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Night of the Hunter 

Interview with a gonzo vampire

Thursday, Nov 4 2004
Photo by Jonathan Becker

It’s 11 p.m., and Hunter S. Thompson is wondering about breakfast. Tonight the famously late riser’s Chateau Marmont suite is a homey landscape of soft furniture and tables cluttered with room-service trays, scotch bottles and Epsom salts. Last night an informal gathering had crowded the suite’s kitchen as Marilyn Manson, Bono, Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro, Anjelica Huston and others partied here, along with Catherine Keener, who dropped by later.

Thompson, perched on a pillowed chair, swallows some Naproxen and rubs his left leg. A year ago he broke it during a fall in a Hawaii hotel, and it’s been giving him hell on this visit to L.A.

“I had a cast on my leg from my toes to my crotch for four months,” he says. “Broke both those bones right there. Freak accident.” Thompson’s clipped, dry voice is as distinctive as the gonzo prose he invented nearly 35 years ago — a journalese of narrative landslides, malarial digressions and Victorian capitalizations.

Thompson lights a Dunhill Blue and steadily rocks back and forth, though he’s not sitting in a rocking chair. Forget the dark legends of life at his Woody Creek compound outside of Aspen, Colorado, or the drug, booze and guns shenanigans on and off his property. Tonight he’s the Dalai Lama of fear and loathing — eyes searching behind a pair of aviators, an Aztec-imaged disc hanging around his neck. This white-gold medallion is the one he wears on the cover of Hey Rube, a collection of his eponymous ESPN.com columns. Subtitled Blood Sport, the Bush Doctrine, and the Downward Spiral of Dumbness, the book is a gambler’s-eye view of sports but includes everything from tirades against the Bush administration to Thompson’s crusade to win the release of Lisl Aumin, the young woman serving life in a Colorado prison for a cop killing even the Denver police admit she didn’t commit. The writing is dark, the outlook bleak.

“[America is] a dead-broke nation at war with all but three or four countries in the world and three of those don’t count,” he writes. “England has allowed itself to be taken over and stigmatized by some corrupt little shyster who enjoys his slimy role as a pimp and a prostitute all at once . . .”

I ask Thompson if he feels any recognition — responsibility, even — for the ether dream of militarism and paranoia that Empire America has embraced.

“Ether?” he considers thoughtfully. “Yeah, I know ether. I learned a long time ago that reality was much weirder than anyone’s imagination.”

Could he, 20 or 30 years ago, have imagined a man like George W. Bush becoming president?

“Shit, I couldn’t have imagined him becoming governor 20 or 30 years ago. He’s an advertisement for ugliness and dumbness as a weapon of victory. It’s really scary to think of what it may mean.”

A few days earlier, Thompson had caught some Sunday football games on TV before the visitors began paying their respects.

“Pat Caddell,” he says, “came over with that girl — Ann Coulter? Right-wing monster!”

I wonder if the fact that Halloween falls on a Sunday this year will jinx any of Thompson’s bets.

“Fuck, I think Halloween’s already started, politically,” he says. “For me it’s a real hard year to have to cover a football season and a presidential election.”

 

Thompson was in town for two book signings and readings from Hey Rube. The night before, he’d appeared at Taschen Books’ Beverly Hills store with an entourage that included Penn, Del Toro and Harry Dean Stanton. They eased into the signing with wine and smokes, though Thompson seemed distant. Hugh Hefner eventually showed up, as did Kelly Lynch, from whom Thompson bummed a cigarette. (“I didn’t know who she was — I thought maybe a rich girl from Santa Monica or something, some bored housewife.”)

The signings were an odd mix of celebrity worship and counterculture nostalgia. The line ran out the door and onto Beverly Drive as Bob Dylan, Don McLean and Lou Reed exhaled through speakers from a repeating tape loop, while scenes from the film of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas flickered from wall monitors. At 67, Thompson is one of the last bridges to a time before rebels were packaged and cool became an item purchased off the rack like a leather jacket. As it was for Jack Kerouac and others, the American Road, with its barren beauty and brutal promise, was Thompson’s early inspiration in life. Today, that road has been replaced by the information superhighway or paved over with car ads watched by a stay-home nation.

“Howya doin’?” one fan after another asked Thompson as they offered their copies of Hey Rube for signing. A young man requested that he inscribe his copy “To Tricky Dick,” while another shouted, “All power to the people!” Two Playboy Playmates flanked Thompson, each wearing a line of Gonzo bras and bikini bottoms, a display of which sat on a table for sale. (Just in case someone did want to buy a piece of Thompson off the rack.) Hey Rube is oddly sentimental — if you can consider faith in the Constitution and the values of the New Deal nostalgic indulgences.

  • Interview with a gonzo vampire

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