Having the gift of gonzo

John ColsonAspen, CO Colorado
Hunter S. Thompson gives a speech during a peace rally in Aspen in February 2003. (Paul Conrad/Aspen Times file)

ASPEN A panel of friends and admirers of gonzo writer Hunter S. Thompson will gather Saturday at the Aspen Institute to examine the writer’s outlook and ideas as they relate to current events. The focus of the first Hunter S. Thompson Annual Symposium will be his seminal political book “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72,” which chronicled the presidential contest between Democratic challenger George McGovern and incumbent Richard Nixon, a Republican. The event will consist of two separate sessions, an invitation-only discussion among participants and a panel discussion beginning at 8 p.m. at the Doerr-Hosier Center on the institute campus, which will be open to the public.

Tickets are $25 and are available by calling the Aspen Music Festival Box Office at 925-9042. Panelists include historian Douglas Brinkley, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Carl Bernstein and Loren Jenkins, Michael Isikoff of Newsweek, attorney Gerald Goldstein, actress and playwright Anna Deveare Smith, journalist Curtis Robinson, scholar Dr. Edward Bastian, author John Nichols, Dr. Audrey Sprenger and others. Thompson killed himself more than two years ago at his Woody Creek, and his son, Juan Thompson, explained recently by e-mail why he and others have put the symposium together. “A few days after Hunter’s death, I felt very strongly that it was important to put on an event that emphasized Hunter’s writing, rather than his lifestyle,” Juan Thompson wrote. “He was a great writer, up there with Mark Twain, both in his style and in the power of his convictions, and I wanted to put on an event that acknowledged that.”

Although the afternoon session is private, Juan Thompson said both sessions will be filmed and an edited version will be available on a website in streaming video within a couple of weeks. Among the results Juan Thompson hopes will come out of the symposium, he wrote, are “a wider appreciation for Hunter’s Campaign Trail ’72 book, which in my opinion is one of his best. Second, a greater understanding that the importance and relevance of Hunter’s work is not limited to the 1970s. “There are many parallels between the ’72 campaign and the present campaign – this administration is on a par with Nixon’s in terms of its notions of executive power, its secrecy and its conduct of the Iraq war, just to name a few. These are critically important topics that need to be written about clearly and honestly, so people really understand what is happening, what is at stake.”

WHICH? Thompson wrote that he hopes “young journalists [are] inspired to take up the torch and write the unpopular truths about our political system in uncompromising language.” In conjunction with the symposium, Explore Booksellers will host a book-signing from 4-6 p.m. today.Bernstein will be signing his latest bestseller, “A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton,” and Brinkley will be signing “The Great Deluge,” “The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman (Letters of Hunter S. Thompson 1955-1967),” and “Fear and Loathing in America: Letters of Hunter S. Thompson 1968-1976.”John Colson’s e-mail address is