“Free Enterprise. The American Dream. Horatio Alger gone mad on drugs in Las Vegas. Do it now. Pure Gonzo journalism.” — Hunter S. Thompson


One of my favorite writers of all time. It’s his birthday today.

Here he is on his favorite meal of the day:

“I like to eat breakfast alone, and almost never before noon; anybody with a terminally jangled lifestyle needs at least one psychic anchor every twenty-four hours, and mine is breakfast. In Hong Kong, Dallas, or at home — and regardless of whether or not I have been to bed — breakfast is a personal ritual that can only be properly observed alone, and in a spirit of genuine excess. The food factor should always be massive: four Bloody Marys, two grapefruits, a pot of coffee, Rangoon crêpes, a half-pound of either sausage, bacon, or corned-beef hash with diced chilies, a Spanish omelette or eggs Benedict, a quart of milk, a chopped lemon for random seasoning, and something like a slice of key lime pie, two margaritas and six lines of the best cocaine for dessert …Right, and there should also be two or three newspapers, all mail and messages, a telephone, a notebook for planning the next twenty-four hours, and at least one source of good music … all of which should be dealt with outside, in the warmth of a hot sun, and preferably stone naked.”

Some random scattered passages from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, with the understanding that Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail is probably even more of a masterpiece, and certainly one of the best books about the American political process. Everything is in there. It reflects the past, it predicts the future, it calls a spade a spade, it’s also hilarious as only Hunter can be hilarious. I’ve read everything he’s ever written. I loved it when he was writing for ESPN online. It was “appointment television” of the online variety.

But the book for which he will always be known is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

p. 11

“You Samoans are all the same,” I told him. “You have no faith in the essential decency of the white man’s culture. Jesus, just one hour ago we were sitting over there in that stinking baiginio, stone broke and paralyzed for the weekend, when a call comes through from some total stranger in New York, telling me to go to Las Vegas and expenses be damned – and then he sends me over to some office in Beverly Hills where another total stranger gives me $300 raw cash for no reason at all … I tell you, my man, this is the American Dream in action! We’d be fools not to ride this strange torpedo all the way out to the end.”

p. 21

The radio was screaming: “Power to the People – Right On!” John Lennon’s political song, ten years too late. “That poor fool should have stayed where he was,” said my attorney. “Punks like that just get in the way when they try to be serious.”

“Speaking of serious,” I said. “I think it’s about time to get into the ether and the cocaine.”

p. 56

One of the things you learn, after years of dealing with drug people, is that everything is serious.

p. 63

Ignore that nightmare in that bathroom. Just another ugly refugee from the Love Generation, some doom-struck gimp who couldn’t handle the pressure.

^^^ The contempt of the above … the accuracy … He hated hippies.

And here, in an extended sequence on page 66, he elaborates:

Strange memories on this nervous night in Las Vegas. Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era – the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run … but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of the time and the world. Whatever it meant …
History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time – and which never explain, in retrospect, what really happened.
My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or five or maybe forty nights – or very early mornings – when I left the Fillmore half-crazy and, instead of going home, aimed the big 650 Lightning across the Bay Bridge at a hundred miles an hour wearing L.L. Bean shorts and a Butte sheepherder’s jacket … booming through the Treasure Island tunnel at the lights of Oakland and Berkeley and Richmond, not quite sure which turn-off to take when I got to the other end (always stalling at the toll-gate, too twisted to find neutral while I fumbled for change) … but being absolutely certain that no matter which way I went I would come to a place where people were just as high and wild as I was: No doubt at all about that ….
There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda … You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning …
And that, I think, was the handle – that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting – on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave …
So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark – that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

Magnificent. Fear and Loathing came out in 1971, remember, so the days he is discussing were only a couple of years before. Not much time had passed at all, and it took many people a much longer time to sift through the debris. But those paragraphs read as though they were written with a decade or two of retrospect and reflection. What he describes is the very short space between Easy Rider and Two-Lane Blacktop. Easy Rider contains the prophecy of the moment’s end: “We blew it.” To repeat a cliche: it’s just one step from Woodstock to Altamont.

p. 178

But what is sane? Especially here in “our own country” – in this dumbstruck era of Nixon. We are all wired into a survival trip now. No more of the speed that fueled the Sixties. Uppers are going out of style. This was the fatal flaw in Tim Leary’s trip. He crashed around America selling “consciousness expansion” without ever giving a thought to the grim meat-hook realities that were lying in wait for all the people who took him too seriously. After West Point and the Priesthood, LSD must have seemed entirely logical to him … but there is not much satisfaction in knowing that he blew it very badly for himself, because he took too many others down with him.
Not that they didn’t deserve it: No doubt they all Got What Was Coming To Them. All those pathetically eager acid freaks who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit. But their loss and failure is ours, too. What Leary took down with him was the central illusion of a whole life-style that he helped to create … a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody – or at least some force – is tending that Light at the end of the tunnel.

Brutally honest. Let’s not forget that Hunter Thompson wrote one of the three meanest obituaries of the 20th century for Richard Nixon. (The other two are HL Mencken’s obituary of William Jennings Bryan and Christopher Hitchens obit for Mother Teresa). Here’s Thompson’s obit for Nixon.

And finally, the POINT of all of this:

p. 179

One of the crucial moments of the Sixties came on that day when the Beatles cast their lot with the Maharishi. It was like Dylan going to the Vatican to kiss the Pope’s ring.
First “gurus.” Then, when that didn’t work, back to Jesus. And now, following Manson’s primitive/instinct lead, a whole new wave of clan-type commune Gods like Mel Lyman, ruler of Avatar, and What’s His Name who runs “Spirit and Flesh.”
Sonny Barger never quite got the hang of it, but he’ll never know how close he was to a king-hell breakthrough. The Angels blew it in 1965, at the Oakland-Berkeley line, when they acted on Barger’s hardhat, con-boss instincts and attacked the front ranks of an anti-war march. This proved to be an historic schism in the then Rising Tide of the Young Movement of the Sixties. It was the first open break between the Greasers and the Longhairs, and the importance of that break can be read in the history of SDS, which eventually destroyed itself in the doomed effort to reconcile the interests of the lower/working class biker/dropout types and the upper/ middle Berkeley/student activities.
Nobody involved in that scene, at the time, could possibly have foreseen the Implications of the Ginsberg/Kesey failure to persuade the Hell’s Angels to join forces with the radical Left from Berkeley. The final split came at Altamont, four years later, but by that time it had long been clear to everybody except a handful of rock industry dopers and the national press. The orgy of violence at Altamont merely dramatized the problem. The realities were already fixed; the illness was understood to be terminal, and the energies of The Movement were long since aggressively dissipated by the rush to self-preservation.


Thompson’s suicide note:

No more games. No more bombs. No more walking. No more Fun. No more swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. You are getting Greedy. Act your (old) age. Relax — this won’t hurt.

Damn you, Hunter, I wish you stuck around.

Thank you so much for stopping by. If you like what I do, and if you feel inclined to support my work, here’s a link to my Venmo account. And I’ve launched a Substack, Sheila Variations 2.0, if you’d like to subscribe.

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6 Responses to “Free Enterprise. The American Dream. Horatio Alger gone mad on drugs in Las Vegas. Do it now. Pure Gonzo journalism.” — Hunter S. Thompson

  1. sheila says:

    Here’s Part 1 of the Depp/Thompson letter. There’s something sweet about the thought of the old-fashioned snail-mail correspondence going on:


  2. mutecypher says:

    So many skewed and inspirational thoughts from that man. The American William Blake for the last third of the twentieth century. One of my favorite lines is “All my life, my heart has sought a thing I cannot name. Remembered line from a long- forgotten poem..”

    • sheila says:

      // The American William Blake for the last third of the twentieth century. //

      I love this comparison. Visionary or nutjob? What’s the difference?

      and wow, that line … what is that from?

      • mutecypher says:

        I came across it in the epilogue of Proud Highway. I think it appears elsewhere in his writing as well.

        Apparently, “All my life, my heart has sought a thing I cannot name” is close to a line from an Andre Breton’s Mad Love, “All my life, my heart has yearned for a thing I cannot name.”

        I prefer Hunter’s version, it’s more active. Seeking, rather than mere hoping.

      • mutecypher says:

        He’s so often romantic, but usually with such a high dosage of decadence that it distracts from the love of beauty and need for transcendence. I suspect he was somewhat embarrassed by such a heart as “On some nights I still believe that a car with the gas needle on empty can run about fifty more miles if you have the right music very loud on the radio.”

        I am so with you, buddy.

        • sheila says:

          He definitely had the wild romanticism and iconoclasm of a true outlaw and rebel.

          His political beliefs were pretty wild, too. lol all of the essays about when he ran for office in his small Colorado town are so fascinating. and hilarious.

          I actually had never read his book on his time “with” the Hell’s Angels – if any outsider can be “with” them – but it speaks VOLUMES that they accepted him, and let him follow them around.

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