We still aren’t entirely sure about Hunter S. Thompson. His personal life has certainly been exhumed, er, to death, thanks to the post-suicide cottage industry of biographies, personal reminiscences and documentaries that have sprung up like dandelions around a gravestone. We do know, for example, that Thompson was a philanderer and a mean drunk on occasion, and that he had trouble setting things down on paper as the years progressed and substance abuse clouded his beautiful mind. And yet when it comes to the work itself — that half-mad hybrid of sharp reportage and venomous rhetoric — mysteries still abound.
When discussing his own creative process, Thompson could be very cagey indeed. For years, readers have speculated about the fact-vs.-fiction conundrum that lies at the heart of 1971’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Doug Brinkley, Thompson’s friend and executor of the author’s estate, has in the past referred to the book as a novel. In his movie adaptation, Terry Gilliam literalized the book’s beastly hallucinations and turned Thompson’s terrifying thought-dreams into a kind of Tex Avery nightmare. When I interviewed Thompson in 2002, he danced around the subject of factual accuracy with digressive charm, a familiar feint whenever someone tried to dig into the marrow of his most famous works.
But for years there have been murmurings about a skeleton key: cassette tapes, thousands of them, that would unlock the mystery and allow us to tease out the truth from Thompson’s Boschian mind trips. Alex Gibney received permission from the Thompson estate to use the tapes for his documentary Gonzo, the best and most insightful Thompson documentary by a wide margin. And now we have The Gonzo Tapes, a companion box set that contains hours of the cassettes spread across five CDs. For anyone but the most fervent Thompson heads, The Gonzo Tapes is a mighty tough trawl. The fidelity of the recordings, which span the years 1965 to 1975, is truly crappy, and given that Thompson often liked to play records in the background while recording, it sometimes takes a Herculean effort to discern what the hell is going on. You have to lean in a bit to catch the nuggets.
(via Professor Hex)