David S. Wills, Hunter fan, writer, publisher, teacher, editor, book seller and owner of Beatdom Magazine.
David S. Wills on the separation of Hunter & Duke.
Thompson and Duke
In my opinion, the work of Hunter S. Thompson can be divided into two periods – the early work, which focuses largely the author and the world around him; and the late work, which focuses more on politics, whilst featuring Thompson as a protagonist to a certain extent.
In this early period we see Thompson as the roving reporter, working for small newspapers and cutting his teeth as a journalist. I would argue that this period extends from no particular start point, and ends shortly after Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It was with this book that Raoul Duke emerged, yet it is the work prior to it that I think we must study to understand the relationship between Thompson and Duke.
For many, the ‘Vegas book’ is utter fiction. It is the ultimate split between Thompson the man and Duke the beast. It is a development upon the ‘frantic loser’ created in ‘The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved’, which in turn was somewhat of an exaggerated version of the protagonist Thompson became in Hell’s Angels.
However, we can study Thompson’s life and works and weigh together what he said and what he did and uncover the truth behind the myths. It is interesting to read the memoirs of his friends and families, and to compare his own varying accounts, and determine that Duke was neither entirely fantasy nor reality. He lay somewhere between. He was a carefully crafted character Thompson used for journalistic purpose.
Although the name “Raoul Duke” appears sporadically throughout the work of Hunter S. Thompson, I think he was always present. Certainly, if he is to be considered an amped up version of Thompson, he was there since the beginning. It is not hard to see his presence in the mind of the young Thompson we see in The Proud Highway, nor is it a stretch of the imagination to view Paul Kemp as a young Raoul Duke. I believe Duke represents Thompson’s madness and his fantasies. Moreover, he is a literary device.
Tearing Duke from Thompson is something that would take thousands of words to accomplish, but it is something I will instead invite you to do for yourself. Reading his letters, his articles, and the works prior to the formal advent of Duke, I ask you to look for wild exaggerations and ask for what purpose they serve.
David Wills on Gonzo Journalism: Should it be emulated?
“Gonzo” is an annoying word. I happen to have it tattooed on my left arm as a tribute to everything I consider as itsdefinition, but that definition varies wildly from person to person. It’s one of those strange words that mean everything and nothing; it even exists in multiple languages, meaning strength, stupidity and drunken courage.
Gonzo Journalism thus logically takes its cue from these meanings. It means something weird and different, and maybe even dangerous. Gonzo Journalism is by some definitions the sum of the parts of its creator, Hunter S. Thompson: integrity, suspicion, talent, madness, intoxication, and much more.
I would argue, however, that Gonzo Journalism is a one man genre. It can be emulated, and it should be emulated, but it will never be repeated. Gonzo Journalism was born with, and died with, Hunter S. Thompson.
The problem is Gonzo Journalism was so unique to Thompson that any piece of writing that incorporates more than one or two its features ends up looking like a parody. Thompson so deftly marked his own literary territory that no writer since has been able to write anything “Gonzo” without looking like a thief.
Copyright 2009 David S. Wills