Books: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter S. Thompson (1972)

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by Mark Saleski

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.

During the late 1970’s, my hormone-addled adolescent brain held a few things dear: my girlfriend, my Ted Nugent, Black Sabbath and Kiss records and my copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

The funny and/or ironic thing about the Fear and Loathing book is that I had absolutely no experience with the drug thing beyond the pot smoke infusion my clothes would get while attending rock concerts. That didn’t seem to matter. I was attracted to Thompson’s high-inertia style of storytelling. Way beyond what a ‘normal’ person would consider out-of-control, our Gonzo journalist had the ability to get right to the essence of a situation while simultaneously blowing it to smithereens.

Fear and Loathing mixed in nicely with the other stuff in my rock stewpot: Rolling Stone and Creem. Looking back, I can see how all of that material pushed me toward writing. There was just so much kinetic energy and passion in what Thompson and Lester Bangs did. I was in awe.

Did it matter that much of the subject matter was twisted through a drug prism? Pterodactyls, blood and a Samoan attorney (from Fear and Loathing), Ed Muskie’s “whistlestop” nightmare train during 1972 presidential campaign (Fear and Loathing: On The Campaign Trail), the outlaw misfits (Hell’s Angels) … all of these tales crystallized into a funny and frightening view of America’s underbelly — or at least the underbelly dragged through Thompson’s quivering brain cells.

Somewhere between those years when this stuff gripped my entire existence, I got lost. College happened (Engineering? What the hell was I thinking? Computers science paid off, but never shook me to the core the way some of those pages did.) Marriage did shake me … for good and for bad.

And then I stumbled across Kerouac’s On The Road (this was more like: “On The Road smacked me upside the head”) and those dreamy thoughts of being a writer, long gone dormant and covered up under a layer of life dust, made themselves known again. I was compelled to drag out my old copy of Fear and Loathing (with the paper all crinkly because of a ‘beer accident’ on a camping trip) … and then some Lester Bangs … and then more Hunter (The Great Shark Hunt.) The ‘life dust’ was blown away, allowing me to write stuff that had been stored up for decades.

I can’t say that I owe it all to Hunter S. Thompson, but he was definitely one huge influence on how I view things. That, and he was one cranky bastard.

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