Hunter S., -Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas
(New York, Straight Arrow, 1971, 204pp)
Robert Crumb once made the point that during the late 60s drugs had replaced war as the source of tall stories amongst his peer group. By that standard Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas remains the undisputed mother of all counter-cultural war stories.
In cutting his teeth on hazardous drug use Thompson was in many ways following in the tradition of the generation of post war writers who had preceded him whilst simultaneously attempting to supersede them via the creation of a new form of "Gonzo" journalism. During the heady and often dangerous research and writing of Hells Angels the author had come to the conclusion that the extremes were where it was definitely at. In pushing all the limits during the pursuit of otherwise unrelated stories he was now able to take centre stage and become the story itself.
Whilst Thompson has undoubtedly shown flashes of brilliance in his other books Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas remains the apex of his style and powers. Thanks to its journalistic origins it is generally classified as non fiction, but given the level of drug use and self aggrandising derangement involved in its creation it sits as squarely in the world of fantasy as anywhere else.
The book’s sustained ability to suspend the reader’s disbelief through what is (in more ways than one) the wild trip of a lifetime is of course what keeps people coming back to it time after time. The source of inspiration for many a wild weekend’s drug burn out both Fear and Loathing and Thompson’s life itself have consistently failed to translate the big screen due to the level of imagination required to properly appreciate either of them. Whilst Thompson himself may have long ceased to have been particularly interesting his prose continues to spark the desire for adventure on many levels and thus rightfully holds its place in the counter-cultural cannon.
"A year or so earlier I had been to the Sky River Rock Festival in rural Washington, where a dozen stone-broke freaks from the Seattle Liberation Front had assembled a sound system that carried every small note of an acoustic guitar- even a cough or the sound of a boot dropping on the stage- to half deaf acid victims huddled under bushes half a mile away.
But the best technicians available to the National DA’s conference in Vegas apparently couldn’t handle it. Their sound system looked like something Ulysses S. Grant might have rigged up to address his troops at Vicksburg. The voices from up front crackled with a fuzzy, high pitched urgency, and the delay was just enough to keep the words disconcertingly out of phase with the speaker’s postures.
‘We must come to terms with the Drug Culture in the country!... country.... country.’ These echoes drifted back to the rear in confused waves. ‘The reefer is called a roach because it resembles a cockroach... cockroach... cockroach.’
‘What the fuck are these people talking about’ my attorney whispered ‘You’d have to be crazy on acid to think a joint looked like a goddamn cockroach!’
I shrugged. It was clear we had stumbled into a prehistoric gathering. The voice of a ‘drug expert’ named Bloomquist crackled out of the nearby speakers. ‘... about these flashbacks, the patient never knows; he thinks it’s all over and he gets himself straightened out for the next six months... and then, darn it, the whole trip comes back on him.’
Gosh darn that fiendish LSD! Dr E.R. Bloomquist, MD, was the keynote speaker, one of the big stars of the conference. He is the author of a paperback book entitled Marijuana, which according to the cover, ‘tells it like it is.’ (he is also the inventor of the roach/cockroach theory...)
... Dr Bloomquist’s book is a compendium of state bullshit. On page 49 he describes the ‘four states of being’ in the cannabis society: ‘Cool, Groovy, Hip and Square’- in that descending order. ‘The square is seldom is ever cool’ states Bloomquist. ‘He is "not with it", that is he doesn’t know "what’s happening." But if he figures it out, he moves up a notch to "hip". And if he can bring himself to approve of what is happening then, he becomes "groovy". And after that with much luck and perseverence, he can rise to the rack of "cool".’
Bloomquist writes like someone who once bearded Tim Leary in a campus cocktail lounge and paid for all the drinks. And it was probably someone like Leary who told him with a straight face that sunglasses are sometimes known in the drug culture as ‘tea shades.’" (pp 138-139)