by: Kidman J. Williams
I was asked by the Topanga Tornado and Gonzo Today’s Acting Head, Kyle K. Mann to write a little something for Hunter S. Thompson’s birthday today. So, in TRUE Thompson fashion, I missed the deadline on purpose.
What could I possibly say about Thompson that hasn’t been said, examined, ripped off, and monetized that hasn’t been done already?
Hunter S. Thompson was a fearless writer who really started his career in Gonzo before he named it and gave this writing an image, giving the country a profound and dark look into the world of the Hell’s Angels. It was a world that people knew nothing about until Thompson risked his life for an article that turned into a book deal.
This was my first introduction into the world of Gonzo, which I didn’t really know about until I was about thirty-four years old.
I was a walking cliché, a young and starry eyed writer. My first piece I ever published, I was a tender and naive seventeen year old that didn’t know anything about the world. Hell, I was still amused by Pop Rocks and Pepsi.
I derailed my potential career with a thirst for illegal and sometimes dangerous drugs and antics that would make a hooker blush in a brothel. Myself and a gaggle of friends smoked, snorted, and fucked our way through our late teens and into our twenties. We used to ride on top of the cars at warp speeds, we shook people down, drank underage, was shot at during a random drive-by, and the fact that I’m still alive to vaguely tell you all of this, goes to show that there must either be a God or many gods that worked overtime keeping me on this side of death to allow me to fulfill whatever my true destiny was in life.
Fast forward into my thirties, I was working for a national publication geared at college students when Gonzo Today Magazine came knocking on my door to write for them.
The college magazine I worked for was owned by a group of reserved and careful Brits that were scared to publish what American college kids wanted to see; I didn’t subscribe to their 1950’s attitudes towards published works. Luckily for me, my editor Jessie didn’t like it either and stood up for me when they called me brash, too truthful, and a mean spirited American outlaw with perverted morals.
I took that last one as a sick compliment.
Jessie stood up for me and continued to allow me to be me and her instincts proved to be the correct move for her magazine and I.
After Jessie’s fight over a concert I covered that almost got me fired for trashing a venue and their $15 PBR’s and unrelenting treatment of the press, I bagged some winners for the magazine.
It is amazing how nice bosses can be when you are bringing in the numbers for their business. I held three of the six featured spots and a cover story on their print magazine simultaneously. After that they were OH SO NICE.
They completely retracted all gripes about my style and gave into what the college demographic was reading. My interview with Hank Williams III (Hank3), my trashing of The Rockstar Metal Festival, my piece on Exxxotica (the largest porn convention), and more.
I still wasn’t able to stretch to the levels I wanted to reach with the style of writing I was developing. I also didn’t really know what my style was. But I did know that I wasn’t going to have the freedom to explore much further working for a publication that had articles like “Ke$ha is Life” and “The Excellence of Gucci.”
Jessie was a great Editor in Chief. She was kind, understanding, and most of all, she knew her demographic. One night on the phone she and I had a conversation about my writing.
She went on and on about how my style was akin to the 70’s outlaw journalism movement. She compared my nutty ramblings to the rebellious “I don’t give a fuck unless it is honest” attitude of Lester Bangs, who I loved and admired. Then she threw out the name, Hunter S. Thompson and Gonzo. I had no clue what that was and she told me to read Hell’s Angels.
I read the book. One of the fastest reads I have ever had. It was gripping, funny, dark, and most importantly, it was true and honest. It was everything that real Gonzo should be and I was hooked like a flailing Blue Gill.
Thompson’s book about the Hell’s Angels had me laughing at parts like the biker being told by a cop to take his colors off only to reveal a shirt with his colors on it. Then the officer had him take the shirt off to reveal a tattoo of the logo on his chest. Then it got dark. It went into the rape and the beating of Thompson by club members.
Forget Gonzo, this was everything that good JOURNALISM should be. Hell’s Angels was fun, exciting, suspenseful, appalling, and horrific. I was hooked on every single subject and predicate.
I kept writing for Jessie after that and why not; I enjoyed working for her. But… that’s when Gonzo Today collided with my destiny.
I had a long talk with the owner of Gonzo Today, Clayton Luce. It was a phone conversation that felt like two old school friends reconnecting for the first time after a twenty year separation.
It was an hour long chat filled with laughter. We shared our old proverbial war stories, talked about my writing history and experiences, and the future of Gonzo Today becoming a real alternative media webzine with the balls of a thousand Hell Fires tea bagging the face of corrupted America.
My first thought as I hung up my cell phone, “I’m home.”
The first couple of years at Gonzo Today were thrilling. It felt like we were really working towards a common goal, but much like the Hippies in the 60’s, the ride had to come to a disastrous ending. Feelings were hurt, people felt betrayed, and when people aren’t fed, they tend to get mean. Gonzo Today and Ron Whitehead’s proclamation of “One Gonzo Spirit” was broken. Much like the kiss of the Prince that woke Sleeping Beauty up, it was a fairy tale.
What wasn’t a tall tale was the idea of “The Great Magnet.” I’ve never been one to believe in coincidence. It is an absurd idea. The whole lot of us were brought together for a reason.
I am blessed to have met people like Kyle K. Mann, Donnie Casto, and Jaslyn Luce; I felt a pull and a kinship with Doc Higgason, I’ve had great verbal fights with David Pratt (former EIC), and even Clayton Luce. Though we parted on business issues, on a personal level I have nothing but love in my heart. I don’t have time to hate anybody. Business is business and personal is personal.
I have made some of the greatest friends and enemies during my time with Gonzo Today. I have enjoyed talking with the Kentucky Poet, Ron Whitehead as we all held and gazed upon Thompson’s famous cigarette holder on the back porch of Ashley Beth’s flat in Louisville, affectionately named Gonzo House, after the original house that we all stayed in together during our first GonzoFest.
There was the meeting of Juan Thompson, I honestly didn’t get much out of it. I did have a great time laughing and sharing with his then wife, Jennifer Winkel, with whom I’m still Facebook penpals with. And my son got to staple a five dollar bill to one of the freak show workers.
I can’t deny the unique experiences that I’ve had and shared with you readers like getting blackmailed on the internet, and the death threats I received from various white supremacy groups for “Hitler is a Cunt.”
We all worked furiously for the future of Gonzo Journalism, where a lot of people were happy just reminiscing about what Gonzo was. This was the fundamental difference that pulled this “Great Magnet” apart with fervor.
I hadn’t been following Thompson for very long like many of the contributors did at Gonzo Today. I was/am just an outlaw writer looking for a bit more freedom, truth, and a laugh or forty.
I hear this all the time, “I wish Hunter was here. It would be interesting to hear what he would write about today’s politics and Donald Trump.”
A real TRIBUTE to Hunter Stockton Thompson would be to continue and further the genre and trouble-making journalism, instead of sitting on our collective asses smoking dope and wearing shooting glasses when half the people don’t even know how to hold a weapon, let alone shoot it.
That is how you respect the legacy of Gonzo Journalism and the man who brought it to the mainstream.