December 6, 2011
The book title immediately caught my attention: "Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs." So did the cover photo of a Hell’s Angel flaunting his North-Cal "colors." Not to mention the author’s name: Hunter S. Thompson.
One of the more rewarding perks that came with my entry-level position in the Mechanical Processing Department of the old Los Angeles Central Library proved to be an ongoing daily introduction to published authors and their works. Each copy of every book that entered the L.A. Library system came through our modest third-floor shop.
As a day job during the mid-’60s while I was attending radio school in Hollywood at night, it was ideal. Wandering the stacks was not unlike being in the medieval monastery of Umberto Eco’s "Name of the Rose." You could bump into Charles Bukowski leafing through John Fante’s "Ask the Dust" down in the Fiction Room.
Dr. Hunter S. Thompson and the advent of "gonzo journalism" stayed with me throughout the years. His bizarre rants, transmitted well after both midnight and deadline to Rolling Stone magazine via the "mojo wire," a 7-minute-per-page early-generation fax, continually left us habitual readers hungry for his next word assault on our planetary circus.
Speaking of which, although I came through it with both eyes mostly in their sockets, I had a fairly gonzo day myself recently. Not that flaming turquoise iguanas with 5-foot tongues or brilliant green and red Ralph Steadman exploding particle-accelerator illustrations weren’t waiting in the wings for their cue.
My friend and I, totally alone in this particular screening room down at a Brewvies showing of "Rum Diaries," were busy reducing burgers and brews to their molecular levels and watching Johnny Depp channel a young, fresh-out-of-the-Air-Force Hunter Thompson when my phone decided to clear its throat.
Recommended Stories For You
The alert informed me that my recently ordered copy of "Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone: The Essential Writing of Hunter S. Thompson," had arrived and was awaiting pickup.
Coincidence that his latest book showed up while I sat watching a film based on his earliest? I think not! On the way in, although I hadn’t mentioned this to my co-conspirator, I’d caught a brief shadowy glimpse of a trench coat smoking a Dunhill in a cigarette holder while skulking behind a lamppost in the parking lot.
Having been only a half-dozen years since the mostly-flat trajectory of the .45 slug transected the arc of the good doctor’s brain stem, I thought it entirely possible that Hunter had chosen this moment to reach out across the veil.
What drove me to acquire this latest anthology in hardcover had to do with its being a collection of all of Thompson’s writing for Rolling Stone. As much as I loved his outrageously over-the-top fiction, his exquisitely slanted journalism was equally spot on! And most of this book, including a piece very much close to home, showcases that particular skill set brilliantly.
I had no doubt as to which story would first get my attention once I settled into a chair with the book and a beverage back home. Skipping both Jann Wenner’s and Paul Scanlon’s introductions and Hunter’s first byline for Rolling Stone, a feature on freak-power politics and his 1970 run for sheriff of Aspen, I arrived at his story from the April 29, 1971, issue.
On August 29, 1970, a week or so before moving to Park City from L.A., my then wife Virginia and I had marched along Whittier Boulevard in opposition to the Vietnam War and its disproportionate number of Latino casualties. Known as the "Chicano Moratorium," the date resounds in many quarters to this day.
Before it ended, following some riveting oratory by Cesar Chavez and a police assault on the end-of-march rally at Laguna Park, we had snorted endless amounts of tear gas, run zigzag escape routes through the back alleys of East L.A., and heard that our favorite newspaper columnist, Ruben Salazar of the L.A. Times, had been found dead in the Silver Dollar Café, which we’d passed on the march.
Riots, of course, ensued. As did a Grand Jury investigation into Salazar’s death by a sheriff’s department tear-gas canister to the head. Chicano activist attorney Oscar "Zeta" Acosta would tip off his friend Hunter Thompson to the story, which, entitled "Strange Rumblings in Aztlan," would be his second byline for Rolling Stone.
The piece holds up extremely well forty years after the fact. And that’s why I got the book, so all his midnight mojo-wired Rolling Stone stories would never be farther than arm’s length away including the two-part November 1971 classic, "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," which featured his buddy Oscar Acosta as Dr. Gonzo and morphed into the bestselling novel a year later.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for the past 40 years.