After Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson transcended his role as reporter and social commentator and along with Tom Wolfe became the first real rock-star journalists. Thompson was then forced to grapple with his own appetites and stardom amid the United States’ descent into Watergate and the Reagan years, and he eventually fell from grace and public view to his ranch at Eagle, Colorado. His legend grew even as his writing output became erratic, and his work, particularly Fear and Loathing, became required reading for heads, aspiring writers, and the type of kids who would eventually find musical solace in the indie rock.
The legend left little room for the writer, however. Thompson’s journalistic chops were all but forgotten as he became a caricature of himself. The Gonzo Tapes: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson will not eclipse Thompson’s reputation as a legendary consumer of pharmaceuticals, but the expansive five-disc offers a counterpoint, showing the work behind the weirdness.
The Gonzo Tapes comprise recordings Thompson made while on assignment and cover the ten years spanning Hell’s Angels, his first major work, and his Rolling Stone piece on the fall of Saigon. He felt that a tape recorder allowed him to become a participant in events rather than an observer. The recordings, which range from parties at Ken Kesey’s compound to the airlift out of Vietnam, evidence a voice affected by the events described in his writings. Although Thompson on the page often comes off as super cool, aloof and somehow above the madness that he was taking part in, his notes show him as more a journalist than an ether-addled madman. Thompson’s written works will always be his primary legacy, but The Gonzo Tapes are an important document of the man that produced them.
In addition to the trove of wit, wisdom and outrage from the good Doctor Thompson, The Gonzo Tapes comes with original artwork from frequent Thompson collaborator Ralph Steadman, sterling production from Don Fleming, and copious notes and introduction material to frame the contents of the collection. The Gonzo Tapes: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson is a valuable keepsake for Thompson’s many fans and a historical document of a man, of the drug culture, and of our country’s history, which at times was weirder than anything in it.