Fear and Loathing in the North of England
I don’t often read books in public lest I be caught out like the late Bill Hicks who was publicly outed by a truck driver in a Tennessee Waffle House with “Well, looks like we got ourselves a readah”, before being questioned by the waitress with: “What are you readin’ for?”
For which his reply, as relayed in his stand-up routine for the album Dangerous, was:
“What am I reading FOR? Well, goddamnit, you stumped me… I guess I read for a lot of reasons: the main one is so I don’t end up being a f*cking waffle waitress. Yeah, that would be pretty high on the list.”
And yet the other day I had cause to pull out the book I was ploughing through whilst I was waiting for someone and, in a very short space of time, was stopped twice by people who spotted I was reading the works of Hunter S. Thompson.
My truck driver and waffle waitress however, it turned out, were both readers of his work too, so the north of England is obviously a more literate and tolerant place than Nashville, Tennessee.
If you want an example of how bizarre, ludicrous, and internationally impenetrable the American voting system is then Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 is the book for you. Following a year in the life of those Democrat politicians trying to unseat Richard Nixon portrays mouth-churning tale of self-inflicted metal and physical abuse endured by all involved.
The most interesting incident reported was when Thompson nearly killed President Nixon by smoking over the fuel tank of his plane before he was jumped on – “Get the cigarette!” – by the Presidential bodyguards. He later noted that that they’d failed to spot the previous three king-size Marlboros he did whilst he was stood there.
At the time Thompson taunted the Presidential aide: “You people are lucky I’m a sane, responsible journalist. Otherwise I might have hurled my flaming Zippo into the fuel tank.”
The reply was interesting: “Not you. You wouldn’t do anything you couldn’t live to write about, would you?”
Interesting as, as much as he agreed with this assessment at the time, thirty years later he did just that when he committed suicide and, as per his last wishes, his ashes were shot out of cannon by the actor Johnny Depp.
I’ve specified something similar, but Mr. Depp has yet to commit.
After finishing this five hundred page tome I went and jumped straight back into re-reading the slightly more fictional Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas which portrays Hunter’s body and mental facilities taking a much more intense hammering over a short writing assignment in Las Vegas to cover the Mint 400 desert race and the National District Attorneys’ Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, whilst on a more personal expedition to find the American dream.
Setting their stall out, right near the start, he details how they blew the three hundred dollars expenses from the sporting editor on essentials:
“We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half-full of cocaine and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers… also a quart of tequila,
a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether, and two dozen amyls.”
But despite the amount of different drugs bandied about then the most disturbing reference was right near back when they had to replace the light bulbs they’d shattered in one of their hotel rooms by popping to “Safeway”. Safeway in Las Vegas… Safeway is the local supermarket I shopped (past tense in every sense of the word) in a grey and damp North Wales.
I find it disturbing, and detrimental to the memory of the Gonzo journalist, to imagine Hunter S. Thompson somehow pushing a trolley around the aisles of Safeway, squeezed in somewhere between Caesars Palace and the Bellagio, as he shopped for comestibles.He eventually claimed to have found the American dream but, as you can see, somehow this is one I’m now having.