The Lords of Karma

book review: Ancient Gonzo Wisdom: Interviews with Hunter S. Thompson
edited by Anita Thompson
Da Capo Press, 2009
ISBN 978-0-306-81651-2

(view on Amazon)

Hunter S. Thompson was a media personality from the days when he wrote about the Hell’s Angels in the 1960s until his death in 2005. Always a fan of talking with other journalists and promoting his books, Thompson gave fewer TV interviews as time went on–but he continued to talk to print reporters frequently enough that his late-period wife, Anita Thompson, was able to cull together a collection of interviews ranging the the 1960s to the 2000s. While not fundamentally different from the written words of Hunter S. Thompson, the interviews do reveal many different angles as they are written up in whatever style the interviewer had and not in Thompson’s famously brooding and brilliant prose. And of course Thompson’s words unsurprisingly tend to be less edited and less measured than in his writing. Clever comments and colorful anecdotes are shared throughout. But it is easy to see a slow decline in the quality of the interviews as time passes and Thompson’s considerable legend begins to overshadow whatever fresh stories might be discussed at the moment, and the questions get dumber, more backward-looking, and more predictable with time–and Thompson steadily more irritated. Still, for fans of late 20th century history and especially for Thompson fanatics, this book is an important appendix to his writing.

This volume of the book includes an introduction by Christopher Hitchens, which I cannot report on because I haven’t read a word of it. On to the book.

Due to Hunter S. Thompson’s gift for the English language, short snippets of the book can paint surprisingly vivid images:

“So I don’t agree with [Norman] Mailer that the psychopath could be an advance. I think it’s sort of an inevitable state.” (p. 61)

“If you act as weird as you are, something terrible is bound to happen to you, if you’re as weird as I am.” (p.87)

“There’s something ominous about a totally shaved head.” (p. 43)

Politics was an area that Thompson always followed closely, and some of his most caustic commentary is on public affairs:

“Q. Your theory on the JFK assasination is what?
A. That it was carried out by the Mob but organized and effectuated by J. Edgar Hoover.” (p. 233)

“You talk about losing battles and degrading the system, nobody has done more to discredit the idea that democracy can work and that decent people can be elected and run it than Richard Nixon.” (p. 105)

“Yes, popular opinion [about the George W. Bush administration] in this country has to be swung over to ‘the White House is wrong, these people are corporate thieves. They’ve turned the American Dream into a chamber of looting.'” (p. 292)

“If you want to get out on the road there and say ‘I’m the candidate of the new politics,’ which he’s [McGovern has] done, you have to take some peculiar baggage with you.” (p. 29)

Many of Thompson’s opinions are interesting, and because this book spans a wide range of time and many questioners it includes discussion of a wide scope of issues:

“I really think computers are only as smart as the person who programs it, and I’d have to program the damn thing myself in order for it to meet my needs.” (p. 180)

“By being embedded, it’s almost like being captured. You’re given access to whatever they want to give you access to, and they make you really grateful for it.” (p. 343)

“They seem [now in 1998] to be more completely brainwashed by mass media; more conforming [than in 1958].” (p. 249)

“Drugs usually enhance or strengthen my perceptions and reactions, for good or ill.” (p. 178)

So is there really any way to define Hunter S. Thompson? Well, he offers this thought in an interview with

“Yeah, I consider myself a road man for the lords of karma.” (p. 318)

more Hunter S. Thompson posts:
The Rum Diary
The Kitchen Readings from Michael Cleverly and Bob Braudis
Ralph Steadman’s book The Joke’s Over

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