“The kitchen was the center of life at Owl Farm and it was the engine room for Hunter’s literary Juggernaut.”

Michael Cleverly & Bob Braudis, The Kitchen Readings

*

Since my teenage years I have idolized Hunter S. Thompson. I have read everything he wrote, and have written about him at every opportunity. It is his words I look to in my darkest moments, his voice that guides me when I am nervous, and it is his symbol – the double-thumbed Gonzo fist – that was my first tattoo, proudly set upon my left forearm.

In 2007 I travelled to Colorado for the first time, chasing the legacy of the Beat Generation. It was hardly lost on me that Colorado was not only a temporary home to the Beats, but the long-time residence of Hunter S. Thompson.

My aim on that particular journey was not just to see the things Kerouac saw, or to drink where Cassady drank, or watch the skies Ginsberg watched. I was invited to a film premiere by Wayne Ewing, Thompson’s video-biographer and long-time friend and neighbour.

Until recently one of my greatest regrets in life was being unable to visit Woody Creek with Wayne. He invited me after the movie but I couldn’t find adequate transportation or funds, and in a moment of panic I took a bus south to Arizona, rather than risk the journey west to the little town Thompson called home.

*

Last month I made my way back to Colorado. This time I made firm plans to visit the Ewing homestead, although it had moved slightly further away from Owl Farm.

Problems in Denver – yes, more travel troubles for this doomed journeyman – caused my bus to roll into Glenwood Springs several hours later than anticipated. Being without a phone I was unable to contact him and thus didn’t know whether or not he would even be waiting for me.

As it turned out, he was. Wayne was standing in the forecourt of a gas station in his favourite Hunter S. Thompson t-shirt, waiting patiently for me

“Glad you made it,” he said. “They said you had a little trouble with the bus. Didn’t realize you’d be this late.”

“Sorry to keep you waiting…”

“No, it’s alright. Actually you’re just in time. Anita just called me…”

Anita Thompson is the widow of Hunter S. Thompson. She married him in 2003 and currently takes care of his legacy from Owl Farm – the home they shared until his suicide in 2005. Her name is well known to most Thompson fans.

He continued, “She’s having a little get together at Owl Farm tonight and said you’re more than welcome to come along.”

I suppressed a little jolt of ecstasy. I muttered something like, “Ok, that sounds cool,” when really I wanted to scream with excitement. I’m generally a pretty sedate guy, but I think that then I could’ve actually danced around if I weren’t so focused on looking calm and collected.

We hopped into Wayne’s big car and took off south towards Woody Creek. Wayne explained that he’d recently moved away from Thompson’s neighbourhood, but that his house was on the way, and that we’d have time to stop in and dump my bags. The “little get together” was scheduled to start in an hour. Wayne also explained that it would be broadcast live on local TV. We were supposed to talk about local politics as part of something called “The Gonzo Foundation.”

*

An hour later we were pulling into the driveway at Owl Farm. We’d stopped at Wayne’s house for longer than expected, and we’d each managed to drink a couple of beers in preparation, and I swallowed a couple of Korean valliums.

Normally when I get nervous I try and phrase my thoughts in the style of Hunter S. Thompson. I try and manipulate my inner voice into some macho, Gonzo narrative. In this case, however, I found myself feeling like a small child as I sat in the car. I waited for Wayne to open his door before I opened mine. I stood small beside the car as I stared dumbly at the little cabin, trying to enjoy myself when in fact I was gripped by an incredible sense of fear. Surely I’d be taken as some silly fan and kicked out in minutes.

Soon, though, I was standing on the porch, awkwardly positioned in the middle of a group of men, as Wayne introduced me – taking care to explain that I was the editor of a magazine and that I’d recently come from Korea, by way of a small plane crash.

I was speechless, though. It was humiliating. For some reason I couldn’t bring myself to answer questions with more than a few cheap words. I grabbed a beer, and then another, and then some wine, hoping to loosen up.

The altitude was killing me. I’d never been that high up in the mountains before. The booze – and a couple of sly joints – kicked my ass. I was reeling after what would normally have had little or no effect. Soon my nerves were dying away, but my head was spinning. I had cottonmouth like never before and I began to lose faith in my thoughts. I began assuming that I’d open my mouth and sound like an idiot, so I stood and tried not to sway too badly.

*

Soon we were inside, and Wayne said, “Hey, why don’t you take a seat down front – it’ll get you the best view.” I was immediately terrified that someone would ask me a question, or that I’d puke on live TV.

Then Anita – who had been absent during the outside banter – appeared with a giant bottle of whiskey. I’d never seen such a bottle in all my years of alcohol abuse. She told everyone a few shots would help us “loosen up,” but I was worried by that point of slipping into unconsciousness.

During the lively debate, everyone spoke but me. The camera kept turning my way to focus on the talkative Wayne, who was hidden behind me. When it did I simply stared dead ahead and tried to look alert.

*

When the debate had ended I needed to pee, and Wayne said the bathroom was through the house. I wandered through, and as it was occupied I was forced to wait… in the kitchen.

Fans of Thompson’s will know that for him the most sacred place on earth was his kitchen. It was where he “held court.” It was where he did his writing, and where he shot himself. I knew his kitchen intimately from his stories and photos and Wayne’s movies. The kitchen, above all else, is what HST fans dream of seeing.

It had been left, I found, as a memorial to him. His typewriter sat in front of his chair; the posters and stickers on the wall. Everything said that he was alive and well and still sitting there, typing silently.

*

By the time I stepped outside into the fresh mountain air – with another bottle of beer – I was feeling far better. The nerves had all but gone, the beer and weed were having no more than the usual effect, and I was feeling talkative. I spoke to George Stranahan (whose Flying Dog beer I was drinking) and Michael Owlsey (the local politician who’d been invited to the debate). I even spoke to Anita for some time – and found her to be a lovely woman. She complemented my Gonzo tattoo (which I’d expected to be a thing of ridicule), and showed me her own version same design.

When Wayne said we had to go for a drink at the Woody Creek Tavern, Anita hugged me and said, “Thanks for coming, David. You’re always welcome at Owl Creek.”

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DAVID WILLS is the managing editor of Beatdom Magazine, and the author of The Dog Farm and Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the 'Weird Cult'. You can learn more about him on his website.

76 responses to “One Gonzo Evening”

  1. The video from the debate was online for a couple of weeks, but sadly it has been taken down.

  2. Joe Daly says:

    Amazing experience. I can’t believe you were able to contain your enthusiasm as well as you described, and I was enormously relieved to see that you got through it without passing out in a flowerbed or crashing through a window.

    I’ve enjoyed HST’s writings, though not nearly as deeply as yourself. I read Fear and Loathing, then Better Than Sex, and finally Hell’s Angels. I totally relate to your comment about wanting to phrase thoughts like he writes- the swagger and passion of his writing seem to celebrate freedom and maleness more than any other author I’ve read.

    Glad you had such a rewarding experience. Rock on, brother.

    • Yeah, one of the guys – I believe – was actually a security guard, as well as a trusted family friend. He obviously eyed me when I walked in because I was the only real stranger among the group. I think my silence also made him wary of me, but after a while he seemed to stop caring.

      I recently wrote a post on my Beatdom blog about writers being overly influenced by their heroes. HST is one of those who is infectious. You just read his work and his style grabs you. Kinda like Kerouac, in a way.

      Personally I always liked The Rum Diary – his sloppiest work in many ways. Just a personal choice. It sinks in well with people who spend their time drinking rum in strange countries, I guess. Of course, if pushed I’d say that his best was probably F&L in Las Vegas.

      Cheers for the kind words.

  3. J.M. Blaine says:

    Hey this was a sweet story
    & I don’t mean that in any
    condescending manner.
    I loved Hunter when I was a kid
    as well & then when he died
    I realized I really hadn’t read much of
    his work. So I read some.
    Well, tried.
    Like Elvis, I liked the notion of Hunter
    & what he symbolized better
    than his actual work.
    Gonzo stood for
    to hell with the regular way
    of doing things,
    live & die on your own terms
    speak truth as you see it
    & never be afraid to
    raise hell
    for all the right reasons.
    That notion still inspires me
    though I don’t often have
    the courage to live it out.

    • Thanks a lot, man. I appreciate the complement.

      I think I’m the opposite in some ways, because I loved HST as a kid, but never fully appreciated his work. When I came back to him after university I realised there was more to him than drugs, drink, madness, guns etc etc. That caught my attention as a teen, but his integrity and style got me when I was actually trying to cut it as a writer.

      His message of “to hell with the regular way” (love those words) is indeed inspiring. I remember when I first arrived in Korea. It was the first time I experienced any real emotion in months. I was overcome with fear – that same sense of being a little helpless child – and I spoke to myself in some faux Gonzo manner. It really gave me the strength to get off the plane and wander across the country alone.

      It’s strange how much courage we can gain from literature.

  4. Justin says:

    What an incredible opportunity, David! I suppose it’s a bit like Graceland to Elvis fans, eh? The kitchen! How lucky! Did you snoop around?

    I’ve always found Thompson to be a good read. In writing, people talk a lot about “voice” and when I read his work, I understood the importance of a strong, unique voice. I’d be lying if I said I had never stumbled through a casino and thought to myself, “Good god man, look at that bunch over there!” when presented with a bachelorette party wearing penis-hats. But I digress. More than the Gonzo voice, I think what I took away from his writing (from what I’ve read) is the ability to approach a situation as a journalist when filled with fear.

    Great story! Thanks for sharing.

    • Yeah, it was a real treat. I didn’t want to ramble too much about my lack of expectations and whatnot, but I really was expecting – at most – to drive by the front of the property and maybe just glimpse the house. That would have been enough. I’d carry that memory to my grave… But getting inside – and being invited, no less – humbled me to the point where I could hardly believe it.

      He really had a unique voice. Again, I’m mention a great debate we had at the Beatdom blog where people mentioned trying to write after reading HST. It’s tough because his voice is so damned unique. So many people think they can pay tribute to him, but it’s hard to do without sounding like a dumb kid. I’ve fallen into that trap myself several times.

      I went to a casino last month (after the Owl Farm visit) and I just remember the carpet and the lights and thinking, “Ye gods!” and expecting to see lizards.

      I agree with you about approaching the story as a journalist. That’s why I loved him even when I outgrew the “Wow! Drugs!” phase. He really was a pro. Even his most wild prose was well crafted.

      Also, I noticed your like – you’re living in Taiwan, eh? I’m heading there myself in two weeks. It’s a beautiful country, from what I’ve seen.

      • Goddamnit, how do I fix that?

      • Justin says:

        Good points, David. There’s definitely the tendency to emulate those you admire. Everyone is probably guilty of it at some point in their writing, even Thompson. I liked one of the points from the debate where you said that reading too much Thompson will have you writing and speaking like him. So true.

        There’s a reason that kids dress up like Duke and run around with fly swatters on Halloween and if you trace it back past Johnny Depp you find it’s the voice. Of course, a lot of these kids have never even read the book, but that’s a discussion for another day. You could argue that it was so powerful that even Thompson himself had trouble recreating it later in his life (I would cite The Curse of Lono).

        Anyway, I’m with you on The Rum Diary. Maybe it’s just the expat in me, but that book has a special place in my heart for a variety of reasons. Which brings me to Taiwan! I’m actually stateside regrouping at the moment, but I lived there for two years and may head back. It’s incredible. That country is my second home. Good people, good (some strange) food, beautiful scenery. You’ll love it, I’m sure. How long will you be there? If you have any questions I can try to help. Man, I’m excited for you. Now I want a return ticket.

        • Ah, the Halloween kids… I never judge even though I haven’t (yet) done the Raoul Duke costume thing. It’s a bit of fun. It’s sad, though, when you see writers imitate him, unless they’re teenagers. Thompson used to type out Hemingway and Fitzgerald novels as a kid, but in the end he obviously found his own unique voice, and I don’t think he ever tried to publish something derivative.

          The Rum Diary just strikes a chord in me. It makes me feel a weird bond with other travellers. It’s such a weirdly brilliant book. Certainly it reminded me of Korea. In fact, I told a good friend about that very fact and he came out to Korea because of the book.

          I’ll be in Taiwan probably for about a year. My girlfriend and our cats are coming over in November, and I’m excited as hell. I visited Taipei last year and honestly, although I hate cities, it was the coolest city I’ve ever seen. I’ll be staying in the south of the country, though. I hear it’s quieter down there. I’ve just started learning Chinese…

        • Justin says:

          You’re right, I shouldn’t judge. Just haven’t seen one willing to shave his head for it, haha.

          The south is nice. I road tripped up and down the length of the island, but haven’t had a chance to check out the cities down that way, so I can’t speak to their quietness. I know I experienced some of the most heinous noise pollution known to man in the north.

          Sounds like you’re all set, good luck & enjoy! I’ll give you the old “ni hao” if I’m back in the country. Cheers!

        • Oh god, you just reminded me. A few years ago I was reading about his run for sheriff and I shaved my head as he did. Obviously I didn’t go for the George Costanza thing he had going in later years, rather the full on head shave that he had so he could insult the buzz-cut incumbent as a “damn longhair.”

          Oh jesus, I didn’t know about the noise pollution… Could it be worse than Korea? God, I hope not. I’m sure the south is nice. I have a couple of buddies there who seem very happy.

  5. Brin Friesen says:

    This is such a sweet story, David. Anita sounds like a real sweetheart as well.

  6. Matt says:

    It’s always a risk approaching the orbit of your idols, even if you don’t make contact directly. There’s the worry that you’ll disappoint them, of course…and then the even bigger – and often unarticulated – fear that they’ll turn out to be a disappointment to you. Glad to hear you evidently dodged the bullet on both counts.

    HST is one of those authors whose work I keep meaning to read but haven’t quite gotten around to yet. I’ve read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but that’s about it. Imagine I’ll have to rectify that soon.

    • I think HST would’ve found me repulsive and I don’t mean that as a self-deprecating comment. I sincerely think we’re such different people that he would have taken a bit of a disliking to me. He didn’t like quiet people much, and I’m nothing if not quiet. And he didn’t like sloppy drunks. I’m most certainly a sloppy drunk. I think I would’ve had trouble dealing with him, too. I don’t deal well with aggressive people, to be honest. Not a lot of patience for them, even if they’re brilliant geniuses.

      Getting into his house, though, was a truly fantastic experience. I didn’t want to overstate it in the story, but it really was a significant point in my life.

      F&L in Las Vegas is great, but some of his shorter works are awesome, too. Before “Gonzo” he really was a fantastic straight journalist. His National Observer stuff (not well known and hard to find) is excellent. Hell’s Angels is on the straight/Gonzo cusp. Really great writing. As I mentioned above, the Rum Diary is my favourite for personal reasons, although obviously not his finest work.

  7. […] Hunter S. Thompson’s House I have a new piece up at The Nervous Breakdown about my recent trip to Hunter S. Thompson’s […]

  8. […] David S. Wills at Hunter S. Thompson’s house […]

  9. yes, nice story, although i knew what was going to happen since you had told me the story.
    good to hear that amy and catz will be joining you soon. emmy’s uncle lived in taiwan for awhile after he left japan and he liked it a lot.
    the mention of noise polution brings to mind that i was watching the asian news on tv and they were showing the air pollution in hong kong and it was incredible! i didn’t know there were still places that were so polluted. in the US one summer in the 60s, something like 10-20 people literally died from the air pollution in nyc in a week, so the country was forced to deal with it.
    anyway, how do you plan to travel to taiwan? is there any mode you have not decimated yet?

    • Haha, I’ll take my chances with another flight. Those valliums and a couple Newcastles left me fucked up enough that I honestly don’t remember a jot of my flight from NYC to Dublin. I barely remember JFK airport. If I’d crashed into the Atlantic I wouldn’t have cared.

      Asia has some awful pollution. Seoul was bad, but not as bad as it used to be. I guess there are different laws. In fact, Beijing was awful, except that most of my stay there it was windy enough that it didn’t bother me. I honestly never noticed any pollution in Taipei. It was as close to paradise as any city I’ve yet encountered.

      Hopefully Amy will join me there in October for a weekend, and then November for a year.

  10. Zara Potts says:

    See now, this is the reverse side of your crazy situation magnet!
    On one hand -near plane crashes and awful transport woes – on the other hand – a visit to Owl Creek!
    This is so nice. Such a great experience and one so meaningful for you – I can’t imagine how excited you must have been.
    I’m glad that good things happen to you, David!
    Were you tempted to touch things? I would have been…

    • Thank you, Zara. Yes, I got lucky. I always try to acknowledge the fact that I’m lucky. My trip across America was fraught with misfortune… but at the same time I was always thrown into situations where awful things should have happened but didn’t. It’s the same with the plane crash – I should’ve been killed but wasn’t.

      It really was a wonderful experience. Not life changing, necessarily, but certainly one that I’ll never forget.

      I didn’t really touch anything. I was just overwhelmed by seeing it all. It was hard for me to write, too. I felt like I’d be doing him and the house an awful injustice by putting it into words. My memory is never something to be relied upon and I didn’t want to describe the kitchen wrongly.

  11. You’re a celebrity, David. When I spoke to you on the phone I knew it. And you probably think I’m kidding. But you’re the king of Beat and now a man in Gonzo’s kitchen?

    Dude. I salute you, good sir. This was an awesome read.

    I once peed in a toilet Ginsberg once peed in. That’s all I got other than knowing someone who knows Carolyn Cassady really well.

    • Thanks, Nick. I started Beatdom a couple of years ago and ever since I’ve been living the life of free books, invitations to awesome events, and interviews with great writers. It was quite simply the biggest lucky break I could have ever imagined.

      The kitchen was always such an incredible thing in my mind. I wanted to throw comparisons into this story – like it was to me what heaven is to most people etc etc. But that’s not really necessary. Everyone has somewhere they desperately want to go for their own reasons and comparisons do nothing but injustice.

      Where was Ginsberg’s toilet? Who was Carolyn’s friend? (She’s someone I talked to but she declined to be interviewed, sadly. Seemed like a lovely woman, though.)

    • City Lights Bookstore. The toilet not for public use.

      And my editor wrote “Women of the Beat Generation.”

  12. There was a period, say from age 15-20, that visiting Owl Farm to pet the peacocks would have been my most deeply wished-for experience. Even long after HST’s death, it sounds like a thing still worth doing. I too think Rum Diaries is highly underrated, although Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 is probably my favorite of all, one I’ve read, easily, ten times. I lived in San Francisco in the early ’90’s when HST was not only had a weekly column in the SF Examiner, but was also “night manager” at the O’Farrell Brother’s theater, a famed house of debauchery. I never did catch him lingering out front, a Marlboro 100 jammed into his ebony cig holder, swilling a bottle of Ballentine Ale, but always hoped that I might. And, finally, when I used to do a fanzine, I regularly got letters from “Hunter Thompson” extolling my work, but I knew it was some asshole fraud hitting me where it really hurt. Anyway, nice piece David.

    • You know, just now you mentioned the peacocks… I wonder where they were. I don’t remember seeing or hearing a single bird. There were lots of cats and dogs, though. I saw them when I was a bit drunk so it slipped my mind.

      The Campaign Trail ’72 is such a classic. I can’t say I’ve read it ten times, but certainly three or four. It’s just a brilliantly odd piece of journalism. I love reading stuff that he wrote around that period – letters and such. He was a great journalist.

      The O’Farrell theatre sounds like quite a place… One of my buddies in California used to get “dragged” along there by his friends. He never saw HST either. I guess everyone was keeping an eye for him.

      That’s a shame if someone was screwing around with you, pretending to be HST. Did you ever keep the letters? Was there even a chance they weren’t fake?

      • I always thought the peacocks were supposed to be hallucinatory, but I guess he really did have a few…the O’Farrell is a true madhouse. Or, at least it was back then. It’s like the Disneyworld of stripping. I’m sure your buddy lead the charge in the front door. “Dragged?” Unlikely, if only because it’s $60 or something to get in.

        I think the HST letters have a 1.5% chance of having been real. Actually, they were emails. Someone went to the (admittedly slight) effort to create a HunterSThompson screen name to send me the things. I have one friend I’m fairly convinced is responsible, but even all these years later, he won’t fess to it. So, who knows?

        • Yeah, the peacocks were pretty special to him. He had a strange affinity for those animals. I never cared for them. They look cool but they’re noisy, weird animals. I was at a zoo in Korea (the most evil places in the world are Asian zoos…) and I saw a peacock gang rape. Nasty business.

          I don’t believe Thompson ever used e-mail. He hated computers. Even the day he died he was still using a typewriter, although presumably someone typed out his work and e-mailed it from time to time.

  13. […] Farm I recently wrote a little story about my trip to Owl Farm over the Nervous Breakdown: The Nervous Breakdown __________________ For a free Beat Generation/ Gonzo magazine, visit http://www.beatdom.com For […]

  14. Hi David,

    It was great to hear you talk about this and it’s so nice to read all that we spoke about expanded. I loved this. The phrase that comes to mind is “What a trip!”.

  15. Judy Prince says:

    David, I’m totally ignorant about Hunter Thompson, and not likely to read anything he’s written. Personal preference, only, no reflection on your fanhood for him.

    Just wanted to say I think you’ll like Taiwan, and yes the southern part is quieter. So much of the island is incredibly beautiful and the people eager to help and friendly. Hope you and your girlfriend and cats get together happily and soon! Be well, enjoy yourself.

    • Obviously I love Hunter S. Thompson but I still completely understand people not liking his work. It’s absolutely a matter of personal taste, like you said.

      Taiwan looks amazing. I saw Taipei and Wulai when I was there, but my friends claim that the best part is the south. I hope that it is quieter, although Taipei was amazing as far as cities go. Probably my favourite city in the world. Thanks for the kind wishes! I’ll no doubt keep you guys updated!

      • Judy Prince says:

        Just a quick bit, David: I haven’t read any of Thompson’s works, so it’s ignorance, not an informed judgement, on my part.

        And a last bit: I think you’ll have a great, meaning-filled and fun time in Taiwan, no matter which parts of it you explore and inhabit. Lucky you!

        • Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that he wasn’t your cup of tea, necessarily. I guess I presumed that maybe you knew a little about him and weren’t particularly interested. Sorry. My mistake.

          Actually, I believe on an earlier post of mine we discussed writers who boast about or predominantly feature drinking and drug use in their work. I believe you said that it’s immature. Maybe that’s what made me think that….

          I honestly can’t wait for Taiwan. I’m really excited about it. I spent ages trying to get a job in China or Japan. The jobs there were better, but as soon as I thought about Taiwan I couldn’t stop thinking of beaches and mountains and whatnot. I’d rather have a crappy job and be surrounded by a wonderful country. Not that China and Japan aren’t great… Just Taiwan seems more fun.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Hey, hang on, David—-I insist upon out-apologising you! 😉

          I knew nothing about Thompson until this post of yours, and yes, I do think excessive drink and drugs are stoopid (and I’ve certainly had my share of that stoopid behaviour). My lately thought is that folks get drunk or drugged in order to gain blessed relaxation in this world of excitability, confusion, frustration and violence. Further, I find that especially sensitive folks need that calming down but most folks, sensitive or not, don’t know how to get it other than with drink or drugs. Calming oneself down is a fascinating art and skill. And it requires doing every day, often lots of times during the day and night. But it’s worth worlds and immediately effective, practically helpful, and joyful.

          Yes, you put your finger on something about Taiwan. It’s beautiful in many places (beaches, gorgeous green mountains), and the people, for the most part, are just wonderful. I always felt blessed and grateful for the friends I made in Taiwan, even the one-time acquaintances. The nuttiest and weirdest folks I met there were Westerners (me included!). HA! But somehow the Taiwaners must’ve allowed for us Westerners’ nutty behaviour.

          OH—–so glad you’re learning Mandarin! It’s absolutely beautiful. For selfish reasons as well as wanting to know how you’re getting on there, I’ll want to hear what you are experiencing, to recapture what I saw and experienced years ago.

          The divide between those who resided on the island when the Mainlanders came and fought their way in, taking over the island’s political power and structure, is probably still evident, and it’s a complex situation. I’ll be eager to hear from you what’s going on politically nationally as well as in the local places.

        • Intoxication is certainly an effective – albeit very temporary – escape from what can be the crushing weight of reality. It can also be an interesting literary device. My personal experiences in life have left me fascinated by the art of intoxication – that is to say the way a writer or painter or musician describes the experience of being fucked up. I’ve tried myself to write that, but unfortunately Thompson’s influence on me was too great – I can’t really write about being wasted without sounded like him, and I really dislike reading faux Gonzo writing…

          I’ll make sure to let you know where I am in Taiwan. You – along with the rest of the TNB troupe – are more than welcome to come visit.

          Mandarin is a such an alien sounding language to me, but absolutely beautiful. It’s weird – I’m from St. Andrews, which used to be the whitest, Scottishest place on earth, but now it’s full of Chinese people! I swear about 20% of the people on the street these days are Chinese. I’m probably in the best place in Britain for getting Mandarin lessons!

          I’ll keep you updated about Taiwan. I really don’t know much about it, but as always I’m eager to learn. My last visit was so brief (5 days) that I just flew around and left without taking it all in. This time I want to learn the language, meet the people, know the history… Everything!

  16. Judy Prince says:

    I might have to take a trip up to St Andrews, David, so I can get great Chinese language practice! Who’d’ve thought?!

    I totally am impressed by your reverence for Thompson’s writing—-not wanting to be a faux-Gonzo writer yourself, for example. It might even persuade me to read a bit of his stuff. What would you recommend that’s a small piece of his work that won’t freak me out? P’raps something online.

    Re Taiwan, and Taipei in particular, there’s a great old movie that is set in the 1950s or so which complete nails the landscape, city, homes, people and feeling of the places at that time which were still present when I first went there in the late 1960s. Haven’t seen the DVD in years, will hunt it down for you. Maybe Lovefilm.com has it to rent. Can’t remember the title, but would recognise it.

    • Most of his writing is a bit freaky – at least the popular stuff. He became famous for “Gonzo” – which is the style he developed in the late 60s. Before that he was a weird-edged straight journalist. Some might argue that he was too good for straight journalism, like Picasso was too good to simply draw things like photos. He came to the conclusion that fiction could be used to convey fact the best, because objectivity doesn’t exist – when people claim to be “reporting” they are infect always offering a skewed, biased opinion. Hence, he offered the most skewed and biased opinions as journalism, believing that coming clean about it made him more honest.

      His most famous works are the mad ones – the Fear and Loathings and the Kentucky Derby piece. In fact, the Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved is the first true Gonzo work, and is available online: http://www.kentuckyderby.info/kentuckyderby-party.php. His earlier writings are harder to come by, but a bit more accessible. One thing to bear in mind is that whilst Hunter largely claimed to be a drug freak in his writing (and he was) he usually wrote with a relatively clear mind. Even his most chaotic-seeming works were structured that way.

      Let me know about that Taiwan movie – I want to learn everything about Taiwan!

      • Judy Prince says:

        Thanks for the link to Thompson’s Kentucky Derby piece, David. I’ll give it a good read and let you know what I think.

        Here’s a link to a brief Time Out London review of director Hou Xiao Xien’s _City of Sadness_ film (1989) about a family in Taiwan just after the Japanese gave it up to the Chinese and it was taken by the Nationalists, Chiang Kai Shr and company from the Mainland: http://www.timeout.com/film/reviews/69322/a_city_of_sadness.html

        It isn’t available at Lovefilm.com, and its description doesn’t quite fit with what I remember of the film. However, its title felt true to what I’d remembered.

        Dzai jyan! (pronounced “Dz’eye jyen”) It means goodbye, literally, “at again.”

        • Sounds fascinating, Judy. I’ll have to see if I can find it one of these days. Maybe that’ll be easier when I’m in Taiwan.

          Hope you like the Derby piece.

          Dzai jyan! (It’s weird but I was just learning Mandarin greetings when I got the Gmail pop-up saying you’d commented.)

        • Judy Prince says:

          Definitely easier to get when you’re in Taiwan, David.

          What greetings were you studying?

  17. I was just going through a couple of learning Chinese books and tapes. Right now I barely know anything so I was doing the basics – hello, goodbye, my name is… etc etc. I’m trying to put in about an hour a day. I just wonder how long I’ll stay interested enough,

  18. D.R. Haney says:

    I hope, David, that you’ll take Anita up on her open welcome. Meanwhile, your story beats any I might have in a similar vein by not just one city block but all the blocks in Manhattan. For instance, speaking of Manhattan, I once stood outside the building where Kerouac wrote On the Road. See what I mean?

    • I think that what Anita said was a really nice thing to say, and I don’t doubt her sincerity. However, as the quiet guest who spoke to her for maybe ten minutes at the end of the party, I believe it’s highly unlikely that she’ll remember me next time I’m in Colorado. Which sounds depressing… but it’s not. It was an honour just to be there and to have that experience to always remember.

      That’s cool about the Kerouac building. I pretty much did the same kind of thing in San Francisco and Denver. I found the places the Beats had lived or written or drank and either went in or stood outside. It’s a strange thing… I’m not the sort of guy who’s attracted to celebrity. If I had a living hero I’d probably never consider meeting him/her, but once they’re long dead it’s a compelling urge just to see where they once were.

      Unfortunately I’ve never truly experienced Manhattan. I have a few photos of me passing through, but I was a little tipsy and can’t recall actually being there. Then again, it’s never appealed to me – I avoid cities as much as possible. I think the ghosts of writers attract me more than real living people.

  19. Simon Smithson says:

    Oh, man, that’s so cool. That you went there and did that… good work, sir. Good work.

    Also, I’m never traveling with you ever.

    But still!

    It remains good work.

  20. Erika Rae says:

    I love that this experience was so impromptu. And the fact that we got to see you on its heels. Beautiful, that.

    • Yes, sometimes the best experiences are the ones life just throws you; the random awesome things you don’t dare expect or hope. And combine this with an awesome time in Boulder, I must now move Colorado way up to the top of my list of favourite places.

  21. David Breithaupt says:

    Next, you must go to Acosta’s house, wherever that may have been and your journey will be complete. That will complete the Gonzo cycle and you will morph into a new life form. Get on it.

    Loved your piece. What a dream come true. Take me next time.

    • Haha, even a ballsy young Hunter was scared to go into Acosta’s territory. That would be a terrifying experience. But yes, it would certainly be the completion of a wonderful Gonzo cycle. I said I would go to Las Vegas with Slade Ham next year. I intend to rent a big Red Shark and get my hands on some ether…

      Thanks for the kind words.

  22. I always liked a description I once read of Thompson from someone who met him in a bar and watched as he not only grabbed the attention of everyone there but, once he’d left, had everyone acting like him. Not sure where I read that. Maybe that was his own account.

    But it takes a unique force of nature to have that effect on people, both in person and through one’s writing. I’ve passed periods where I’ve made half attempts at adopting his persona. I’d like to think, for instance, that I could one day follow his instructions for what to do when being pulled over by the cops (from the passage where he’s leaving the city in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas).

    Anyway, I enjoyed reading this piece, no doubt I would have had a similar reaction.

    • That sounds like a familiar story. It’s not hard to believe, either. I think he seemed to have an infectious personality, as well as writing style. I’d love to see a roomful of people trying not not act like him… but ultimately failing and picking up his unique mannerisms.

      Apparently Johnny Depp was bad for lapsing into HST-isms even years after studying him. Sometimes, I think, he did it on purpose to fuck with HST, but sometimes I think it was accidental.

      It would be nice to have his cool response to law.

      Two stories grabbed me in his reaction to the pigs: Firstly was the famous story of him being pulled over for drink driving. He had taken a lot of mescaline and failed every test the cop had. However, HST said, “I bet I can flip these sunglasses off my head and catch them behind my back with one hand.” And, legend goes, he managed it.

      The other was the flip side. In Brazil he was arrested for shooting rats. He talked his way out of trouble… but then when he reclined in self-satisfaction, a dozen bullets fell out of his pocket. Busted.

  23. Brian Eckert says:

    Great story, and well told. I’d imagine it would be a bit nerve-wracking to hold court in HST’s house. I think I’d want some time alone there, to decompress and take it all in, before I was expected to engage in any sort of intelligent conversation.

    Yeah, the altitude is a killer, huh? When I first moved to Denver I drank a few beers, maybe 5 or 6, and felt totally shitfaced.

    I’m glad for you that you had such an interesting experience.

    • I really didn’t expect the altitude to have an effect. I’d been to Denver before and never noticed it, although admittedly I never got drunk in Denver. I mean I’m not a heavyweight when it comes to booze. Sometimes I can get drunk off of a little beer, but that was ridiculous! I never expected it.

      I wish I’d been a little more outgoing or intelligent. Then again, my whole American trip was just me being inarticulate. I was travelling so much I could barely keep my eyes open or string a sentence together.

  24. Irene Zion says:

    David,

    Where are you now?
    (Or is it a secret?)

    • I suppose it was a secret, but I get bored of secrets, so the hell with it… I’m in Scotland, back at my parents’ house. In two weeks or so I’m moving to Taiwan.

      • Judy Prince says:

        David, I’m glad you’re back home, even if only for a bit.

        • Thanks, it was two and a half years I was away, but I’m enjoying this brief return.

        • Judy Prince says:

          That’s a long time to be gone from one’s home (and homeland), David.

          I’ll bet your parents are very happy to have you with them again, if ever so briefly.

          Does anything seem to’ve changed in your town? Any new flashes of insight that you hadn’t seen before?

        • Yes, it’s been nice being back. We’ve spent our few weeks together going for walks and whatnot.

          Not a lot has changed in St. Andrews – it never does. We still have the same city walls as we had back in Jesus’ day. Unfortunately I no longer really know any people around here… Everyone moved off to Glasgow at some point. I’ve been back in Dundee a couple of times and it’s amazing how little changes. Get drunk, wake up on a strange sofa. There aren’t many jobs around and a lot of businesses have closed, though. It’s a tad depressing, but then again I drove through Michigan, so my acceptance level for that kind of thing has been raised.

          I think I put to the death any real possibility of permanent return, although that was never really likely. I have, however, gotten over many of my negative feelings towards the area. I’ve forgiven Dundee and gotten ready to move on, I feel…

        • Judy Prince says:

          Wish I could see St Andrews, David. I’ve only been in Glasgow. Why did your friends move to Glasgow rather than, say, Edinburgh (for jobs, I imagine)?

          I was born and raised in Michigan; haven’t been back for 5 years, so I would be shocked at the unemployment and its attendant probs, I’m sure.

          Yes, there is that kind of acceptance of one’s native town that eventually descends on the psyche, and usually it comes more quickly for those who’ve travelled. For many USAmericans who don’t get outside the USA, the military service gives them (in peace times) a super-poignant take on foreign places. They always seem better grounded when they return, as if their hometown is now a remembered friend, warts and all, and it can be appreciated for some of its ways and beauties.

          I’m about to be a permanent resident of the UK, going back to my native USA only briefly each year. It has caused me to think about what it means to “abandon” one’s native places and people. I do love England (and Glasgow), so it’s not like someone’s holding a gun to my head to be here. However, folding so many years of my past into a neat little trunk seems impossible for me to imagine now.

          I know you love to travel, yet do you get a kind of urge for more permanence? I have never ever regretted moving from place to place and sometimes think it’s an inner desire stronger than the urge for “permanence.” Beauty is what I mainly crave, and all I have to do here is look at the sky for that. Nothing like it in the USA, despite its own vastness.

        • St. Andrews is a wonderful little town, but you need a million pounds or so to live there. Hell, even a beer requires a mortgage. It’s extortionate, but lovely.

          Michigan was great. My girlfriend is from Holland and I went to her parents house on my travels across America. It was so sad, though, to drive past hundreds of boarded-up shops, abandoned car parks… Even Starbucks were closed down. It was awful.

          I didn’t realise you were about to become one of us! It’s great that you’ve found somewhere you love. Don’t think of leaving America, think of settling in Britain. You can still go back whenever you want. It’s a small world these days.

          When I was a child I had dozens of maps and atlases and always look to the rest of the world. No doubt I will settle, but I think I’ll be uncomfortable when I do. I look at places and think, “Imagine having a house there!” and then realise that after even six months I’d have itchy feet. I am, like Ginsberg, a citizen of the world.

          Today I was watching Bear Grylles (I have a serious guy-crush on Bear Grylles) and decided I want to live in Alaska for a year or two. I hate the cold, though, but I love the scenery. And bears. I’ve always wanted to meet a bear.

          I think my perception of home and moving is different to most. People talk about home like a fixed place. Home for me is where I am, even if that’s only for a couple of weeks, and where I grew up is just that: a part of the past. My parents will always be my parents and I’ll go see them, but where they are isn’t somewhere I’ve looked to as having some sort of mystical or spiritual connection; it’s just a place, a part of the world tied in memory.

          Anyway, Michigan was fantastic in some ways… The eagles were awesome! I’d never seen such birds!

        • Judy Prince says:

          David, I just watched the vid of Bear Grylles paramotoring over Mt. Everest—-FANTASTIC photos, awesome obstacles and courage! Here’s the link for it: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/bear-grylls/4od#2929238

          Holland Michigan—-the beautiful mini-Netherlands with tulips everywhere (my fave’s the tulip trees). Hey, I think Norfolk, VA, has eagles, one which used to sit atop a tall downtown building, prolly posing for the clicking cameras of townfolk and visitors.

          I think you’re right about home being where you are. And with someone your heart holds dear.

          Now I’m eager to get to St Andrews. Rodent knows Graham Hall who teaches English at St Andrews University, but he may’ve retired by now.

        • I don’t know Graham Hall, unless he ever taught at Dundee (the two unis are strongly linked). You should definitely make a trip up this way – St. Andrews is fantastic.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Rodent says Anne Stevenson was the first writer in residence at Dundee (in the mid-70s, he thinks). Rodent and Anne were in Philip Hobsbaum’s writers group at U of Glasgow in the 70s. Anne was a contemporary of Sylvia Plath and wrote a biography of her. The day after Rodent’s and my wedding (27 November 2010), Anne’s giving a poetry reading at Newcastle University, so she must be doing fairly well considering her age. We’ll miss the reading due to family being with us and such.

        • She must be getting quite old these days, but it seems she’s still active. I honestly don’t know much more about her than what I just read on Google.

      • Irene Zion says:

        @David,

        Have you got really itchy feet?

  25. Gloria says:

    “I began assuming that I’d open my mouth and sound like an idiot, so I stood and tried not to sway too badly.” Well, at least you had the good sense not to open your mouth. If only I could practice this policy more often when I’m in that state.

    This story, at the end, made me tear up a bit. Lovely. 🙂

    • I’ve learned through experience to keep my mouth shut unless confident that my opinion can’t be take as idiotic or offensive. Sometimes, though, being silent is taken as the same thing as talking bullshit.

      Thanks for the kind words.

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