‘Gonzo’: A candid portrait of a complicated man
October 29, 2007
The strange and continuing saga of the late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, reanimated by his suicide at home in Woody Creek in 2005, has picked up momentum recently with the publication of an ever expanding list of books about the man, his life and his cohorts.The latest to hit the bookstores is “GONZO: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson: An Oral Biography,” by Jann Wenner and Corey Seymour, released on Halloween day.
This is an intensively researched account of a life lived largely in the hot lights of celebrity and deadline frenzy, fueled by roaring political passions.Seymour, now a senior editor at Men’s Vogue magazine, yo-yoed back and forth across the U.S. in the wake of Thompson’s death, interviewing more than 100 of his friends and relatives, from the 1950s through recent times, to compile the bulk of the narrative.Instructive even for those who knew Thompson slightly, the book will positively titillate those who knew only his books and his reputation, and are entranced by the Gonzo mythology.Wenner, as any regular reader of Thompson’s work knows, is publisher of Rolling Stone magazine and the man who:
• published Thompson’s recounting of his 1970 campaign for Pitkin County sheriff on the Freak Power ticket;• put the Good Doctor in Los Angeles in 1971 to write about unrest among the city’s Hispanics, an assignment that led directly to the publication of Thompson’s seminal book, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas;”• and put Thompson on the presidential campaign trail in 1972, which produced a series of articles, and later a book, on the Nixon-McGovern contest that set new standards for political journalism.Wenner, with the help of Seymour, a one-time editorial assistant at Rolling Stone who worked with Thompson, has succeeded in putting Thompson’s story into a form that both entertains and illuminates. It is a fond biography, a catalog of snippets quoting more than 100 people who knew Thompson well, arranged according to the epochs of Thompson’s life.
The result is a fairly candid portrait that shows, if nothing else, Hunter S. Thompson was one complicated human being.Interviews hint that he was bedeviled by deep-rooted insecurities, perhaps as formidable as his talent and his legendary stamina. He was capable of explosive fits of temper that occasionally ended in violence, and possessed a seductive quality that overwhelmed men and women alike. Accounts of his dead-eye sense of humor and timing spill over from page to page, as do recollections of his celebrated ability to look into the future and accurately predict changes in the political winds.Seymour said the initial draft of the book was about three times the length of the final 512-page version, and had to be edited down by Wenner.”He was so many things to so many different people,” Seymour said of Thompson, “any recitation of Hunter’s life has to leave out so many thing.”Of the comments he has gotten from readers of the book, Seymour said, “Those early years are something that is still surprising to a lot of people … both the rabble-rousing and the serious part of it.”