GonzoSchmest, Gonzo Days and the Interview with Clayton Luce

GonzoToday publisher Clayton L. Luce answers a few questions about GonzoToday, GonzoFest, and reports of bats being forced into indentured servitude.
By: C.A. Seller

 C.A .Seller: By your own admission you are an Adventurer, Mystic, Magician, Lover, Artist, Writer and Fool as well as a Master Apprentice at  the School of the Inner Circle. Is it true you are also Executive Publisher of Gonzo Today or do wish to invoke your Fifth Amendment Rights?

Clayton Luce: All of these things may be true. It’s hard to say, really. There is a strange reality to everything that just makes it all more confusing. So enough of that gibberish. As for the publisher title I do my best not to be executive at all and that was actually an addition to the title that I amended to make my call-sign initials more balanced. The other way was too top-heavy. Besides you have to sound official in order to deal with certain types of Bastards.


CA: Having grown up without shoes, how did a young Clayton Luce come to know Hunter S. Thompson?

CL: Well, I did have shoes from a rather early age. In fact, I had an early pair cast in brass, but they have long since been melted down. I came to know him through the Johnny Depp portrayal I suppose. That was my first intro to his work because I grew up in a wealthy, religious home and being an avid reader I used all forms of youthful skill and treachery to acquire copies of Hunter S. Thompson’s work, which often became accessible in places like youth homes for boys, jail cells and on the bookshelves of lifelong dope fiends that would buy liquor for young punks with $5 and a cigarette. I have always been drawn to the written word, both as a writer and an avid reader, and Hunter’s work was a sharp blade cutting through much of the traditional bullshit that I was force-fed as a young man. It was a brutal and unrelenting sort of honesty that I could relate to, along with a sense of rebellion and the Outlaw Spirit. And there was the prophecy element, but that is another matter altogether.

CA : You tried law school, how’d that work out for you? How did that experience shape the man we know today?

CL: I attended Mercer University where I took up pre-law and political science as my course studies as the first step to law school. I came from an old privileged family and it was just sort of expected that I go to school and do something prestigious or philanthropic  in order to look respectably busy as I grow old and die. It was a miserable experience, full of mindless, self absorbed intellectuals and ego driven maniacs that have convinced themselves of every illusion and self deception to justify essentially preying off of the broken, corrupted and downright filth ridden system we call American Law. Old families eventually buy into their own bullshit and that’s when you get Nazis. I wash my hands of it. The biggest thing I learned is that knowledge, wisdom and experience are far more valuable in life than formal education. I was much further ahead than many of my professors in terms of a political mind and understanding of why people act the way they do and how to work that, but because they are tasked with repeating knowledge and imparting theories, opinions and historical “facts.” School is for people who want to fit into the world, not those who want to build new ones. Of course there are exceptions to every rule. If I had it my way schools would still resemble apprenticeships under the participatory study of the masters. Of course then you’d have to actually have masters. That’s where we failed a long time ago. Now we just have a bunch of pompous bigoted assholes handing out Master’s degrees instead. Master’s of what, I wonder? Certainly not me. I’d kick them in the balls.

CA: Were there any other projects you participated in before GonzoFest and GonzoToday?

CL: Many. Some good, some useless, and some evil. I have been through a great deal in my short time on this earth, and have been on both sides of several different social and political spectrums. I have travelled to many parts of the world, been to pretty much all of the 50 states, stayed in the finest places and some of the lowest, met a lot of people of great character and even more of ill-repute. Life is a mixture of successes and failures, but mostly failures. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that most of us don’t know what the fuck we are doing, let alone why we are doing it or why we even exist to begin with. I envy those who aren’t burdened with such questions. Blessed are the blind who don’t think they can see. Jesus. We have gone off track here. I create images, breathe life into them and then watch them grow. My technical background is in propaganda. I am a propagandist and a diplomat of the Saul Goodman variety I suppose. I have a heart for people and projects but in order to do it ethically and freely require a lot of personal sacrifice sometimes, especially in a world of conformists. I am also a pretty decent ninja. I’m hoping to buy some bear claws from a magazine I found so that I can climb trees and pounce down on my enemies as they walk past. That and more art supplies.

CA: How did you hear about GF and become so seriously involved?

CL: Hell I don’t remember. Probably originally through Ron Whitehead. We were less than 6 months old as an organization when we went down to GonzoFest. We were completely broke (still are) and had no way to pay for it. In fact we didn’t pay for it as I recall. I’m pretty sure we promised to pay a $40 vendor fee, came in with a 10×20 tent, and then fled afterwards late into the night, running a savage burn on the festival and never paying them a dime. For whatever reason that didn’t destroy the relationship and within two months the GonzoToday administration had agreed that Louisville would be the future worldwide headquarters of our collective and within 2 more months my family and I had moved from a small secluded cabin far atop a mountain in Blue Ridge, Georgia to Louisville, 400 miles away.  Ron Whitehead, who has been an active proponent and godfather to the collective pulled me aside one day and told me that he was stepping down from his position on the GonzoFest production committee and that he would like for me to take his place as his ambassador and representative for GonzoToday and   Thompson family as a member of the board. That turned rapidly into a clusterfuck that then devolved into a complete lack of productivity and then suddenly into a giant goddamned circus tent full of freaks and clowns and books and wild madness in every direction. Now it’s come together fabulously in the last minute. It has been one hell of a ride.

CA: You moved your entire family here from Georgia: your wife,  two toddlers and a couple of bipedal rug rats.  What prompted this drastic action?

CL: I think I just answered that you senile  bastard.

CA : How many people are on the GF production team.? I know you have long time local music writer Jason Ashcraft , on board,  tell us about some of the others like Nick Garing.

CL: Well you mentioned Ashcraft who is my only other GT delegate to the team and an integral part of our production efforts this year on our end. There are the original two co-founders Ron Whitehead (retired) and Dennie Humphrey of the Monkey Wrench bar here in Louisville. The other original member is Derrick Pedolzky, whose production company Oak Street Productions had been involved with the Forecastle Festival and jumped on board the opportunity to get in ground level on the idea of a Gonzo festival honoring the life and work of Hunter S. Thompson in his hometown. Derrick brought in Nick Garing, also of Oak Street Productions to essentially serve as master of ceremonies, overseeing vendors, production assets and security. Lauren Hendricks is the media maven of Louisville and the currently undisputed queen of GonzoFest, and she is probably the most mature one in the whole bunch. She also served on Forecastle. Usually by the time we have all devolved into drunken  fools she has already finished the meeting and managed to make some sort of use of it before fleeing the scene with her tablet. We owe a lot to Lauren Hendricks. We have David Nichols who heads up marketing and social media at Mint Julep Tours here in Louisville, helping us with services from graphic design and marketing to acting as our liaison with the Louisville Downtown Development Partnership. Mike Maloney is the Director of Community Relations & Events for the Louisville Mayor’s Office and represents the interests of the City of Louisville within the festival, as well as helping  us to secure contracts and venues within the city. There is also Jake Mahaffey who handles a lot of the graphic design and printing for apparel. This year saw the addition of local sculptor Matthew Weir, who has been commissioned to create a life-sized statue of Hunter S. Thompson, as well as Hunter Embry, the owner of The New Vintage Showcase, a booking and promotions company, recording studio and full service venue here in Louisville.  If I am forgetting someone, and I’m sure I am, please just buy me a whiskey and remind me next production team meeting. I’ll remember your face then.

CA: Who are some names we might recognize at the festival and what is the most outrageous rider you have received?

CL: Well if you are a fan of Hunter S. Thompson then the answer is several. There will be many recognizable names here this year include Hunter S. Thompson’s son and author Juan Thompson, daughter in law Jennifer Winkel Thompson, grandson William Hunter Thompson and long time personal assistant and confidant, Deborah Fuller. Douglas Brinkley is currently expected to show and may even host a book signing. Laila Nebusi, producer of the film version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas will be hosting a panel Q&A on making the movie as well as her experiences with Hunter. And that’s not all folks! But unfortunately I can’t mention anymore….but believe me, you don’t want to miss this year. As for the rider thing…is that some sort of code? I wasn’t born in the 50’s and I’m not up on all of the jive. Outrageous things happen all the time. Just follow the campaign trail this year.

CA:  Tell us about your trip to Owl Farm and GF’s relationship and support by Juan, Jennifer and Hunter’s grandson Will Thompson?

CL: It was an incredible time full of incredible memories and conversations. It was almost like reuniting with old family members. Will is a prodigy in his own right. Hunter Thompson was an incredible writer, but having read  some of Will’s writing from 6-10 years old,…well let’s just say that if Hunter was a nine, Will is a ten and a half. Juan and Jennifer were gracious hosts and there was a lot of bonding. They are very excited about GonzoFest 2016. There are some big surprises in store on that front, but you’ll have to come to find out! I am very happy for the Thompson family. They have suffered many trials and tribulations the past 10 years waiting for things to finally be made right again. Of course we could always still just fuck it all up.

CA:  In your story about that trip you said it took you 72 hours to make a 19 hour trip. Will you or will you not be releasing your taxes for 1972?

CL: We can’t discuss these things here, under the advice of my attorney.

CA: Let’s get serious here. What is GonzoFest?

CL: It’s a literary music festival. We are celebrating the life, work and influence of Hunter S. Thompson on music, literature and popular culture. Music drove Hunter’s words on the page, and at GonzoFest music drives the celebration of art and literature that his work has inspired through three generations now. GonzoFest is the vision of what Hunter saw in America and those who compose the future he saw. He both cried and raged through his artistic medium, using the pen as a sword and piercing the very heart of his adversaries in a very real and practical way. Writers and artists are composed of the writers and artists that came before them. That is what the art does. It’s why the arts are important in society. They help us to both remember and to redefine our identities one layer over another. You can see the influences of Hunter and Ralph in the work of the people at GonzoToday, and through arts and culture worldwide. GonzoFest is more relevant in 2016 than any year previous.

CA:  Tell me about GonzoToday, the online magazine you publish?

CL: GonzoToday is a collective of writers, artists, musicians, producers and all sorts of other terrible sorts of people who have come together under the common love of Hunter S. Thompson and those who came before him, as the next generation of Gonzo Journalism to provide opportunities for creative people of all sorts to gain exposure and experience, as well as to ultimately build our own publishing house and multimedia organization, operated for the purpose of building and expanding opportunities for each other and our communities through promotion of the arts, music, literature and culture. I founded the publication and served as editor in chief for the first year or so and then moved to Louisville to focus on our brick and mortar project and GonzoFest, leaving GonzoToday.com in the capable hands of our former Managing Editor, David Pratt. GonzoToday operates as a sort of anarchist democracy. It’s a terrible, terrible thing and we all bicker and fight constantly, but somehow it just works. There are 13 administrators who vote on major decisions, with the editor in chief and managing editor serving elected terms according to the will of the group.

CA: When we first spoke you talked of the evolution of GF and GT. Tell me what the future holds for yourself and readers in your world and Gonzoland?

CL: A Whole New World. The fun is only getting started. I have a lot of ideas of what is about to happen right around the corner, as well as in ten years, but for now I think I’ll just keep that in the Newsroom. The GonzoToday presence at GonzoFest 2016 this year is going to be huge. We are hosting an entire second venue and stage within the GonzoFest complex. A 40×80 tent with two 10×20 annexes for a whopping total of 3,600 square feet of vending, bar and gallery space. It’s called the GonzoToday Weird Turned Pro Freak Show and its going to be full of clowns and circus weirdoes, mad writers, book signings, curated vendors including a stage sponsored by Legalize Kentucky Now, the states’ foremost advocate in the fight for marijuana rights. Our tent will house all of the book signings, through Carmichael’s Bookstore, who will be selling books and hosting the signings. We will also house the GonzoFest 2016 Art Gallery in the annex, sponsored by Sink or Swim Studio. This is going to be one hell of a trip. A whole new thing this year. Not like the others.

CA:Is there anything we’ve missed? I have asked Ron Whitehead whether or not 250 guano filled bats will be released at the end of the festival and if so what will be done to protect the public? Would you care to comment?

CL: I don’t know anything about any goddamned bats. I will tell you this though, if there are any bats I damn sure won’t be doing anything to protect the public from them. It would defy the whole atmosphere of the thing. There would be screaming and gnashing of teeth, screaming women and people fleeing in all directions, trampling over their own young as the bats swoop and whirl around them. You just don’t fuck with something like that. Just let it flow.

The Dude abides. Or is that another story all together…