“He Was Determined to Make Himself into a Character.” David S. Willis on the Gonzo Journalism of Hunter S. Thompson
In Conversation with Brad Listi on Otherppl
David S. Wills is the guest. His new book, High White Notes: The Rise and Fall of Gonzo Journalism, is out now from Beatdom Books.
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From the episode:
David S. Wills: When you speak to his friends, his family, anyone who knew him, they seem to be speaking about two distinct people. You’ve got the very intelligent, eloquent, and endlessly hardworking writer against just this awful, petulant, childish, bullying, sadist version of himself. So I think there were two distinct sides to Hunter.
But then, as you mention, I think he viewed himself as this character that he knew would be his literary focus one day, even before he was a writer. And he was determined to make himself into a character that people would want to read about. He studied outlaws. He actually had books about outlaws and made notes on how to be one so that he could he could play that role. And from the very beginning of his writing career, you can see him trying to push himself into the narrative. Whatever he was writing about, even if it had no call for a random outlaw journalist to appear, he was seeing what could he get away with.
And of course, when he suddenly shot to fame in 1970, it was natural he was going to push himself more and more into that role. I think if you’ve got a bit of an ego and it starts to get fed from all these people hero-worshiping you, then it’s going to become worse and worse.
Speaking of which, you mentioned my my criticism of his work. He’s always been the closest thing I have to a literary hero. I really do love his best work. But I was trying to be as objective as possible.
David S. Wills is the author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the ‘Weird Cult’ and World Citizen: Allen Ginsberg as Traveller. He is the editor of Beatdom literary journal and lives in rural Cambodia.