Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

A week ago, I'd never been to Las Vegas, and I'd never read this book. Since I was going to do the one, I knew I needed to do the other as well.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is an artifact from the grand age of magazine journalism -- though I'm sure at the time that the more serious proponents of that art detested Thompson and his demented scribblings -- a reprint of a two-part report for Rolling Stone from the fall of 1971 about nothing so much as what it's like to be inside Hunter S. Thompson's brain, under the influence of an immense laundry list of controlled substances and in the fakest city on Earth.

It's a book that defies synopsis, and is nearly indescribable -- Thompson, and his lawyer, go to Vegas first to cover a motorcycle race in the nearby desert (but wander off before seeing who won), take a lot of drugs, meet several people, and then infiltrate a convention of policemen meeting to discuss the drug threat, but don't spend much time there, either. Throughout, Fear and Loathing is really just a series of Thompson's verbal pyrotechnics, which are themselves just a stand-in for his massively altered states of consciousness.

There's not a whole lot about Las Vegas in Fear and Loathing; it's the frame rather than the picture. And the fakery of Vegas circa 1971 is quite different from the current style. But Thompson's attitude towards Vegas still resonates; it's still the place in America where people go to be that crazy. If you want to take "A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream" -- Fear and Loathing's subtitle -- it'll be Vegas you head for, even today.

So, even though Fear and Loathing tells you almost nothing about Vegas, and barely anything about the two events Thompson was ostensibly covering, it's still a vital, pulsing, raw nerve of the American psyche. Most of us will never be this crazy, but we don't have to be -- Thompson was that crazy for all of us.

Listening to: Gladshot - He Was Gone
via FoxyTunes

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