Transcript of Hunter S. Thompson Interview
Courtesy of The Book Report
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
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