the women in his life. Anything that would hurt or humiliate them was held back, especially pertaining to Sandy.

Most would say the drugs did him in, but that wasn't really it. Two back surgeries (which did require painful alcohol detox processes) and a broken leg left his body in a state he'd never recover from. My personal adoration of him has a fatherly quality to it, which I've always thought was weird. But this stage of his story helped me figure it out. Both men had bigger hearts and felt things more intensely than they'd ever let on, had a charisma which made them bigger than life to those who loved them and both men deplored how their bodies betrayed them as they slowly withered away in their final days. I knew the circumstances of the day he chose to check out, but reading about his physical and emotional agony leading up to it took me back to watching my dad on his death-bed. Some call his suicide courageous and say he went out on his own terms, as if he swaggered across the room with that smile on his face and blew his brains out as another one of crazy Uncle Hunter's stunts. BULLSHIT. It was an act of desperation, albeit a calculated one, that shouldn't be applauded or condemned.

Hunter S. Thompson was a force of nature trapped in a long-suffering body who made a willful decision throughout his life to destroy himself in order to keep up the persona we loved (and to get really high). Any HST fan should read Gonzo if only to love and try to understand the man behind the persona.


His last wife, who I believe still resides at Owl Farm, didn't contribute to the book. They were only married two years and they were volatile ones.

Prison Planet suggests his suicide was an inside job to cover up evidence he had that 9/11 was an inside job. As if Hunter Thompson is gonna let George Bush kill him and make it look like a suicide.

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Reading Progress

06/13/2012 "Got sidetracked and put this down for awhile, but picked it back up this week.

I'm really enjoying it. Nothing surprising, but Wenner put together a compilation of first hand accounts going back to HST as a small boy.

This is as close as we're gonna come to understanding Hunter Thompson... if we even WANT to understand Hunter Thompson. Then what?"

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