By Eduardo Ritter – Brazilian Journalist and PhD student
Hunter S. Thompson. Doctor. Louisville. Kentucky. 2437 Ransdell Avenue. Ron Whitehead. Brazil. Cemetery. 36th Street. Old 502 Winery. Muhammad Ali. Rock ’n Roll. Blues. Poetry. Literature. Journalism. Gonzo Journalism. Kentucky Derby. GonzoFest 2014. All these words, and many others, never leave my mind as I remember my participation in GonzoFest 2014. I was doing part of my PhD research (that I’m officially doing here in Brazil) at New York University, working with Professor Robert Boynton, who works at the Literary Reportage Department, when I found out through Facebook and by poet and professor Ron Whitehead about the event called GonzoFest, of which I had never heard before. First of all, I am Brazilian, a PhD student in Social Communication in a town called Porto Alegre in southern Brazil. The topic of my thesis? Gonzo Journalism and the life and work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. Why? Because Hunter S Thompson was the only journalist I have ever read who – and I’ve read several (Brazilians to Americans, through French, Italian, Argentinean, African, Asian Australian, etc) – he was the only journalist who had the courage to use parresia. And what is parresia? It is a Greek word that means the courage to tell the truth, to make use of the free speech in the public space assuming all risks of such this attitude. The French philosopher Michel Foucault worked with this word in Collège de France. And Hunter used his parresía well.
In the month of March 2014 I took a bus from the Megabus in Chicago, where I stayed for 10 days, and I arrived early morning in Louisville, the city where I would be a month staying in a room in a house of a traditional family from Kentucky located on 36th Street.
I clearly remember the first day of Gonzofest 2014. I left with my “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” shirt, bought at the Strand Bookstore in New York City, and walked about 30 blocks to the Old Winery 502, where would be held the first night of the activities. A fantastic place fully prepared to have the face of Hunter Thompson and Gonzo Journalism. There, I watched the artistic presentations of musicians and poets who gave a show. I met many people, among them, I personally found Ron Whitehead who gave me the best reception I could want. I felt at home and enjoyed myself. I learned a lot. I had many laughs, as Hunter Thompson liked. After all, the fun can not stop. I also drank a lot of beer and, in the car, going to ride with one of the gonzo men, I smoked marijuana on the way to the pub where the party kept rolling. It was fun. Was historic. It was memorable. I took many photos, which certainly would yield a beautiful exhibition. I plan on doing one here in Brazil: remnants of Gonzofest 2014 – Fear and loathing of a Brazilian man in Louisville. Maybe one day.
On the second day, I confess I was hungover. But I went by foot from the 36th Street to Open Gallery and, then, I quickly improved. I took many photos of the city, especially of the University of Louisville stadiums of the football team and baseball teams. And of course, at the University of Louisville – I would visit more times before my departure. Oh, and of course, I also went to the Louisville Library, where Virginia Thompson, mother of Hunter, worked all her life. When I arrived at Open Gallery, I felt that the poetry was present in the environment. I took many photos and I met many nice people like Edus, a Mexican woman who lives in Louisville. We became great friends and keep in touch today. I also bought a poster, on which is written “Some may live, but the crazy never die” which I framed and is now occupying a prime place in the room of my house here in Brazil. I also bought STORY magazine, which I’m using the text about Gonzo in my PhD thesis. Again, lots of fun, literature, art and inspiration.
On the third day, before I went to the place of the event, I went to the 2437 Ransdell Avenue, the house in which Hunter Thompson was born and lived for a considerable part of his life. I walked the streets and parks which he wrote about, and I wondered about Hunter and his friends doing small crimes that horrified the conservative neighbors and that would become common practice in his life and work. The breakdown of social norms for breach of journalistic standards, and then, a new type of completely unmatched journalism: the gonzo journalism. From there I went to the place where I attended the presentation of the poet Russel Hulsey and other artists. Something again unforgettable, especially the references to the works of Thompson, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Keroauc and all The Beats.
The fourth night in Monkey Wrench, was one of the most spectacular. I was enchanted with the show Ron Whitehead, which I recorded and posted on youtube and I never tire of hearing, especially when I want inspire myself to write something – such this text. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZLszUi9dpxE). Besides it also could thrill me with the testimony and the readings of Frank Messina and the legendary David Amram, who gave a show that brought us our souls, spirits and minds to the 1950s and 60s. Again, I met many people interesting, made contacts, I laughed a lot and I was still able to go with Nick and others Gonzo Guys to the bar where the party followed, and where I even met a guy from Louisville who said that he lived in Brazil for a year.
The fifth day was absolutely magical. I delighted in watching the documentary “For No Good Reason,” about the British artist Ralph Steadman. And I had the pleasure of meeting personally Margaret Ann Harrell, who was editor of the Hunter S. Thompson’s Hell’s Angels book. In addition, I met Bradley James Weber, a Chicago guy who today is helping me a lot in my research, sending texts that I can’t find here in Brazil and giving various good ideas. And to close the night with another gold key, the last activities were at the Muhammad Ali Center, where I was even asked to do a short interview by Nick Storm, Storm Generation Films, the guy who is making a documentary about the event and, once again, I marveled at another show by David Amram.
Finally, the last day, which took place on a sunny Saturday afternoon, was spectacular. In addition to good music, readings and interpretations of Thompson’s texts, I watched the great show of giant puppets, The Squallis Puppeteers, and I could bought GonzoFest souvenirs. There was also Frank Messina’s reading of Anita Thompson’s message. I ended up, with Ron Whitehead’s help, having the pleasure of meeting Anita personally and I interviewed her at Owl Farm a couple of months later.
In the end, this was a unique experience. Before returning to Brazil, I crossed the United States departing from San Diego, through Las Vegas and Aspen, arriving in New York City. Today, when I remember that trip, I remember the GonzoFest, Louisville, Ron Whitehead and Jinn Bug, who received me in an unforgettable Easter lunch, I get excited and I think that I made a dream.
In Brazil, we have five Hunter books translated into Portuguese: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hell’s Angels, The Great Shark Hunt, Screw Jack and Kingdom of Fear. More and more young people discover Hunter S. Thompson every year, every month, every day. I’ve worked as a teacher in a Journalism course and students, once they come into contact with the works of Hunter, they immediately fall in love. They want to learn and they want to do a great work as he did. They want to read everything that he produced. They want to break the news and social norms as he did, in a critical way.
The experience of Gonzofest 2014 was spectacular for me. I hope one day to go back to the United States and Louisville, Kentucky and repeat it. And for the people who are from Louisville and Kentucky I have two messages. First, those who were not at the event: you should go to every Gonzofest. Hunter S Thompson is the main name of Louisville, Kentucky around the world – I have students who do not know Muhammad Ali but know who Hunter Thompson is. The another message is to event organizers, especially Ron Whitehead: Congratulations and thank you! The days of GonzoFest 2014 were undoubtedly one of the best of my life. With all my heart, thank you Ron and everyone in the Gonzo Family. And long live the Dr. Hunter S Thompson and Gonzo Journalism! Yeahhhhhhhhh!!!!!! Let’s do it again and again and again and again and again and again, every year, forever! Kick ass, man, buy the ticket and take the ride. Why? For no good reason, dude! Just to feel the fear and loathing of the life.
Copyright (c) 2015 Eduardo Ritter