I encountered Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas at around the same time most people do – in the turbulent and confused years of self-discovery more or less directly after exiting the nest. It is, I think, a widely misunderstood book. Taken purely as a celebration of unhinged debauchery, readers sometimes miss the strong undercurrents of anger and despair that underscore the rampant barbarism of the central characters. The book is a funeral dirge, cataloging the gradual descent of the rosier ideals of 1960s into the gaping and icy maw of practical self-interest. As Thompson saw it, only the bones of mindless self-indulgence were spit out as a patrimony of future generations.
Upon reading Fear and Loathing, I was immediately struck by Thompson’s prose and have been a fan ever since. Over time, I’ve come to see Thompson as something of a tragic figure, a man swallowed by his own compulsion toward self-destruction. Even so, he was a remarkable prose stylist, and I think it a shame that he gave so much of his energy over to other pursuits. As a social and political commentator, he had the stomach to look deeply into the darker side of things and was, in that regard, capable of deploying incomparably well-honed insights. Even as he descended into drug and alcohol induced dissipation, his rare wit and wisdom would sometimes surface, as it did in the hours after the September 11th Terror Attacks.
Anyway, the somewhat belabored point I’m driving at is an introduction to a video from PBS’ Blank on Blank series, featuring an animated accompaniment to a 1967 interview with Hunter S. Thompson concerning his experience with the Hell’s Angels. The Thompson in this interview is refreshingly cogent and introspective, delivering thoughtful commentary on the sociology and psychology of the chronically disenfranchised. Thompson recognized that violent misanthropes and criminals aren’t necessarily pathological individuals, but regular people who have lost all hope for success in the civilized world and have little choice but to eke out a living on the margins of society.
Without further ado, here it is: