Fear and Loathing at Concordia
The Link talks to Hunter S. Thompson (published 11/19/1985)
Thompson was speaking at Concordia at the CSU's behest. He was paid $7,000 for a two-hour speech. (photos molly shinhat)
Thompson wrote that, as the utopianism of the 1960's faded, "the wave broke and rolled back."
The cover of The Link's November 19, 1985 issue.
Writer Dwayne Perreault fittingly spoke to Thompson after coming down from a bad mushroom trip.
I knocked on the door, then heard a shout and a large thump on the other side of the door. I found out later that Thompson had thrown a very large diving knife at me.
Seven-thirty on a Thursday night, and it's snowing like a bastard. I'm standing outside the Hall building, convinced that Hell must be a very cold place. We're supposed to pick up Dr. Hunter S. Thompson at eight-thirty. So where is the goddam car?
Another fifteen minutes pass. Finally the car arrives: one of those little Japanese jobs. Our host steps outside to meet me. "I'd like you to meet George," he says. "George is going to be our driver tonight."
I crawl into the backseat, shake hands with a man who looks like a perverted Methodist minister on drugs. "Didn't you bring a beer?" he asks, and lifts a Coors to his mouth as he turns left on Guy.
Our host is obviously nervous. In fact, we're all thinking the same thing. Hunter S. Thompson is rumoured to be a rather volatile individual. What will happen if we're late to meet him? Will he go ape-shit? George seems to be cool about it. He passes me a white satchel, tells me to roll a hash joint.
The hash makes everything worse. We end up getting lost in suburban Montreal, desperately trying to find Dorval airport. By the time we get there, it is nine-fifteen and we're all very uptight. Thompson is nowhere to be seen.
"Jesus. Shit. Let's try the bar," says our host. "Maybe Doug Brown was here to meet him."
Doug Brown is the programming director for CUSA, the cherubic-faced little bastard responsible for getting Thompson to speak at Concordia. It came as a surprise to everyone when Thompson actually accepted to do the gig. Well, for seven thousand dollars I might do it too.
When I was originally approached to do an interview with Thompson, I had no idea it was to be an exclusive. For some reason, his press agent wanted only one interview with one person. "This is your Big Chance," they told me. "So don't fuck it up!"
If I was nervous at this point, the host was approaching a paralytic fit. For the past few days, he had been advising me how to be cool with Thompson, how not to offend him in any way. "I just want everything to run smoothly," he had said. Now he was running around the airport like a chicken with its head cut off, accosting the nice people at Tilden's Rent-a-Car, screaming "Where's the goddam bar?"
We breathed a collective sigh of relief when we arrived at the bar and saw Dr. Thompson, Brown, and someone who was destined to become Thompson's lackey, sitting at a table and talking. We approached nervously and introduced ourselves. Thompson gripped the table to push himself up and shook hands with us. He looked pale. So this is the mad genius, I thought, who wrote Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Thompson, the founding father of Gonzo journalism, is nothing less than a cult hero. His unusual and unabashed style of journalism has made him nay enemies within and without the press circles, but one thing he does not lack is respect.
It was America's great jugular vein he was after when he covered the Presidential campaign in 1972. In the book which resulted from that adventure, Fear And Loathing On the Campaign Trail '72, he exposed the lunacy of American politics. Nocolas von Hoffman of the Washington Post claimed that the book was "the best stuff on the campaign I've read anywhere."
But of course there is the drug reputation. In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Thompson alleges to have consumed an incredible quantity of drugs, everything from massive amounts of alcohol to marijuana, mescaline, LSD, cocaine, uppers, downers, adrenalin taken from a live human body, and a pint of raw ether.
Thompson's reputation for mad behaviour and drug consumption, and his brilliant work, have made him famous. I had no doubt that the man was a genius; his books prove that. But as far as the drugs went, I was skeptical. Could anyone possibly live the life he describes in his books?
I was almost shaking in my seat as we made nervous small talk over beers. He took copious gulps from a Margarita and seemed, well, completely pissed. He mumbled incoherently, muttering something about not having slept in 48 hours and a hellish twelve-hour trip and all he really wanted to do was go directly to his hotel room.
That was understandable, so we drank up and left. I was anxious to do the interview, but obviously Thompson was not up to it. "Maybe we'll do it tomorrow over breakfast," he said. "That way, I'll be warmed up for the speech. If that's okay with you."
I anxiously agreed. What else could I do? We were all nervous as we piled into George's car. Thompson sat in the front seat, and George offered him "a sampling from a little kit I've prepared. I've got some hydroponically-grown grass from Ontario, some Lebanese hash, quaaludes, and mushrooms."
I jokingly remarked that maybe I should take the quaaludes, since we were putting together the student paper tonight.
Thompson almost exploded. "Quaaludes!" he shouted. "Don't be ridiculous. Take quaaludes and put together a paper!" He laughed. "Hell, journalists have to be responsible. You have to be responsible, man. I should know; I'm a doctor."
"Of journalism," I noted.
"Of journalism and other things," he grinned.
"How about some grass, Doctor?" asked George, and he handed Thompson a rather large joint.
"Well, I'm very tired," said Thompson, "and I'm supposed to write a column for the San Francisco Examiner I've met eight consecutive deadlines, you know. Is it powerful stuff?"
"Oh no," said George, as the car piled through slushy snow on the highway. The joint was passed to the backseat for the first few tokes, but after that it stayed with Thompson. I was just as glad. According to our host, this was my Big Chance, and I was already stoned.
It was an awful trip back to the hotel. George's little car was obviously not made for plowing through heavy snow, and I was inclined to think we would end up in the ditch. Loverboy was belting out some gibberish on the radio about girls being hot and the speakers were right behind me. I couldn't hear a goddam word Thompson was saying, and anyway George was doing most of the talking. Finally, we arrived at the hotel. IT looked like something out of one of Thompson's books, complete with red carpet and jacketed servants that would put the Garnet Key [ed: elite Concordia quasi-fraternity dating back to pre-Quiet Revolution Loyola College that still exists today] to shame. Thompson's dark glasses seemed appropriate for a dark Montreal night, and he nearly walked into a tree on the way in.
Thompson's suite was gorgeous. Situated on the twelfth floor, it had a splendid view of downtown Montreal. "This is really nice," said Thompson. Everything was just as he had asked: two club sandwiches and a dozen Heineken in the fridge, and a bottle of Chivas Regal on the table.
Thompson attacked the Chivas, tearing it out of the golden box. He poured himself a tall glassful and dumped some ice cubes in. Suddenly he seemed quite friendly. "Have a beer," he said. So we did. I turned on the television, and oh sweet jesus Richard Nixon was on the screen.
Richard Nixon: this was the evil bastard Thompson loved to hate the most. He once wrote that "Getting assigned to cover Nixon in '68 was like being sentenced to six months in a Holiday Inn."
I was expecting one of Thompson's boots to fly at the screen, but he was sitting on the bed, doing stretching exercises and watching the T.V. intently. George was obviously bored, and began passing out mushrooms. Again, Thompson protested that he was under deadline, and again he accepted the drug. I thought I should too, since everyone else was.
George broke off a large piece from a long white stalk and gave it to me. I washed it down with a Heineken and noticed how good it tasted. I hadn't eaten in quite a while.
After Nixon came Kennedy, Gerald Ford and LBJ. When [Soviet premier Leonid] Brezhnev appeared on the screen, Thompson remarked that "Brezhnev was boring, but Khrushchev was a feisty little bugger. Is that a Canadian network?"
"It's the CBC," I said.
"I have a lot of respect for the CBC," he said. "I've always liked them. In fact, did a couple of things for them way back when, but I can't remember what. They're very factual, you know, no nonsense, none of that kind of bullshit."
George made a remark that all journalism was bullshit anyway. This time, Thompson really exploded. "I'm a serious journalist, goddamit!" he said. Having read his books, I knew he meant it.
Shortly after, Thompson decided that he wanted to sleep. I could see that no one really wanted to leave. This was their Big Chance too. How often does one get to party with Dr. Hunter S. Thompson?
George stood up, turned red in the face and shuffled his feet on the carpet. "Well, Hunter, I'm going to a party to do some drugs with my friends, and I was wondering if you wanted to come along," he said.
Our host suggested that Thompson stick around for the Grey Cup. "It would make a great story for your column. People go absolutely crazy here."
This seemed to interest Thompson. "Jesus Christ, you're right. Only there's the fucking column. How do I get out of that?"
"Just think of it, Hunter," said our host. "Crazy bastards riding through the streets on horses, flogging women! You'd love it!"
I thought I was going to puke. The mushrooms were beginning to take effect now, and I wanted to get out. George and our host left, but I stayed a minute to make sure we would do the interview tomorrow at 11:00. Doug Brown and the lackey stayed behind after I left. Evidently, they had plans for Thompson too.
I found out late the next day that Thompson ended up going with the lackey to Junior's Super Sexe on Ste-Catherine Street. There, Thompson took notes on Quebec for his column in the San Francisco Examiner. He was comparing Junior's Super Sexe to the San Francisco strip joint he managed last summer in preparation for the book he's writing on the subject. He was also trying to find a parallel between the U.S. 1988 elections and the current Quebec elections.
I was just as glad that I didn't go with them.
Shortly after I left the hotel room, I began getting what Thompson calls The Fear--a perceptible feeling of doom and paranoia. There was a mirror in the hotel elevator, and my image looked completely demonic. It was a major struggle trying to find the Hall building in downtown Montreal, and when I got there I saw a very real woman screaming and crying as she walked in the middle of de Maisonneuve Street.
I spent the rest of the night strung out on mushrooms, seeing hidden evil meanings in almost everything. When I arrived at Thompson's hotel room at 10:40 the next morning, I decided not to wait until 11:00 like I was supposed to, but to try to do the interview a little earlier.
I knocked on the door, then heard a shout and a large thump on the other side of the door. I found out later that Thompson had thrown a very large diving knife at me. Obviously, he did not feel like doing the interview. A rather freaked out lackey advised me to wait downstairs.
I waited until 11:20, then decided to try again. This time I found Thompson screaming to some poor fool on the phone. It seems there was a major blizzard happening in Colorado, and his flight had been postponed. "That just fucks everything up!" he screamed, and tossed the telephone book and phone across the bed.
"Well, Dr. Thompson," I meekly asked. "I know now's not a good time to do the interview, but you are scheduled to speak at noon and it is almost 11:30."
Thompson grabbed a large grapefruit that was lying on the bed. I thought he was going to throw it at me.
"Alright, Christ, let's go," he said, and headed for the elevator. He was extremely pissed off, and began hurling the grapefruit against the wall of the corridor.
The ride downstairs was not pleasant. Thompson needed to take out his hostility on someone, and I was the immediate focus of his attention.
"What kind of a goddam deal is this, and who the hell do you think you are anyway?" he shouted at me. "Do you think you should be able to have a goddamned exclusive interview at everyone's expense? Do you have some kind of goddam profound questions to ask me? Am I going to learn something from this?"
I was confused. This, I thought, is what Fear and Loathing must be about. Here were all these people trying to masturbate on Thompson's leg, and all I wanted was a goddamned interview. Now, twenty minutes before the speech was about to begin, it looked like my Big Chance was about to be fucked up.
But once again, Thompson changed. He was still pissed off, but he apologized for coming down on me. The restaurant was closed, but the hotel made an exception and let us in. It was very kind of them. The following is an almost exact transcription of the interview.
Link: Let's see. I hope this goddam thing is working.
Hunter S. Thompson: Oh god. Is there any way I can call a secretary? Here's the hangup: To do this is going to keep me from making any arrangements to phone. Is there a phone in here?
Link: There is a house phone you can use.
HST: Can I get a Bloody Mary or something?
Link: Yeah, hopefully a waiter will come soon.
Our Host: There should be a bottle of scotch for you here.
HST: Well, shit, where's my bag, goddamnit Terrence? (The lackey produces a bottle of Scotch). This oughta get me in a serious goddamned state of mind.
Our host: We can go flog the masses!
HST: I'm being flogged now; this is my turn. A whiteout, the bastards! A total blizzard! That blows the column to hell.
Link: Well ... can I shoot?
HST: Yeah, if anyone can assure me I can make a phone call.
Link: No problem. Just take a good shot of Chivas Regal and relax. Okay; my first question: You are an incredibly popular cult figure,
HST: Fuck, I don't know.
Link: Well, you're popular with people around here. What I'd like to know is how you became so popular. Do you think people see something in you they'd like to see in themselves?
HST: I have no idea. It puzzles me. I wonder about, not too much, but...(our host brings Thompson a Bloody Mary).
Link: Okay. In your book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas you spoke of the shark ethic. I quote: "In a closed society where everybody is guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity." Was this true when you wrote it?
HST: It still is. That's a Republican ethic.
Link: Could you elaborate on that?
HST: Elaborate? I wrote it down! I'll answer your questions, but I'm not going to elaborate. I have to go and elaborate for two hours on stage. You should ask questions that I can answer.
Link: Okay. You once wrote in 1970 about students at Las Vegas University that they had no tension on their faces, and that it was "hallmarks of a dangerously innocent culture." Tell us, how do you feel about today's university students?
HST: Well, they seem (he mumbles something incoherent).
Link: Are students more conservative these days?
HST: Yeah, it seems like they're a generation of swine. People are just concerned about getting along and making money. Now that's a generalization of what you know and I know. By saying that, I'm trying to put some life into the system.
Link: How accurate was your portrayal by Bill Murray in the film Where The Buffalo Roam? I understand that you were often present during the shooting of the film.
HST: Fuck, Murray and I lived together for a whole summer. We're old friends. I thought it was a good impersonation.
Link: Did you enjoy the film?
HST: Oh no, it was a horrible piece of shit. It was right up there with Doonesbury, the cartoon. Bill Murray did a good impersonation.
Link: So what do you think about the way Garry Trudeau portrays you in Doonesbury, as Uncle Duke?
HST: I've just given up on that.
Link: Do you want to rip the bastard's lungs out?
HST: Not really. I just feel ashamed for him. I feel shame for his parents. They saved up all their lives to send him to Yale, then he does four years of journalism to steal other people's work.
Link: What is your current relationship with Rolling Stone? I notice you are still listed as a member of staff.
HST: That's just an accident of typesetting, and will end soon.
Link: So you don't have anything to do with them anymore?
HST: Not really. Rolling Stone has become a really commercial magazine. It's no longer a place for my kind of work.
Link: So who are you writing for these days, and what are you writing? What is Hunter S. Thompson up to these days?
HST: Well, until this Examiner thing came along, I was writing this book called The Night Manager. But then I suddenly got involved in writing this column for The Examiner. They want to syndicate it nationally for the 15th of December. Imagine if I had a hundred papers ready to screw me to the floor.
Link: Would that make your life a personal hell?
HST: Well, you see what happened with one snowstorm in the Rockies. It destroyed my personal relationship, ruined my fucking column, now I feel genuinely full of hate.
Link: But I've always had the impression that you've worked on a deadline basis. Isn't this what you call the Edge, having to deal with this kind of shit?
HST: Yeah, but this is every week.
Link: So it just intensifies it.
HST: Well, it's more like cheapening it, really. If you're gonna do Edge work, you may as well have a big Edge. I don't like this. I don't like the column.
Link: So how do you feel about the Edge? Is it still a good place to work out of?
HST: It never was. It was necessary.
Link: So would you recommend it to other journalists?
HST: No, it's too dangerous. Too many things can happen.
Link: So how do drugs fit into it? Do you think that drugs just make things worse when you're working under these kinds of pressures?
HST: Drugs are like booze, they're like oil for machinery.
Link: They keep you going?
HST: Yeah, basically. They keep you awake.
Link: How about the little joke I made last night about quaaludes? You said you have to be responsible; you couldn't put a paper together on quaaludes?
HST: I was serious. It doesn't work. I wouldn't have given you any. If you'd said speed, perhaps so. But quaaludes, it's not professional.
Link: So let's talk some more about the media. In Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72, you said "The public [...] wants a man who can zap around the nation like a goddamn methedrine bat: Racing from airport to airport, from one crisis to another--sucking up the news and spewing it out by the 'Five W's' in a package that makes perfect sense." What do you think is the role of the media in today's society? Is there such a thing as a role for the media?
HST: Well of course there is, man?
Link: But what do people expect? Do they really want total sense made out of everything?
HST: Well, I think that was the concept of the 60's and 70's. What they want now is a person like Reagan.
Link: For a journalist?
HST: Well, when you have a person like Reagan, it changes the role of the media.
Link: How so?
HST: Reagan is a silly old man who reads lines, and the media has to report them. Campaigns are too organized now, and that kind of journalism doesn't do anything.
Link: So what about objectivity in media? Does it exist?
HST: No, there's no such thing.
Link: What kind of person becomes a journalist?
HST: Fuck, I don't know.
Link: Okay, let's talk about Reagan. What is your personal view of the man?
HST: This is like the calm before the storm. Reagan no longer believes in the American dream. Reagan is such an utter fool; he's an asshole.
Link: How do you perceive Canada in its political relationship with the United States?
HST: I'm worried about it. I kind of like Canadian politics. It doesn't seem to be very inspired, but it is reasonable.
Link: Do you see much of a difference between the two countries culturally?
HST: Canadians always struck me as being a bit more naïve in a good sense. The CBC news specials have a very earnest approach to the news. American news is more commercially-oriented. I would be more comfortable working for the CBC, for example, than I would with any American network."
Link: Would you consider accepting a job with the CBC if they offered you a full-time position?
HST: (smiles) Yeah, sure. If they offered me enough money. Yeah. Yeah. You can do more things up here, it seems.
Link: So you would actually consider moving up here?
[At this point, our host is freaking out. It is already noon, and we still have not left for the lecture hall.]
Link: Can I squeeze in one more question?
HST: Yeah, fire away.
Link: What about Ralph Steadman? What's he up to these days, and how do you get along with him?
HST: Oh, we're trying to figure out another book. Ralph is one of God's good people. I like to work with him.
Our host: You'd better make your phone call, Hunter. And if anyone wants to fuck with us, we'll just fuck with them. Right?
I remember our host's words when Thompson was freaking out over the phone in his hotel room and everything seemed to be going wrong. He said, in a very tired voice, "You know, I'm just too old for this kind of shit, man."
But he is not as old as Thompson, and I am not as old as he is. This is what I realized when I read the faces of the autograph-seeking students who attacked Thompson after his incredibly popular speech: that my Big Chance was essentially a Big Nothing. Life is just a series of chances; I think Thompson realizes this more than anyone.
When the Big Chance comes, you take it. After that, there is only a mute sense of disappointment and decline. As Thompson stated in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, "Why bother with newspapers, if this is all they offer?...Journalism is not a profession or a trade, it is a cheap catch-all for fuckoffs and misfits--a false doorway to the backside of life, a filthy piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but just deep enough for a wino to curl up from the side-walk and masturbate like a chimp in a zoo cage."
In a world of corrupted monkeys, Thompson is a regular goddamned gorilla. One can't help but Fear and Loathe him.