Hunter S. Thompson: The Father of Fake News, Part 3James J. O'Meara
3. Gonzo: What Happened? — Decline and Fall of Gonzo
As Thompson charts Hemingway’s road from literary brilliance to failure and suicide, he maps out his own path for the future.
Thompson/Gonzo burst on the scene in embryo with his first book, Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga, and then emerged fully formed — Classic Gonzo, if you will — with the article in Scanlan’s Monthly irresistibly titled “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved,” and of course the two-part article first published in Rolling Stone under the “Raoul Duke” byline and shortly after as a book: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. Yet the reader will note that the book is only a little more than half over, with the remainder to be devoted to the decline and fall of Gonzo.
Whether it was the drugs, the fame, or — as he insisted — he was just a “lazy hillbilly,” his career can easily be divided into two parts — trying hard and then hardly trying.
To see what went wrong, we need to turn back to the birth of Gonzo. Such a moment deserves to be narrated in extenso, thus:
When the Derby was over, Scanlan’s flew [Thompson and Steadman] to New York to finish the job . . .
For six days, he was locked in a hotel room with whiskey and room service, attempting to compose a story on his typewriter, taking amphetamines to keep himself awake and as focused as possible. But he couldn’t write. According to his wife, Sandy, it was the first time that this had happened to him. The man who had stayed up late writing about anything and everything had suddenly been struck by the complete inability to commit words to paper. Copyboys and even editors showed up and all left without the pages needed to fill the big blank space in the next issue. He moved from his desk to the bathtub and sat there drinking whiskey straight from the bottle, certain that he had finally ruined his career.
Eventually, no matter how much he told the editors that the story was gibberish, they demanded that he send it. In a panic, he tore pages out of his notebook and sent them away in lieu of real writing. This, he thought, might buy him a little time to get the story onto paper. But still it didn’t come. When the copyboy returned, much to Thompson’s surprise, he asked for more pages. The notes had somehow been enough. [My italics] He tore more pages from his notebook, added handwritten inserts, and sent them away, too.
[Publisher and friend] Hinckle called from San Francisco. Instead of screaming at Thompson, he said he loved what was being sent in. Keep it coming.
[This was] the culmination of Thompson’s literary innovations until this point. Everything that he had learned as a journalist had been the product of his training and experiences but fed through the bizarre computer of his mind, which spat out a form of writing so weird that there would be a new word coined just to describe it.
Thompson had discovered that his story notes were fungible and could be exchanged into the “high white notes” he had dreamed of hitting: “Gonzo was born out of a failure to write and he was lucky that what emerged could be used as another technique in his literary arsenal.”
And this is exactly what led to his downfall, as a writer and as a person. Thompson was trapped in his “one man genre,” a prisoner of his techniques — or perhaps you might call them “gimmicks.” First, as Wills frequently observes, Thompson became “trapped in his Gonzo persona,” unable to break out and develop as an author, and increasingly, unable to be taken seriously as a journalist or author.
Gonzo also became “a way of avoiding real work”:
He asked why he should bother trying to write any other way if he could “get away with” sending in torn-out pages of a notebook. It was an interesting innovation that earned him acclaim, but it could easily become a way of avoiding real work.
Jay Cowan explained that, at a certain point, he began to write what he felt was true rather than what he knew: “Once he began believing his own press, he got lazier and tended to rely less on well-placed sources and more on his own instincts.”
And as he became “a living legend, an authentic culture hero,” there arose yet more ways to avoid work. It was easier to just think up another crazy idea and sell it: “He knew that a single good idea could earn more money than a year or more of writing.”
Old material was also a fertile source of cash. Confident no one could film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, he sold the rights over and over, providing a handsome income of $10k every six months or so. And then there were collections of his published — and some unpublished — writings; although the first couple had real value, they were described by reviewers as “the worst-edited and most self-indulgent book[s] since the Bible,” and the later ones necessarily contained worse and worse material as his work declined: “from among the finest in American literature to efforts so abysmal that it is hard to believe they were even written by a native speaker of the language, never mind a professional writer.”
Then, the drugs. Despite his deranged personae and his carefully self-mythologized public image, Thompson was not, pace Ellison, a “doper,” at least initially:
Normally, when Thompson wrote he smoked cigarettes and drank beer or whiskey. If he became tired, he would take some form of amphetamine to keep him going, allowing him to work for days at a time. While he obviously enjoyed recreational drug use, he did not view these substances as a tool for writing and believed that even marijuana was detrimental to his writing process. . . . When he wanted to write about the effects of drugs, he would normally do so when he was not high.
Then, in 1973, Rolling Stone sent him a reissued edition of Freud’s Cocaine Papers to review. Thompson had thought the drug was “a silly rich person’s indulgence” and “a drug for fruits,” but in a burst of integrity decided he needed to try it first before reviewing the book. He was not impressed, but:
For the rest of his life, he would remain helplessly addicted. Before long, the drug’s effects on his literary output would be highly detrimental. When he timed his bumps correctly, he could stay up for days on end, but despite having the time to work he struggled to put words on paper. Cocaine was fun but it came at an enormous price: it robbed him of his ability to write.
But finally, Gonzo itself “was like a drug for Hunter. It was different, it was dangerous, and it was fun. But it was also addictive.”
In evolving Gonzo, which combined a focus on a flailing, barely competent “journalist” seeking to write the story and failing egregiously (thus creating a sympathetic protagonist) with a willingness, indeed a requirement, to fabricate as much as possible, Thompson had created a method and a persona that, while initially wildly successful, became both a straitjacket and an excuse for laziness and failure.
Already by 1980, “Thompson had not written anything good in eight years and had developed the habit of starting but not finishing projects, all the while running up huge expense tabs”:
By the mid-eighties, Hunter S. Thompson was living off the royalties earned by his first three books, all of which had been published more than a decade earlier, coupled with the occasional speaking fee, movie option, or idea that he pitched to someone.
Suddenly, the man who had rewritten and rewritten all night long; who, when barely out of his teens, had been retyping The Great Gatsby over and over “just to get the feeling of writing those words,” went “from 20 pages a day to 20 a month.” Looking at Thompson’s bibliography, it might seem that he published a lot, and presumably wrote even more, but most of it was repetitive junk, sections of unused material taped together with no transitions, even eventually including large (uncredited) work by others. By the end, he could barely put together a couple hundred words a week for an ESPN column, and then often failed to deliver anything.
For anyone who even occasionally turns his hand to writing, the relentless chronicle of his irreversible decline — visitors would find him sitting in front of the typewriter, motionless, sometimes crying, sometimes muttering, “I used to know how to do this. Why can’t I do this?” — is less boring than terrifying.
If he hadn’t been such an equally relentless and unrepentant asshole to everyone in his life, one might almost apply the phrase Evelyn Waugh used of Sebastian’s alcoholic decline in Brideshead Revisited: “a blow, expected, repeated, falling upon a bruise, with no smart or shock of surprise, only a dull and sickening pain and the doubt whether another like it could be borne.”
Thompson, however, was such a creep that Quillette, in a long review, starts by comparing him to Trump — literally Hitler! — but then decides that “Trump actually fares better than Thompson by various measures”:
For instance, Trump has never had a drug or alcohol problem, as far as I know. Thompson was a drug and alcohol problem. The first US president in living memory without a White House pet seems to have no interest in animals. Thompson enjoyed tormenting them. Rumors have circulated since 2015 that a recording exists of Trump using a racial slur but since the evidence has never surfaced, it might be fairer to conclude (at least provisionally) that this is not one of his many character failings. Thompson’s published and (especially) unpublished writings are full of such language.
I had originally thought, as I began to read, that Thompson might be one of those figures who starts off as a rebel, say, but that as Progressivism progresses, he gradually seems more and more like “men of the Right,” as Kerry Bolton might say, or one of Russell Kirk’s “Bohemian Tories.”
Indeed, almost every time you think you might have found some “paleo” thought or action, deplorable by today’s standards, that you might hook the “man of the Right” label on, Thompson betrays you (as he did so many people in his life).
For example, “Hunter was never entirely comfortable with the idea of homosexuality . . . he often appeared homophobic.” Appeared, indeed; during his stay in Big Sur, “in the evenings he could act out his masculine fantasies by chasing homosexuals away from the hot springs, where they congregated for orgies.” Sounds based. But then, you read that
After his brother came out to him, Hunter refused to discuss it. When Jim Thompson was dying of AIDS in 1994, it was Sandy — by then a decade and a half divorced from Hunter — who looked after him and begged Hunter to visit.
And you realize that “homophobia” was just another way he found to be what he basically was: a crummy bastard. Or, as Thompson “explained” to an editor who wanted to remove some “racist language”:
I am a bigot. I’m what they call a “multi-bigot.” . . . A unibigot is a racist. A multi-bigot is just a prick.
And as for that wife, again, Thompson is “conservative” only in the sense of some incel who just discovered the man-o-sphere. As Wills admits, “Even in that less progressive era, his behavior toward her appalled friends and visitors.” During their time in Big Sur, Thompson’s behavior resulted in their eviction, and it was hard to find somewhere else to live, since Thompson had “spent his meager earnings on guns and Dobermans, with much of the other income having funded several Tijuana abortions”:
After nearly two decades of abuse, Thompson’s long-suffering wife picked up and left him in 1980. The police had to come and escort her from the property as Hunter threatened her and threw all of her writing into a fire. He was distraught, but the sadness soon turned to pettiness and he had a new reason not to write — he did not want Sandy to get her hands on any more of his money.
In true Wokester fashion, although “he had done everything in his power to limit Sandy’s claims to their shared property and wealth during his own divorce trial,” this didn’t prevent Thompson from pontificating on how unfairly women are supposedly treated by the courts during his coverage of the salacious Pulitzer divorce.
As for his writing, it was almost entirely a series of failed assignments, mostly deliberately so: excuses to travel and experience cool places and events while pocketing the advances and expenses.
Yet sometimes Gonzo rose to the occasion. From the beginning,
his aims were surprisingly modest for a man who often boasted about his literary talent. He believed that even great writing did not necessarily have to be flawless; rather, there was more honor in hitting those ‘high white notes’ that Fitzgerald had mentioned.
There would be high white notes on a broad scale, scattered individual works that rise above the sea of dreck — and Wills, who seems to have read literally everything Thompson ever wrote or published, is a good guide to what Eliot might have called “sapphires in the mud.”
One occurred when, after several years of failed assignments and bloated expenses, the ladies at Rolling Stone gingerly suggested that Thompson write about something other than Gonzo. The result was “The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat” (Rolling Stone 254, December 15, 1977). an attempt to come to terms with the disappearance and presumed death — presumed violent death — of Oscar Zeta Acosta, the self-described “Brown Buffalo,” Chicano activist attorney and the “three-hundred-pound Samoan attorney” who accompanied Thompson on his search for the American Dream in Las Vegas. Wills calls it “one of the most bizarre eulogies imaginable, hurling insults at the dead but somehow letting a tone of admiration and love shine through.” Consider this sample:
Oscar was not into serious street-fighting, but he was hell on wheels in a bar brawl. Any combination of a 250-pound Mexican and LSD-25 is a potentially terminal menace for anything it can reach — but when the alleged Mexican is in fact a profoundly angry Chicano lawyer with no fear at all of anything that walks on less than three legs and a de facto suicidal conviction that he will die at the age of thirty-three — just like Jesus Christ — you have a serious piece of work on your hands. Specially if the bastard is already thirty-three and a half years old with a head full of Sandoz acid, a loaded .357 Magnum in his belt, a hatchet-wielding Chicano bodyguard on his elbow at all times, and a disconcerting habit of projectile-vomiting geysers of pure red blood off the front porch every thirty or forty minutes, or whenever his malignant ulcer can’t handle any more tequila.
Wills again employs his serious literary critic’s eyeball:
In this paragraph, we can see Thompson’s use of long sentences, punctuated with em dashes, layering image upon image by prefacing most nouns with at least one strong adjective in order to make his point, creating an eruption of ideas that bombards the reader. Like his “wave passage,” the punctuation here is intended to dictate breath and this is clearly meant to be read aloud. The rhythm in his language has returned. There is one short sentence and two extremely long ones, building a steady pace in the text that sweeps the reader along into increasingly vivid imagery. In the next paragraph, the structure is exactly the same. This leads into the final lines of the third part of the story. Thompson is like an expert orator, building his audience into a frenzy with the cadence of his prose.
And there’s a climax we could only wish for our own memorial:
We should have castrated that brain-damaged thief! That shyster! That blasphemous freak! He was ugly and greasy and he still owes me thousands of dollars!
The truth was not in him, goddamnit!  He was put on this earth for no reason at all except to shit in every nest he could con his way into — but only after robbing them first, and selling the babies to sand-niggers. If that treacherous fist-fucker ever comes back to life, he’ll wish we’d had the good sense to nail him up on a frozen telephone pole for his thirty-third birthday present.
DO NOT COME BACK OSCAR! Wherever you are — stay there! There’s no room for you here anymore. Not after all this maudlin gibberish I’ve written about you . . . And besides, we have Werner Erhard now. So BURROW DEEP, you bastard, and take all that poison fat with you!
Cazart! And how’s that for a left-handed whipsong?
Nevermind. There is no more time for questions — or answers either, for that matter. And I was never much good at this kind of thing, anyway.
Wills notes that, just as Thompson typically dealt with friends by using more intense vitriol and sarcasm than with enemies, the message intended here is “Come back, Oscar!” As with his fantasy sequences, the reader is assumed to be clever and mature enough to “get it” without, as we would say, being “trolled.” And rather than “maudlin gibberish,” Wills concludes:
It is a stoic’s lament, not bogged down in emotion but dealing aggressively with the issues at heart. His writing is polished, organized, original, and gripping.
Wills also finds merit in the two articles he eventually produced, long after the events, during his abortive attempt to cover the American withdrawal from Saigon. Thompson and Rolling Stone thought the event was a milestone for the sixties generation, and chaotic enough to call for the Gonzo treatment.
But although he had always mocked professional journalists, here they were the ones who held him and his “Duke” persona in contempt; his “outsider” pose was considered simply ignorant and his drug-fueled antics embarrassing, not to mention too dangerous for a war zone. He had to be rescued several times; once it was “seriously debated whether they should let him be killed,” and “one reporter told him that he could make up a bunch of fake Gonzo stories for Rolling Stone but warned him ‘don’t fuck up my interview.’”
It seemed to have a sobering effect. Fleeing Saigon for Hong Kong, the two articles he produced, as usual, are mosaics of various fragments, notes, editorial comments, and interviews, but they are “clearly the result of several drafts rather than a spontaneous prose sketch. This was sorely lacking in much of his work after 1971. The result was a polished, mature version of Gonzo”:
Thompson seems to have stumbled upon a new path in Gonzo, pushing his innovation in a more post-modern direction. . . . They include some of the features of his usual writing (and also a nod to the dwarf from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), but they are straightforward, concise, and engaging. He talks about himself and describes his hotel room, but these are just features of otherwise varied writing. There are no stupid antics and no attempts at over-the-top humor or unrealistic dialogue.
These articles show that he was capable — at least in short pieces — of writing coherent and informative journalism that retained his subjective perspective and personal flair. . . . His Saigon reporting, though printed ten years too late, was among his finest work and stands as a shining example of what Gonzo could be when its creator invested the necessary time and effort.
Another high occurs in 1978 when, while having failed spectacularly to deliver a story on Muhammad Ali’s “Rumble in the Jungle” of Zaire, he redeemed himself with the two-part “Las Tango in Vegas” on the Ali/Spinks match. Thompson begins “moving away from the Duke persona and some elements of Gonzo style,” with fewer crazy antics and fantasies; instead acting more as an observer than a participant, and revealing himself to be a talented interviewer, winning over Ali (whom he calls “a bastard” and a “giggling yo-yo” as well as “the brown Gatsby”) and conducting what one of the entourage calls “one of the best interviews I’ve ever seen.”
For many, “A Dog Took My Place” (Rolling Stone, July 1983), his examination of the Pulitzer divorce trial and what it revealed about Palm Beach, the rich, and America in general, was Thompson’s “last great piece of reporting.” Indeed, it has an oddly contemporary ring:
The stomping of the rich is not a noise to be ignored in troubled times. It usually means they are feeling anxious or confused about something, and when the rich feel anxious and confused, they act like wild animals.
Thompson “portrays Palm Beach as an alien place where weird people do depraved things with no consequences because they have the money to make any problem go away”; where “naked millionaires gnaw brassieres off the chest of their own daughters in public.” Although Thompson did go to Palm Beach and hang around, he seems to be channeling Hunter Biden’s laptop and cell phone.
Pat Cadell, an old friend from the campaign trail, calls it “the greatest attack on the Gatsby class since Gatsby, and it very well might be. Wills again gives us a careful analysis of how this time the Gonzo tricks worked their magic again.
One of the unwritten works that would have been a treat was Rise of the Body Nazis (“Any book with Nazi in the title is my kind of book”), which would explore “the idea of liberals morphing from the free-love hippies of the sixties into the militant, joyless ‘body nazis’ of the eighties.” Based on one of his more successful articles — for Running magazine oddly enough, in 1984; Jann Wenner couldn’t figure out how they had gotten Thompson to actually write something instead of just run up expenses, and a great piece at that — it might have been a prescient look at a transition that eventually brought us to today’s Covid hysteria.
Though he “gleefully speculated” on a quarter-million-dollar advance, like half a dozen other book projects, it just died.
Eventually, he even began writing a column for the San Francisco Examiner, a conservative paper whose staff thought hiring Thompson was a prank or a joke. These weekly columns “had no real focus and mainly concerned the daily dramas of an angry man who saw greed, corruption, and incompetence wherever he looked.”
Wills analyzes several columns that succeed when Thompson is just commenting on things he sees in the news and letting his wild imagination loose: “fun, pure and simple.” The articles “were wildly inconsistent, with some of them brilliant for their powerful language, humorous imagery, or astute observations, and others just too repetitive or fragmented to work.”
However, Thompson was now “struggling so badly to write even these short columns” that he moved beyond his old habit of stealing ideas and quotes from friends and now “allowed others to write parts for him.” When a friend tried to give him a scoop on the Gary Hart scandal, he was found “borderline unconscious and unable to write it. . . . He was sitting upright in front of his typewriter, he could open his eyes, roll his head around and utter noises, but that was it.”
The column petered out by the end of 1989; in 1990 he managed to produce three columns for Esquire. In a bizarrely Seinfeld touch, he wrote advertising copy for J. Peterman’s catalog. “He even shot a pilot episode of a TV show he intended to host called Breakfast with Hunter, but he could not be roused before noon and so the idea fizzled out.”
By the nineties, “it was very rare for him to do any sort of journalism, and whatever writing he did was totally unfocused and weighed down with clichés.” He concentrated on expensive limited editions of one or two stories from his archives, and several volumes of collected writings — or “Gonzo Papers” — of varying quality. Of the last, Better Than Sex: Confessions of a Political Junkie, Wills sadly concludes:
In some of the collected writings, there is humor and wisdom, and occasionally it is lyrical, but essentially it is a collection of scraps, as though someone had swept under his writing desk and jammed the various pieces of paper into a binder, regardless of content or quality.
Speaking of sex: Polo is My Life, an unfinished novel based on an unhappy love affair, is perhaps the only Thompson piece with a substantial female character. Otherwise, the whole project sums up the decline of Gonzo: an unfinished novel, then an attempt to turn it into a two-part article for Rolling Stone in 1994, with only one part appearing, “due to Thompson running up a forty-thousand-dollar expense bill.” Once again, Ralph Steadman provides illustrations, including “a four-eyed horse with large breasts.”
Like “Kentucky Derby” and “A Dog Took My Place,” it returns to the observation of the rich, this time the Long Island polo crowd, and plumbs the Gatsby vein of nostalgic regret alongside his “typically aggressive prose.” It shows “where Gonzo could have gone if Thompson had put the effort in. For all the clowning and silliness that obscures parts of it, the prose is quite impressive in places,” such as one horse described as “an all-knowing, dissolute slut horse, insanely rapacious yet very inviting and maternal.” Or this update of Gatsby’s valley of ashes:
Only animals, filthy stupid animals. And the rotten blazing sun. The thirst, the anger, the crippling sense of helpless bovine dumbness when you pass the same deserted barn for the third time in forty minutes and then suddenly run out of gas on a rutted uphill grade overlooking nothing . . .
And yet . . . ultimately, it still wasn’t enough. Wills delivers a sobering epitaph:
He had become a modern literary legend, but he was also plagued by the undeniable fact that he had not fulfilled his potential.
As a young man, he had been a magnificent writer and threw every ounce of energy he had into his work, but after achieving fame he had become lazy and distracted.
For the first half of his life, he dedicated himself to his craft, and for the second half he had simply attempted to recapture some of the brilliance he had once possessed. It had not worked and his loss of talent was an open secret.
Worst of all was his failure to produce great fiction.
Thompson had fused fact and fiction in three of the most brilliant books of his era, but he had not managed to produce a genuinely good work of pure fiction to rival his best journalism.
The problem, as already mentioned, was that “he could not craft a plot or present characters with any real depth, and the action and dialogue that he wrote were funny but not believable.” Wills never makes the connection between the narcissistic/sociopathic behavior he doggedly details, and Thompson’s limitations as a writer:
He was always good at describing motorcycles and cars, and he had not lost that ability.
He [would begin] plotting out movies that had lots of ideas but absolutely no character development, then he would become bored and think of a new movie.
He could write about drug frenzies, crimes, violence, and paranoia, but he could not or would not write about emotions.
Perhaps reflecting the years of abuse, Thompson’s wife Sandy is more brutal:
I do not think he was a great writer. I think he clearly had great potential, both as a writer and a leader. However, he fell, dramatically, and a very, very long time ago. Hunter wanted to be a great writer and he had the genius, the talent, and, early on, the will and the means. He was horrified by whom he had become and ashamed — or I really should say tortured. He knew he had failed. He knew that his writing was absolutely not great. This was part of the torture. . . . he never became the great American writer he had wanted to be. Nowhere close. And he knew it.
* * *
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 The reader will note the doubled-up adjective.
 In accord with the high status Wills gives Thompson, these would make an excellent compact volume in the Library of America. The 1996 Modern Library edition, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Other American Stories, which features Ralph Steadman’s original drawings along with a new introduction by Caity Weaver, adds “The Kentucky Derby” and “Strange Rumblings in Aztlan,” Thompson’s account of the Chicano activist Oscar Zeta Acosta (aka his 300-pound Samoan attorney, Dr. Gonzo). Wills’ book would provide a good guide to what else from the decline would be worth adding.
 Personally, I was a bit put out to see the articles on the 1972 presidential campaign, later collected as Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 (Straight Arrow, 1973) presented as the start of the decline. Having read the two-part Las Vegas series in Rolling Stone, I eagerly sought out these articles as I made my way across Europe during the summer of 1972 and had fond memories consuming them in various cafés and train stations. While there are some worthy passages (which I’ve quoted here, for example), Wills makes a good case for Thompson’s decline beginning here. Even Thompson admitted in 1975 that “The stuff on the ’72 presidential election? I’m embarrassed about most of it.”
 One might think it appropriate for this to happen at the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, Thompson’s own birthplace, but as we’ll see, the birth itself is in a hotel room in New York.
 About a dozen times, according to my Kindle.
 And of course, no one did until Terry Gilliam in 1998. Describing the long development, Wikipedia notes that “Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando were originally considered for the roles of Duke and Gonzo but they both grew too old.”
 Thompson’s drug consumption was mostly a carefully cultivated myth. The legendary drug cache in Los Vegas was fictional: “We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers . . . and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls.” Timothy Crouse, one of a team of editors who “assisted” the increasingly erratic Thompson even in 1972, says he never wrote under the influence of anything but beer.
 Sigmund Freud, Cocaine Papers, ed. by Robert Byck (New American Library, 1975). I suppose he would have gotten an “advance reader’s copy” in 1973.
 Indeed, “after five days of heavy use” he had “no desire to read further in that fucking book” and never actually finished the review.
 “It is an image that would come to define Hunter S. Thompson — the unprepared outsider embarking upon a comic misadventure.”
 Wills later notes that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is almost exactly the length as Gatsby.
 Helpfully provided by Wills in very small type, for which the Kindle zoom feature is required.
 Jann Wenner said that by the eighties, “his writing consisted of disjointed fragments of larger thoughts and fairly lifeless repetitions of his brilliant phrasemaking and descriptions of people and places.” Wills says that “by this point, the music was long gone from his once lyrical language. There is little sense of rhythm and often there are careless repetitions, with certain words appearing far too often, even in the same sentence.” In one later collection, Wills counts “ho ho” 36 times, “doomed” 35 times, “swine” 25 times, “Bubba” 15 times, “mahalo” 16 times, and “whoops!” 22 times. “Bubba” and “ho-ho” became teeth-grinding favorites. It “hints at a genuinely startling degree of cognitive decline and the sort of inability to process language that plagued Hemingway prior to his suicide.”
 He was physically and verbally abusive to his first wife, Sandy. Thompson’s writings are littered with “funny” abuse of hotel employees, and he was infamous for torturing wild animals, whose screams he would record and play for horrified guests. Asked by Don Henley for a contribution to a book on ecology, he dug up a piece about gut-shooting a fox and watching it slowly die.
 Regarding the sacred “N-word,” Wills observes that “[w]hile he sometimes used such language in his writing as a means of satirizing racist attitudes [in the landmark Kentucky Derby article, for example], at other times it seemed like he was using them just for shock value.” Of course, by today’s standards, where even Mark Twain has been cancelled, even the first alternative is verboten. Although Wills never uses the word, he is to be commended for quoting it in full when Thompson uses it, including references to a book that, oddly enough, had great influence on his writing: Joseph Conrad’s The Nigger of the “Narcissus.”
 If a contrast is needed, consider two such brothers in The Old Devils by that genuine reactionary, Kingsley Amis: “’I suppose there’s no chance of him going? Because that really would be a turn-up for the book.’ For a moment Victor’s voice went falsetto with laughter. ‘PP in Pennsylvania with one of that lot.’ That lot stayed in the third person in dealings between the brothers. Too much to ask. Well — enjoy your pub-crawl. You’ll be in later, will you?’”
 Just as Thompson surpasses Orange Hitler in evil, so does he even surpass Original Hitler. Thomas Dalton tells us, in the Introduction to his translation of Mein Kampf: “Hitler had only one real enemy in the Jews. He was not some all-purpose hater of humanity. He disliked the French, respected the British and Americans, and sympathized with the Russians, but didn’t hate them. Even the lesser races were never a target of contempt, but rather, if anything, pity.” Mein Kampf, A New English Translation by Thomas Dalton (Clemens & Blair, 2018), vol. 1, p. 51.
 “There is very little that is right-wing about the man-o-sphere. The politics are decorations that are used as a lure to draw in the desperate males looking for brotherhood.” — The ZMan, “The Bearded Weirdo.”
 Anyone remember the trumpet? Again, the liberal template: I’m a shit, but I’m better than you, because I care about some “social issue.”
 “In November 1961, while writing The Rum Diary and also working on various short stories, he considered the merits of these ventures in terms of his ‘high white note’ theory: ‘Five good pages in a 15-page story might not win the pennant, but it’s a hardnose average and I’ll buy it any day. On the other hand, 10 good pages in 200 (with 100 to go) is twice as many good pages as five, but as an average it sucks wind. I guess the moral is pretty obvious — write short-shorts — and that’ll do for a while, but every now and then a man needs to launch a real wadbuster and that’s about the way I’m feeling. You can hit the target all day with a .22, but when you want to knock a motor-block off its mounts you move in close with a .44 Magnum. Yeah.’” Oddly enough, no less a critic than legendarily acerbic John Simon might be called as a witness: Moderating his well-known distaste for the early work of Woody Allen into faint praise, he allowed that “[i]f you make enough good films, that will take the place of one or two great ones.”
 “Undoubtedly, most of his writing was a string of ‘high white notes’ with a bit of filler, but the notes were pitch perfect and the filler made sense. With [his later work], however, the notes were all off key. A good novel with great moments is an entirely different thing to a terrible novel with some half-decent ones.”
 “Brain Damage” is the ninth track from Pink Floyd’s 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon. Compare the language and rhetorical technique from “Shine On…”: “Come on you target/for faraway laughter;/Come on you stranger, you legend, /You martyr, and shine.” Several themes of the eulogy “echo” (another Floyd song) as well: “Nobody knows where you are,/How near or how far”; “You reached for the secret too soon/You cried for the moon” (the banshee screams for buffalo meat); “Well, you wore out your welcome/With random precision/Rode on the steel breeze/Come on you raver, you seer of visions;/Come on you painter, you piper,/You prisoner, and shine.” Although Thompson was capable of plagiarism, this is likely more a case of him being well aware of the 1973 song in 1975, and having heard or remembered hearing it while engaged in drug-fueled composition.
 Interestingly, Thompson said the same thing about his nemesis, Richard Nixon: “Gone but not forgotten, missed but not mourned; we will not see another one like him for quite a while. He was dishonest to a fault, the truth was not in him, and if it can be said that he resembled any other living animal in this world, it could only have been the hyena.” “Fear and Loathing in Limbo: The Scum Also Rises” (Rolling Stone 111, October 10,1974).
 Other than the child trafficking, a pretty good description of Thompson himself.
 When discussing Thompson on Greg Johnson’s livestream, I quoted this passage, and commenters were intrigued by where Thompson got the idea. I can’t find this term elsewhere in Thompson’s writing. I think Thompson intends a reference to masturbation, a frequent trope of abuse (as it were), usually given a violent or perverse twist. In the Las Vegas book alone, we find “Las Vegas is a society of armed masturbators,” a junkie is imagined as having pants “crusted with semen from constantly jacking off,” and journalism as a profession is compared to a hobo “masturbating like a chimp in a zoo cage.” This seems to be one of Thompson’s violent, vulgar neologisms, one of the Elements of Gonzo discussed above, such as “greedhead” or “scumsuckers.” Camille Paglia writes in Sexual Personae about “a fringe-group homosexual practice that appeared in the 1970s: ‘fist-fucking,’ whose devotees crave anal penetration by a male arm, greased by Crisco . . .” (Acosta is “greasy,” although this is a common anti-Chicano insult.) “Fist-fucking, in its starkly depersonalized conflation of voluntary rape and primitive exploratory surgery, dramatizes the daemonism of the sexual imagination, untouched by five thousand years of civilization. My amazement never ceases at the biological conceptualism of male sexuality. What woman could invent such compulsive structures? What woman, unpaid, would live and love in so hellish an underworld?” In 1975, Playboy “paid him to write about feminist pornography, so he went to San Francisco to work at the O’Farrell Theater, which he called “the Carnegie Hall of public sex in America.” The legendary Marilyn Chambers indulged in such practices there. Thompson decided to turn this into a novel, The Night Manager, and in the early eighties even worked there as the night manager. Like most of his novels, it was never published and may not have ever been written. Paglia in her next paragraph cites Kleist’s suicide by pistol and Hemingway’s suicide by shotgun, which also prefigure Hemingway fan Thompson’s suicide by handgun.
 A surrealistic merging of Easter (crucifixion) and Christmas (presents, the frozen telephone pole prank in A Christmas Story, something we can imagine Thompson egging someone into).
 I have seen and subsequently used this for decades without bothering to dig into its origin and meaning. Wills explicates: “Following a well-worn path, the word was tried out in his letters for about a year before being used in an article, and then it became a standard part of Gonzo vocabulary. He had heard this word in Brazil and hoped to import it into English and have Random House [also his publisher] include it in their dictionary. He defined it as going beyond ‘mere shock & surprise; it also implies an almost doom-rooted acceptance of whatever grim situation has suddenly emerged.’ It was less ‘Oh shit!’ and more ‘Oh shit! I should have known!’”
 Wills earlier noted stoicism and hedonism as the poles of Thompson’s writing and life, the first from Hemingway and the second from Fitzgerald. The tonal shift is a Gonzo touch: “At the end of most chapters, he presents a vivid image that is often romantic or presents some sort of wisdom. The effect is jarring.”
 “Dance of the Doomed” was not published at the time, as Thompson was engaged in another spat with Wenner over expenses, but appeared in their issue on the 10th anniversary, May 9, 1985, and was reprinted in the similarly-titled collection in 1990 along with “Whooping It Up with the War Junkies.”
 He also compares it to Dos Pasos, which is not only a bit more plausible, but serves as another link to the Right, as we will soon see.
 “I didn’t come here to watch two niggers beat the shit out of each other.”
 “The eighties had seen the conservatives wage war on drugs, sex, fun, and free speech, and now the liberals would have their turn.” In a later article, “Fear and Loathing in Elko,” Thompson muses that “Everybody you see these days might have the power to get you locked up.”
 One recalls that when Jann Wenner first announced Thompson would be handling political reporting for Rolling Stone, the staff burst into laughter.
 “He had always been good with shocking action and weird comedy, and this sort of fantasy allowed him to do just that, bashing dogs against cars and making people cry when they take his health test.”
 “You don’t understand. Polo is my life. I can’t run away with you. Who would take care of my ponies?”
 As Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote in his notes on the unfinished novel The Last Tycoon, “there are no second acts in American lives.”
 One recalls the infamous director Coleman Francis, an apparently autistic auteur whose preference for private planes and coffee over human emotions resulted in a famously bad yet strangely fascinating trilogy of independent films; see “Coffee? I Like Coffee!: The Metaphysical Cinema of Coleman Francis,” reprinted in Passing the Buck: Coleman Francis and Other Cinematic Metaphysicians (op. cit.).