Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hunter S. Thompson || Interview

by Sarah Nelson of the Book Report.

"... Nixon was the first president to be so massively and publicly exposed as an evil bastard ..."

We were a little tense at The Book Report the other day. Would Hunter S. Thompson, famed author of FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS and the new bestseller THE PROUD HIGHWAY really show up for his live interview? He is, after all, an unrepentant Dunhill-smoking, Patron-swilling, walking chemical laboratory whose closest friends concede can be just a tad unreliable.

But Hunter said he'd come, and so he did. We agreed to let him keep his TV tuned to his beloved basketball playoffs and he delivered what he promised: some characteristically smart and funny thoughts on his new book, his writing career --- and, of course, his gonzo reputation. Our interviewer was TBR Executive Editor Sara Nelson (bookpgSara), aided by producer Sean Doorly (Sdoorly). Our unflappable host was Marlene T.

Marlene T: Hello, Sara and Mr. Thompson. Good evening!

Hunter Thompson: Good evening

Hunter Thompson: Sorry, I'm betting on the basketball game right now. Wait a minute. I hope Utah wins, but I think Chicago will.

Bookpgsara: In your new collection of letters, The PROUD HIGHWAY, edited by Douglas Brinkley, you said that you threw out 12 letters for every one that was published. When did you start saving your letters and why?

Hunter Thompson: Apparently so. I didn't really write a lot of letters until I went away from home. I I knew something about what was going to happen. But I haven't looked at any of them until now.

Bookpgsara: Did you know you were going to be a writer when you were 3 on your mama's knee?

Hunter Thompson: I knew pretty early on. By the time I got to high school I knew what I was gonna do. Mainly because I looked around and saw there wasn't much else I was able to do. I was a criminal. I was a juvenile delinquent. I was charged with everything from. . . I was once charged with rape, assault . I bit a woman on the back. I was the Marv Albert of my time. I was a wild boy.

Bookpgsara: One thing I noticed from the letters --- and this will surprise many people --- that there is always a real politeness in your tone, even when you're yelling at someone. Where does that come from?

Hunter Thompson: I guess I'm just courtly until people get in my way. You'll find most Southerners are like that. I'm just thinking. I don't know how much fun this is not sharing the laughs with the poor bastards who're just seeing words came up on the screen.

Bookpgsara: In the letters the people you correspond to are many and varied. How did you meet up with these people...did you stumble upon them?

Hunter Thompson: They just happened to be in the same line of work I was in. Given my calling I had to stumble across people who felt the same way. I was a young reporter. So was Charles Kuralt. Wait till we get to Volume II, you'll really accuse me of name dropping. My neighbor Ed Bradley, all kinds of people. My greatest talent is in my ability to choose good friends. It's about as important as things get.

Bookpgsara: You said first impressions when meeting people are very important.

Hunter Thompson: The first impression is always the right one. I rarely change my mind upward about people. Sometimes you're fooled quickly. You want to be fooled. If you can't trust your first impression you're going to have a harder time than you should.

Question: At the end of FEAR AND LOATHING, you say "there will be no year 2000: not as we know it." What do you mean by this, and what are your plans for New Year's Eve 1999?

Hunter Thompson: It's hard to say what I meant by "as we know it." I'm not about to go up on a mountain on new year's eve and wait for the lightening to strike. But, the years after 2000 will be a monumental change in the way life is lived here. It will be harder and harder to relate to our children. I don't know what it's going to be. I don't plan to be around in the year 2000. I'll be taken away by the Sufi God.

Question: What can you tell us about the "Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas" movie? Will there be any animation in it by director Terry Gilliam or perhaps Ralph Steadman? When is it due for release, how involved are you in it, any possibility you'd make an appearance?

Hunter Thompson: I am a road man for the lords of karma. As far as I know, they start shooting in July. Johnny Depp just left here and went to see Terry Gilliam in Vegas.

Bookpgsara: Why did it take so long to make the movie?

Hunter Thompson: Lawyers have stood in my way. It's a very hard book to translate to film because there's so much interior monologue. The what if factor. I tried to write it cinematically and let the dialogue carry it but I forgot about the interior monologue. It's kind of hard to show what's going on in the head. I think we should do it like a documentary.

Bookpgsara: What did you think of Where the Buffalo Roam?

Hunter Thompson: Horrible pile of crap. Murray did a good job. But it was a bad script. You can't beat a bad script. It was just a horrible movie. A cartoon. But Bill Murray did a good job. We actually wrote and shot several different endings and beginnings and they all got cut out in the end. It was disappointing. Not to mention that I have to live with it. It's like go into a bar somewhere and people start to giggle and you don't know why, and they're all watching that fucking movie.

Bookpgsara: Do you read Doonsbury? What do you think?

Hunter Thompson: I don't read any comic strip.

Question: What writers do you enjoy reading?

Hunter Thompson: Oh. . ..Sins of omission. . .Uh . . . Jim Harrison is someone I always enjoy, one of the great contemporary writers. I like Tim Ferris' Big Boom Theory. I'm getting into a different kind of reading, not straight novels. I've been reading a lot about the hellfire club. . . the original was elegant and very serious. (It was an s? club.)

Question: Hi - Hunter - I have always enjoyed your work - How is your health? - Are you still a walking science project? If you are doing well its an inspiration! Thanks, Melissa in South Carolina

Hunter Thompson: I'm doing all right, all things considered. For an elderly dope fiend out in the wilderness all by himself.

Question: Dr. Thompson, Is it true that you are the real Kyser Soze?

Hunter Thompson: I've been accused of that. It's a good question. Say, yes. The guy from that movie is going to play Oscar in the Vegas movie. That's a very intelligent question and I compliment the person who asked that. I like that.

Question: Looking back.....do you feel Richard Nixon was really the enemy to our generation?

Hunter Thompson: Yeah. He personified the enemy. He stood for everything that was wrong and rotten. We were lucky to get it all rolled up into one person. It was Nixon who drove a very serious spike into the American dream. Nixon was the first president to be so massively and publicly exposed as an evil bastard. A lot of people knew US Grant was a monster, or Harding -- but a lot of people in those days was 200 or 500. Now, with even a rumor --- 44,000 people know it the next morning. I think the Watergate stuff shocked people.

Bookpgsara: What do you think about Clinton? Where does he come in in the hieracrchy of bad presidents?

Hunter Thompson: Well, we still have a few years ago. Clinton already stands accused formally of worse things than Nixon would have been impeached for. I think Clinton is every bit as. . . he's not as crude as Nixon. But maybe he is. I mean: Paula Jones? "Come over here, little girl, I've got something for you" !? It's almost embarrassing to talk about Clinton as if he were important.

I'd almost prefer Nixon. I'd say Clinton is every bit as corrupt as Nixon, but a lot smoother.

Question: What was the hardest part about writing THE PROUD HIGHWAY?

Hunter Thompson: I never really laid a hand on any of those letters. They were paraded before me and read to me by my son and Douglas Brinkley and total strangers, the editor of the local paper, DonJohnson and others. And that was very hard to deal with. I'm a very private person. To have your life read out to you one page at a time: It was a bizarre experience. It was like watching the raw video of your life.

Hunter Thompson: What if all the letters had proven me to be a hideous lying monster who was wrong about everything? I would have burned them rather than let a horrible tale unfold. I don't see that I was much different than I was now. I was kind of relieved with the way the book came out. It's beyond an autobiography or a biography. I never knew what was going to come up next.

Bookpgsara: Were there some things in there you were sorry to see...or were upset by?

Hunter Thompson: Yes. I got tired and embarrassed by the constant poverty of those years. I told Doug this is really going to be a horrible downer of a book if all it's going to be is about being broke. I didn't like being reminded of desperation at all times.

Hunter Thompson: Gotta check the game's score.

Bookpgsara: What's the score? Who did you bet on?

Hunter Thompson: 8-5 Chicago. I bet on Utah and 6 points.

Question: Thompson, is there a drug now, or has there ever been, to which you would just say no?

HunterST97: Let's see. . . .I don't think I've ever seen a drug I wouldn't try or want anyway. Yeah. PCP, I would tend to avoid that in the future. I've always thought it's better to try things. Jimson weed: that's a bitch. Everybody should do jimson weed --- once. I only did it twice.

Bookpgsara: Do you think drugs should be legalized?

Hunter Thompson: Yeah. Across the board. It might be a little rough on some people for a while, but I think it's the only way to deal with drugs. Look at Prohibition: all it did was make a lot of criminals rich. Should be legalized for a matter of sanity.

Question: Is your legal contest with the Aspen police resolved? If not, may justice be with you.

Hunter Thompson: Almost resolved. Nothing's ever resolved. I figure I'll be under arrest for the rest of my life for one thing or another. Some of my best friends are police -- but not that many of them.

Bookpgsara: Your arrest warrant is published online...did you know that?

Question: Will Ralph Steadman perhaps illustrate another book of yours sometime?

Hunter Thompson: Oh well I don't know. I might be executed tomorrow. Right now I'm doing an introduction for one of Ralph's books. He's doing something called Gonzo, the Art I think he's stealing from me. I like Steadman and his coattail abilities. Ralph is better at business than I am. He has always managed to get free whiskey.

Bookpgsara: What are you writing now?

Hunter Thompson: A novel: POLO IS MY LIFE. It's what's called a sex book -- you know, sex, drugs and rock and roll. It's about the manager of a sex theatre who's forced to leave and flee to the mountains. He falls in love and gets in even more trouble than he was in the sex theatre in San Francisco. Most of my stories are tales of anguish, stress and grief.

Question: Dr. Thompson I would like to know where I can purchase your paintings, as well as those from Ralph Steadman.

Hunter Thompson: I guess you should buy them through The Book Report.

Question: Where are the book signings going to be if any?

Hunter Thompson: Yes. I've agreed to do at least three or four. As long as they don't go weird. New York, Washington, LA, Denver. That's what they have scheduled. It's day to day with me. Sometimes, there are 2,000 people standing in line and I don't have time to sign them. . .it gets really ugly. It's difficult, but I'll do a few. A signed book will cost you $5,000. And I'll bleed for you, right into the pages. My blood is already there, anyway. A lot of blood in those letters.

Question: Can you comment on the passing of two of your friends--Allen Ginsberg and Townes Van Zandt?

Hunter Thompson: Yeah. Allen was a particular friend, one of my heroes, really. I knew him almost as long as I've been writing. I didn't know Townes that well: he's a really good friend of Lyle Lovett's. He was really good. I was once arrested with Ginsburg. He was a big help to me. He was one of the few people who read unknown writer's work. Maybe he was just hustling me. He liked to flirt, Allen. They called him a monster but he was only falling in love.

Question: How do you reconcile your liberal politics with gun ownership? Is that not a contradiction?

Hunter Thompson: I think George Washington owned guns. I've never seen any contradiction with that. I'm not a liberal, by the way. I think that's what's wrong with liberals. I believe I have every right to have guns. I just bought another huge weapon. A lot of people shouldn't own guns. I should. I have a safety record. Guns are a lot of fun out here.

Bookpgsara: As somebody who likes guns and has taken part in his share of violence and anarchism. What do you think of Timothy McVeigh?

Hunter Thompson: Oh boy. Well, if he did that --- apparently the jury has spoken --- if I were him, I'd prefer the death penalty. If he blew up that building and killed that many people, we have to accept that, just like we had to accept that OJ Simpson was declared not guilty. I'd rather be hung or shot or executed than spend my life in prison. If he did that he deserves to die. I can't conceive of doing that kind of damage.

Bookpgsara: You can't imagine that much violence?! Wow. You seem so mellow...how come you are so mellow? Have you just become an old softie?

Hunter Thompson: I was always a softie. But it always helps to win. To be right. You can afford to be a little more mellow.

Bookpgsara: It was a real pleasure..get back to your game... Thanks for coming by The Book Report.

Bookpgsara: Thank you Hunter.

Hunter Thompson: Thank you

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Days When 911 Blocked My Number

A New One from the Unfinished Book:

On the state of
Love & Trust:

“The folks at 911 no longer honor my emergencies”
By M. Byron

Since about the age of three, I’ve experienced traumatic and reoccurring nightmares. And’ as far back as I can remember, one of the most frequently reoccurring happenings is being asleep and waking up-within a dream, still really asleep- and then being convinced I'm awake(within the dream, mind you). I momentarily relax only to have the nightmare be suddenly at the foot of my bed…standing next to me-behind me-or floating over me. Until recently, there was no cure except calling 911-because if you’re still actually in a dream & call 911 claiming you’re freaked out and just found a huge pile of dead bodies in you basement or something of the sort-—ten cop cars, an ambulance, state police, and a channel 7 news team don’t come roaring up your driveway to aid you—which, believe me--they definitely do if the dream is, in actuality over.

So after several incidents I received a letter from the township of Deerfield:

June 20, 1995
Re: misuse of village resources
To: Mr. Matt Byron/et. All residing
Although we respect the difficulty of appropriately dealing with mental illness within the confines of any home, we at the Village Hall-under approval of the Town Mayor and Board of public safety-in cooperation with the local Emergency Dispatch/911 Call Center, have temporarily banned incoming calls from your address at (please verify listing below) to the emergency call center.
2620 Wildwood Ln.
Deerfield, Ill

Regrettably, we feel that 100% of your calls to our 911 Center have been frivolous and with no merit, which is of course, an inexcusable misuse/abuse of our townships’ limited resources in terms of emergency response.
Please keep us posted of any advances with your illness; we would be happy to be able to safely restore your service.
Any questions or comments can be directed to:
H. Bhosley, rm. 204
Deerfield Village Hall/Police Department.

We apologize for any inconvenience,
and wish you a swift recovery.
Nancy Martino
Village Secretary

You could imagine how well that helped me sleep. So I started calling family, then friends. Few could handle the deep weirdness of my needs. Most stopped picking up. And still, twelve years after that horrid letter from a board of village demons, several therapists, medications, and true improvement, sometimes the nightmares get so bad I still need to call someone just to be certain I'm really awake…and no craziness Is about to go down.
I’m, for the most part, still pretty much asleep when I make these calls--as to compound the general may-lay of waking a friend up in the wee hours of the morning to discuss some new gore-ish imaginary nonsense I’ve just dreamed up: this time I awoke panting after 3 hours of Brazilian Hasish induced sleep. My imagination-or conscience-had taken me for a ride.
Luckily, a while back, I replaced the button on my bedroom phone-the one with the little blue police badge icon--the one set to dial the authorities at a single touch, with my friend Diego’s cell phone number. So I reached over and delivered a serious one-fingered jab to the new “911” button.
“Hello?” My friend D whispered as he, from a sound slumber, managed to answer my call.
Sounding frantic and terrified, “I’m so sorry man-I had the worst fucking dream…am I…am I up…HELLO!!....OH SHIT-D?!!..Hello?”
"D" had fallen back asleep momentarily.
I scream: “OH FUCK-I AM SO FUCKED!!” and that apparently woke my buddy on the other end of the phone up. He tries to settle me down.
“Oh yes, sir, uh buddy…you are awake-you’re ok…just relax, sir!”
Extremely relieved at my friends' alertness I breathe-still struggling to get the words out.
“Oh my god, D, it was fucking awful!” My friend let out an exhausted yawn.
“Was it that one with the fire again”?
“No,” I return, “It was a new one…there was this…this crazy train with…OH MY GOD! Are you sure I'm not still sleeping??”
Diego was naturally getting frustrated (I always insist I’m still asleep-but regardless-now poor D is up). Quite unfortunate for him. I'm not even kidding, any asshole may just assume “ well this guy's just a weirdo-what kind of person could get so twisted up over his own dreams?” But the last time I had woke up from a really bad one was only 2 weeks ago.
As usual, per such an incident, I wake up in bed...you know, freaking the fuck out, sweating, eyes wildly darting around my pitch black room-and after a minute or so I calm down.
“Whew” I think and feel, “At least I woke up from that one”.
I am grossly sweaty…sick. “I need water,” I think to myself in a haze. Damn-it! My water bottle was empty.
So I venture down the stairs for a cold glass of water, and to my horror-in my living room, there was a huge executive style black board room table, seating every serial killer and maniac I had ever heard of….and they were clearly outraged by my intrusion.
“Jeffrey Dahmer looked up at me with blood-shot eyes and said in hallow tone, “ LET’S KILL HIM THE WAY THEY KILLED ME”.(For those of you who don't know how Dahmer died you're probably better off).
Edward fish, who had before him a formal southern place setting-including a silver tea set-was ravenously dining on what appeared to be an amputated human arm. He dabbed the blood and grizzle from his white beard and adjusted the crucifix around his neck; “Now relax Jeffrey,” he said “...haste makes waste.” as he pulls out a hammer and begins to smash apart his own pointer finger on the table next to his dish. Blood was going everywhere.

I turn to run and slam straight into Charles Manson who slaps me-fucking hard-grabs me by the collar and screams, “ LOOK WHAT YOU’VE

DONE!!” and point outside to my back-porch, where Lori Dan (the freak school-ground killer from the 80’s) was summarily executing grade schoolers at point blank range with a .45 Chrome Plated Beretta…
Whew-so I’ll just stop there. But D knows this shit happens-and in light of it-I need firm god damned reassurance of my own consciousness!

“Listen up” D pleads, “ …just go down stairs, grab a pair of pruning shears, and lob off one of your thumbs. If it’s still gone in the morning you’ll know this call was real…besides that I just don’t know what to tell ya.” He continues, “ If this were a dream would I start bringing up how much time I’ve spent with all this shit…how much money you owe me and haven’t paid back a dime, except a jalapeƱo burger from Melrose Diner…and you still show up at my office demanding bottles of pills and cases of Nag Champa?” D seemed suddenly concerned with hurting my feeling. He said, jokingly: “but don’t worry sexy, you'll always be my special buddy….very special….” It was at this very point after comment that I considered I was still in some new nightmare.
“Alright,” I sharply interject, “I have no fucking idea what you just meant by that last part…but whatever”
“Oh, just relax for shits sake,” D shot back, “ I can say all kinds of crazy shit to you when you’re like this-and you never remember hardly any of it!”
“Oh really?”
“Oh yea man-I could tell you some awful shit like I’m into bestiality BIG TIME and even if I act sincere you’ll have no idea the conversation ever took place” he exclaimed.
“That’s fucking kinda crazy, bro..” I said, “ We’ll have to test this theory now.”
“Are you cool now? You gonna try to get some more shut eye, sir?” he asked.
“Ya, ya-thanks, buddy-I might not remember all the details, but I know in these situations you’re always a hero to me-thanks sir.”
“No worries-just get some sleep-you probably have 5 hours of commuting and a 10-hr. workday…or something like that, right?”
“Yea, for sure D-good night, man-I’ll give you a call tomorrow after work.”
“Sleep well, sir.” And he hung up.
Thank the powers that be for good friends.

I woke up for work several hours later. Before I left, I faxed this message to Diego’s home office:

“I would have called, but didn’t want to wake you twice in a 24-hr. period. Thanks for yr. services last night. The whole incident is hazy but a couple of things you said stuck out….just remember this you sick bastard: whatever happens-you stay away from my dog, animal fucker. My sweet Labrador, Bailey-- is one of the few “pure” friends I have left. Have a good one.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/11: Vignettes, by David Hunter

"... I’m standing here telling you what happened, but I won’t cry in front of you because I’m a New Yorker, and that means pride..."

It is an existential truism that we are all looking for meaning in things: life, death, lost loves, the existence of God, and even two planes crashing into a building.

I’m not sure what I can derive from that last one.

When it’s all said and done, like World War Two and the JFK assassination, millions of words will have been written and billions of thoughts expounded questioning why this happened, and what it all means.

9 years on, those questions still linger.

The fact is, the terrorists knew that those Towers represented wealth and prosperity, that they were a symbol of New York and all it stood for: reaching for the sky, being the biggest, the tallest, the best. And if they could hurt you in any way, they’d do it by destroying what you love most, the thing that is most enduring and endearing, the legacy, If only to strike fear into you. Because nothing strikes fear into a person like seeing something so permanent and irreplaceable, something they love, be destroyed so senselessly.

This is the mandate of the terrorist.

* * * * * * * *

Watching the first building fall, I was aghast. At the time I had no idea the members of the NYFD had marched in there to save lives.

I am ashamed to admit, I was the first to chastise these guys for going in there. Surely they knew that structure could topple on them, that they might not come out alive. They had wives. They had children. What were they thinking? It dawned on me that these were the kind of guys who put their lives on the line every day, without hesitation. They probably went in there bent on saving every single person in that building, because who else was gonna do it? And I wonder, would I have had the courage to do that?

Every one of those guys … I cannot express how I feel about them.

* * * * * * * *

The image is indelible: the iconic New York Attitude.

It’s no wonder a lot of us cried. Seeing burly NY cops and Firefighters weeping, exhausted, faces smudged with dust and grime. These guys didn’t sleep; they had a job to do. Accounts from the time document that some of these guys had to be told to go home. They had been on the job for days. Emotional and physically wrecked, they soldiered on.

Those tough New Yorkers. Even there in the streets with billowing concrete dust obscuring their vision, faces ghost-like, they stand before the television cameras and talk to the media. They appear strong, stoic, as is their wont. I can see that, for the benefit of the television audience glued to their sets, that these people are putting on a brave face that says, ‘I’m standing here telling you what happened, but I won’t cry in front of you because I’m a New Yorker, and that means pride.’

* * * * * * * *
Monday, September 11th, 2001

We’re parked at the side of Britannia road E. in Toronto, just in front of a runway at Pearson International Airport which ends beyond the large fence. It’s 9:30 PM, and the car is filled with the smell of Tim Horton’s coffee. We’re chatting quietly, but there isn’t much to say. We came out here on a whim because we couldn’t believe all air traffic in North America had been shut down. The gravity of it hits us, but we don’t cry. Guys won’t cry in front of other guys.

* * * * * * * *

America, New York, the World Trade Towers; as a Canadian they are almost an abstract thing. I eventually went to Manhattan years later, in 2006, visited Ground Zero even; Just a hole in the ground by then; no match for seeing those magnificent edifices in real time, rising into the sky. Only faded news clips, and old films are left. Man on Wire, the documentry about Philippe Petit, the man who wire-walked across the towers, I watch it and it makes me teary, I’ll admit. He felt a love for those buildings that was almost metaphysical. In 2001, these things were still an abstraction to me. I sat in that car at the airport watching the silent night skies, sipping my coffee, and wondering what it was all about. Almost ten years later, I still am at a loss for the meaning of it all.

* * * * * * * *

On a personal level, I never understood the terrorist mandate. I never understood how you could take a plane full of innocent people and then proceed to fly it into a building filled with more innocent people. My soul could not, and cannot, comprehend it. Cold blooded, cold blooded … and what’s more, I keep putting myself in that building; I’m there, I can’t help it. I want to know what those people felt when they knew their lives were going to end, when they opened up their cell phones and started calling out to people they loved. I wonder about those last messages. How do you say goodbye like that? How do you toss yourself from the window of a 110 story building? How do you march into a building as a firefighter knowing you may not walk out again, see the blue sky again, hold your kids or kiss your wife again?

* * * * * * * *
9 years later, the only meaning I can gather from any of this is, live life while it’s good, be happy, be alive, stop and smell the flowers once in a while, and remember the people of 9/11, lest we forget.

~ David Hunter writes for the National Affairs Desk and the Gaslight Literary