Click here to read reviewer Steven Rosen's take on Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson.
As Iím writing this, the nitrous, hashish, and Jack Daniels are kicking in, and Lou Dobbs on my forty-inch plasma t.v. screen is turning into a pterodactyl...not really, but humor me; itís my weak attempt at an homage to the late, great Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, and Iím calling this review of Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson (An Oral Biography), by Jann S. Werner and Corey Seymour, Fear and Loathing in Review Land. Jann Werner is the founder, owner, and editor of Rolling Stone magazine, in which the Good Doctor had many of his best pieces published. Corey Seymour is a writer and editor who got to know Thompson while working as his assistant at the aforementioned magazine.
So just how great and gonzo is this book? Itís a pretty good read, told in the format of recollections by friends and acquaintances of Hunterís, covering different periods of his life from childhood on, including his suicide. While this type of format does not give a complete and thorough portrayal of his life and feels at times a little sketchy, it is still interesting to read about what people who were close to Hunter thought about him as both a person and a writer.
Gonzo is an at times heartwarming and occasionally humorous look at Thompsonís life and career. No stranger to celebrities, Thompson, perhaps best known as the author of Hellís Angels and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, was admired for his writing by many big-name stars who give their take him here. For instance, Johnny Depp, who played Thompson in the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, wrote the introduction and includes in various chapters comments about Hunter and how he met him. He even lived in Hunterís basement at Owl Farm and was initiated into Hunterís ďToo Much Fun Club.Ē
A problem with an oral biography is that the people who are quoted of necessity canít go into a huge amount of detail about the subjectís life. They canít, because the memories and quotes of the other people who are quoted are also important. An in-depth approach to a personís life is not possible, nor is it generally the goal of the editors in such a case. Width and breadth are the goals, with more than one person commenting on a time in a personís life or about some aspect of his character. With Thompson, this sometimes results in many people commenting on such things as his paranoia, drug-taking, and partying through their perspectives, based on how well they knew him and/or their participation in whatever is being discussed.
Itís fun to read about the drug-crazed misadventures and escapades Hunter got himself into on a seemingly daily (or nightly) basis - that is probably what will interest most of the fans of his books, especially Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas - but I also liked to read about him on a personal level, like the quotes from his first wife, Sandy, and their son, Juan. It struck me forcefully as I read more about him that, on some level, the drugs werenít just to reinforce his gonzo reputation and to sell more books but were a sign of some deep sadness and loneliness. In a sense, he was trapped by his own fame. His literary agent, Lynn Nesbit, put it like this:
He threw caution to the winds early on, and that became part of his persona, and
he thought he had to keep doing it. He had to live who he was.
Gonzo is a must-read for all fans of the Good Doctor. Itís not a detailed biography of his life, but it is more of a remembrance of him, a benediction of sorts, and a celebration of Hunter at his best and worst. Itís an often unflinching portrayal of one of the most original and creative minds of his era. The quotes from Jack Nicholson, Angelica Huston, Margot Kidder, and many other stars who knew Thompson (and/or partied with him) make for a fascinating read. Read his books first, though - he is perhaps the best writer about his own life - before you read this one. But, for those of you who have read the entire Thompson canon, Jann S. Wenner and Corey Seymourís Gonzo makes for highly entertaining fare indeed.