by Bradley James Weber
art by Troy Little from the graphic
novel Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas
Top Shelf Comix
. . . the door hit something, which I recognized at once as a human form: a girl of indeterminate age with the face and form of a Pit Bull. She was wearing a shapeless blue smock and here eyes were angry . . . .
— Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Chicago, Ill. — After 45-years of exposure and accolades for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Savage Lucy — the young, half-mad, Barbara Streisand fan from Kaspiel, Montana — remains a cipher.
Thompson portrays her as just another misfit wandering the shrill Las Vegas landscape. But who was she, really? And what happened to her after being left in the marginal care of a McCarren Airport cab hassler?
Lucy is the specter that haunts the Vegas book. No one know who she was or what happened to her; no one has come forward to claim her identity. Why not?
Lucy wasn’t a real person.
She remains under chemical restraint in some shabby, state-run loony bin.
She has never heard of HST, the Vegas book or film, and has no inkling that she’s been immortalized.
She is alive and well and passing herself off as just another upright citizen with a secret history of untoward weirdness.
According to my friend, Charlie Helborn, the real question is not who Lucy might have been historically but who Savage Lucy is in terms of the book.
“What does she represent vis-à-vis Duke, Gonzo, Las Vegas, and the American Dream?”
Charlie is the 5th generation namesake of a man who made his nut selling hats to fashionable New Yorkers through the late 19th Century. Not only is he wealthy and overeducated, he’s high-strung and has a lot of time on his hands. Charlie is exactly the kind of guy who should stop saying ‘no’ to drugs.
“People,” he says, “see Lucy as just another prop for some Gonzo antics. They forget that she’s on a journey, too . . . only she has no clue about the savagery.”
He’s telling me this while we’re on a weekend ride on the rails-to-trals bike paths along the Fox River, 40 miles west of downtown Chicago. We’ve no destination in mind, just a heading and a comfortable knowledge of every tavern along the way.
“She’s searching for something, just like Duke.”
“What about Gonzo,” I ask.
“What about him?”
“What’s he searching for?”
Helborn gives me the look of hopeless pity reserved for road-squashed cats and people who put ketchup on hotdogs.
“Dude. Did you even read the fucking book?”
He says that the Vegas book is Duke’s story, not Gonzo’s; that Dr. Gonzo leaves Las Vegas exactly the same as he was when he left L.A. As for Duke, “He believed at the beginning. You can feel it in everything he told the hitchhiker.”
. . . a classic affirmation . . . everything right and true and decent . . . true grit . . . the fantastic possibilities . . . .
“But by the end,” Charlie says, “Duke’s illusions are gone.”
I ask him what that’s got to do with Lucy.
“She goes to Las Vegas to meet Streisand, right? To connect with someone who’s been transformed by the American Dream. Is she hoping to have some of that rub off on her? Or is she there to pay tribute to someone who has awoken into the American Dream while she is trying to do the same?”
Before I can even consider an answer, he says, “The thing that Lucy doesn’t know, can’t know because of who she is and where she’s from, is that the American Dream — as defined by James Turslow Adams — ‘really is fucked.’”
When I ask who James Turslow Adams is, Charlie says, “Never mind that. No matter who Lucy was — or was not, or even if she was — it doesn’t matter. It’s what she represents that’s important. What does she symbolize?
“Look at it this way — suppose for a minute that, in spite of all the claims and records and seeming evidence to the contrary, the Vegas book is made up, total fiction. That means everybody in the book is a character, right? The character of Lucy was on a journey to see Barbara Streisand — but her journey was derailed by someone who fed her drugs, fucked her silly, then cut her loose. Dude, she’s an innocent— a civilian — and Duke and Gonzo treat her like absolute shit. Which begs the question: “How are they any different than the fucking monsters that run Las Vegas?”
I stop my bike and get off. Charlie rides on for a bit, sees I’m not keeping up and wheels back.
“Watch where you say that shit,” I tell him. “The wrong people hear it gets you a knife in the face.”
“Can’t be helped,” he says. “If they don’t see it, they haven’t read the book.”
He pulls a chromed flask and a box of cigarettes out of his handlebar bag. I pass on the smokes but take the bourbon.
He tells me, “Everybody thinks that Duke is some kind of hero. He’s not a hero, not in any Campbellian sense of the word. Granted, the whole trip smacks of the Hero’s Journey but, by the end, Duke is just a protagonist, just another main character — and that’s only because he’s the one telling the story . . . like Holden Caufield, but not, you know, a whiny little bitch.
“There are no heroes in the Vegas book, man. Wait — I take that back. The housekeeper who gets stuck cleaning up their fucking mess. She’s a goddamned hero.
Charlie pours some whiskey down his throat. “Let me ask you this: do you think it’s a coincidence that Duke finds Gonzo and Lucy in the Flamingo?”
A castle in the Waste Land built by gangster Benjamin Siegel, the Flamingo Casino and Hotel is where modern Las Vegas was born.
“And in this heart-of-hearts, in ‘the very spring within the spring,’ as it were, Duke finds what? A misguided, adolescent girl — possibly ugly, certainly weird — whose celebrity obsession gets her shamelessly fucked by a reckless, self-interested predator who claims to be helping her.
“Maybe,” he says, “Lucy is America. Better yet . . . Lucy is the American Dream. How about that?”
I didn’t know what to make of it. I’m no good at the kind of discourse Charlie likes to dig into sometimes. I need a chance to think, to parse out what’s been said, what was meant, and decide on a response — which is why I tend to lose arguments and overpay whenever I have to buy a car.
And then, the fucker was jabbering on about something else. There’s no telling what anymore because I wasn’t listening. How could I? I was off–balance, confused . . . torpedoed with questions about the core tenants of one of my favorite books. It was all I could do to pedal up the trail.
- Even after a great deal of thought and reading, I still don’t have answers to any of it. Even if Charlie is completely full of shit, the question remains:
- Who was Savage Lucy?
The thing is that now, when I think about her, I’m not able to separate the who of her from the what she is supposed to mean.