Peter W. Knox

Peter W. Knox. Gonzo Beat reporter at Washington College, Peter went to Woody Creek to cover Hunter’s “Blastoff service” for the premier issue of Five magazine . Peter also did his undergraduate thesis on the theme of The American Dream throughout the life and literature of Hunter S. Thompson.

The photo below by Peter W. Knox. The portraits of eight great writers line the black tent containing HST’s blast-off August 2005 funeral. For more of Peter’s great photos see here.

Peter W. Knox on Gonzo Journalism: Should it be Emulated

The son of a librarian, Hunter S. Thompson found himself surrounded by books at a very young age and would keep those influential writers close to him throughout his life, as eventually the portraits of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Samuel Coleridge, Joseph Conrad, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Henry Miller, Mark Twain, and Ernest Hemingway would hang along the entrance of the tent to his incredibly gonzo funeral.

Thompson was fond of saying “He that is taught only by himself has a fool for a master,” and served as living proof. Long before Thompson successfully developed his own (now infamous) style, he would copy The Great Gatsby word for word (among others) to better integrate Fitzgerald’s rhythms into his own (and to experience, he admitted, just how it would feel to write something that great). Thompson was a well-studied scholar and never stopped reading, admiring, and pondering the greats that paved the way for him to join them.

While Thompson certainly labored over the texts of these literary greats, he harbored no delusions of emulating them. He wanted to write, as they had, the Great American Novel and wanted their fame, but not necessarily to take their style. Instead, like any to-become-great writer, Thompson wrote non-stop for years, taking what he appreciated from each and rolled them into his own style, born of necessity, deadlines, chemicals, and yes, fear and loathing. Look hard enough at any of his work and you will see its inherited literary DNA, but pull back and the piece as a whole becomes its own animal, one the likes of Library of Congress had never seen, and some say, never will again.

I stood outside Owl Farm’s security patrolled wooden fences that hot August day and could see just far enough into the large black tent containing the funeral party to see the start of the black and white portraits eager to welcome Thompson to join their ranks in the great library in the sky. As whiskey bottles got passed around the other outcasts, this very debate was taking place. Among a group of such loyal admirers and gonzo enthusiasts, there was not one of us that wasn’t guilty of several cheap attempts to channel the Good Doctor into our own writing, just as every late 90s guitarist cops to playing a few bars of Nirvana when they first started playing, and the ‘Gonzo Beat’ was currently working out for several Thompson fans present, myself included.

If imitation is indeed the highest form of flattery, there was more than enough smoke to blow Thompson’s ass out of the cannon that night, as the bottles were drained and the boasting grew louder to challenge the Japanese drummers counting down the fireworks. But as the opening chords of Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” began to echo across the Woody Creek valley following the colorful and loud explosions of the blast-off, a quiet reverence, and with that a humble sense of loss and enlightenment, settled in the fields.

The question of whether Thompson’s writing style, ‘Gonzo’ or otherwise, should be reproduced, emulated, copied, or even attempted no longer mattered. He was gone, like the greats before him, and try hard as we might, fan writing won’t come close to replicating that magic. As the ashes mixed with the Aspen dirt, so must those writers influenced by Thompson take from his style what speaks strongest to them and make it their own—tis far better to learn from many masters than just one.

Peter on The Separation of Hunter and Raoul.

I was nursing a sweating beer outside the Woody Creek Tavern on a sunny Saturday afternoon in late August when approached by a reporter for the Denver Post. My favorite writer of all time was to be launched out of a 153 foot double thumbed fist shaped cannon in a few hours and I was nervously feeding the man quotes for about fifteen minutes before he moved on to someone else, leaving me to drown my beer and calm my nerves. The next morning I would scan the paper only to find something I had said, pulled out and displayed across the bottom of the article in large type:

“Fear and Loathing isn’t just a drug-induced nightmare – it’s great writing.”

I was surprised to see it printed so prominently, but not surprised at what the news editor chose to highlight.

The idea that someone could be famous for being stomped by Hell’s Angels, consuming lethal amounts of dangerous drugs, showing up late and too wasted to perform, destroying hotel rooms and skipping out on huge expense tabs, and many more Page-Six worthy exploits isn’t shocking. What’s shocking is that this legend doesn’t play a musical instrument or make blockbuster movies, but instead puts words to print and has a book in the Library of Congress.

What Hendrix could with a guitar, Thompson did with a typewriter and people will always think they will successfully be able to emulate their heroes just by doing the drugs and living the lifestyle those icons perpetuated. But before Thompson showed up staggeringly drunk to cover a 1970 Kentucky Derby for a fledgling magazine, he learned how to write by studying the greats – copying books like The Great Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises in longhand (“to incorporate their rhythms” and see what it felt like to write those words) and giving himself an army-issue journalism education to stay out of prison. He became a writer because he it was his one way out and lucked into finding genuine talent in himself.

But for every thousand kids playing guitar in the 60s, only one became Jimi Hendrix just the same ways only one traveling journalist became Hunter S. Thompson. His skills paved the way for the rock-star fame and lifestyle that followed and would eventually overshadow the strong writing that got him there. The difference, however, between those that stay at the top of their game and the one-hit-wonders of the world is the ability to deliver on your skillset. And for a long stretch of time, any editorial staff would gladly suffer the long nights, drug binges, late copy, and temperamental ego that is Hunter S. Thompson because he backed it up doing what no one had ever did before him and no one would manage after him.

Like the introduction of the forward pass in American football, Thompson broke the rules that no one else even thought were there, and ended up changing the game forever.

-Peter W. Knox

Peter has also written a review of Wayne Ewing’s film Animals Whores & Dialogue. Also included is Peter’s drinking game that’s great to play while watching the film.

It’s been more than five years since Hunter left this world and seven years since Ewing’s first HST documentary “Breakfast with Hunter” but his legacy lives on in the latest “Animals, Whores & Dialogue”, a wonderful behind-the-scenes glimpse into the life he lived his last decade alive.

Filled with such spectacle as the 25th Anniversary party of Fear and Loathing, his Kentucky homecoming, and the comings and goings of Aspen, Colorado, Ewing gives us a fly-on-the-wall opportunity to be there and share in the memories we missed.

A sure no-brainer fan collection such as this will no doubt delight the many gonzo-ites looking for the next hit, or as Hunter put it himself, “the next addiction” in the many options we have in which to revel in his brilliance, wisdom, wit, humor, and company. I watched, by myself, comforted by his intimate moments discussing his work, interviewing with press, interactions with his fans, and precious scenes with family and friends.

My favorite segment of this documentary comes about one-third in, where Hunter is shown an original Scanlon’s Monthly containing his infamous article of “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” where he puts into words how he felt about its publication and status of a writer, where he felt he was looking at the end of his journalist career but in fact had only stumbled onto its true beginning.

To anyone not familiar with “Breakfast with Hunter” or Ewing’s other works, this is as sure an entry point as those, more focused on Hunter himself and not the celebrity culture surrounding him. I have seen all of Wayne’s movies; Breakfast (weirdly wonderful), Till I Die (intensely personal posthumous, I was there for the blast-off!), Free Lisl (tragic & soberly lacking in Gonzo), and now this “Animals, Whores & Dialogue” picks up the Gonzo pulse and gives us exactly what we’re looking for, the b-side to those fantastic opinions, phrases, and character he pumped into each word he wrote.

Take part in this well edited and spliced homage to the man that changed journalism and brought us all together at the same time and buy this DVD now.

Next is Peter’s drinking game.

Fill your glass with Chivas or Heineken and follow along. I’d never recommend these rules for anyone, but they’ve worked for me.

Finish your drink

Hunter blows up at someone
Hunter gets ice for himself
Hunter holds a gun
Hunter says Gonzo

3 drinks

Hunter reads from his own words
HST smokes his pipe
HST shown actually typing
HST claps his hands
Hunter’s phone rings

2 drinks

Someone else reads from HST’s words
Someone plays music
HST talks sports
HST talks politics/mentions a politician
The Gonzo brand is shown (counts double if its on an undergarment)
HST lights a cigarette
HST drinks from his lobster mug

1 drink

Title of a HST book is mentioned by anyone
Someone addresses a crowd
Music is played
HST is wearing something on his head, once each scene
HST takes a sip from his glass
Someone compliments HST
Owl Farm peacocks are shown

Review and Drinking game. (©) Peter W. Knox 2010.

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