By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Waitress (to cook): “Hey, Lou, do you know where the American Dream is?”
Waitress No. 2: “Could that be the old psychiatrist’s club?”
The scene made it right into the book verbatim — one of the many reasons Acosta felt shortchanged when Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas became a runaway success — but Acosta’s conceit didn’t end there. A few hours later, Thompson recorded his “attorney” asking a telephone operator if she has a listing for the American Dream.
These early recordings are a kick, primarily because the listener can follow a jagged discursive line from raw material to finished product: Thompson’s frustrated meanderings through Nevada’s prefab desert landscape, his bemusement at the mindlessness on display at the D.A. Drug Conference — from such dead ends did Thompson churn out his end-of-the-frontier metaphor for Fear and Loathing.
Although Thompson continued to produce some brilliant work in the mid-’70s, the productivity was gummed up by heavier drug use. Thompson got hooked on cocaine for life while “researching” a review of Freud’s Cocaine Papers for Rolling Stone. The review was never written, but the damage to the writer was immense. He recorded his cocaine experiences on the Norelco, and it’s no fun at all. “Coke would rank very close to the bottom of my list of things that I would do in terms of enjoying either consistently or sporadically at some later date,” he solemnly intones, his head full of the stuff. “I yet can’t resist the opportunity to buy coke.” Here is precisely the moment the worm turned and the going got really weird.
In 1974, when Rolling Stone sent Thompson and Ralph Steadman to Zaire to cover the Foreman-Ali fight, Thompson didn’t leave his hotel room. “I’d much rather go almost anywhere than that goddamn stadium tonight,” he barked to Steadman. “The important thing now is to get out of this place. I’ll be sure to grab Mailer’s arm . and drag him out with me.”
The recordings became more and more futile over time. A series of phone calls with New York Times Vietnam correspondent Gloria Emerson are amusing but pointless; it’s mostly Emerson encouraging Thompson to write “Fear and Loathing and the Fall of Saigon.” “You’ll get a marvelous 4,000 words and you can get out,” she tells Thompson, who seems to be more concerned with the prospect of becoming a POW if Saigon falls. He eventually did get up the nerve to go, but he didn’t get a marvelous 4,000 words out of the deal. The tapes became an end in themselves — a diversion from, rather than a path toward, great writing, despite all of that pontificating into a cheap condenser mike.
Shout Factory | 5 discs | $60 box