Some Notes on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

"We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half-full of cocaine and a whole galaxy of multicolored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers... also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether, and two dozen amyls. But the only thing that worried me was the ether. There is nothing more irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge, and I knew we would be getting into that rotten stuff sooner or later."

With fierce words and fiercer drugs Hunter S. Thompson's 1971 Savage Journey to the Heart of American Dream jerks to a start. Despite the mythical proportions of this collection of narcotics, the story is largely true--Thompson/Duke and his enormous Samoan attorney did trek to the neon oasis of Vegas in search of the Mint 400 and (more importantly) The American Dream. And yes, they rode in a Red Shark filled with every stimulant, depressant, narcotic and hallucinogen known to man, with some cannabis packed in for good measure.

So we have two main themes: copious drugs and The American Dream. We can all relate to the former (if you can't, be sure to indoctrinate yourself around campus). However, the latter is more elusive. What does he mean by "The American Dream"? Where the hell did that idea come from?

Page twelve of our text: "But what was the story? Nobody had bothered to say. So we would have to drum it up on our own. Free Enterprise. The American Dream. Horatio Alger gone mad on drugs in Las Vegas. Do it now: pure Gonzo journalism." In a swirl of highs, lows, paranoias and hallucinationsf the Mint 400 assignment is dropped in favor of a holy mission: to drown oneself in the putrid, violent, carnal paradise that America had become and report back to those who could not or would not sample the water themselves. To gain what? Thompson quotes Dr. Johnson at the book's outset: "He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man."

"Hunter wrote [Fear and Loathing] as if he was a war correspondent. It just happened that the bombardment was a self-bombardment, with drugs, and his brain was the battleground. Rather than going where real guns were being fired and real people were dying, he goes to the heart of America: Vegas."
-- Terry Gilliam

Despite that Thompson always wanted Fear and Loathing to become a film and that the likes of Jack Nicholson and Larry McMurtry were interested in the story, nothing emerged for thirty years. Why? The two chief problems were the book's politics and unfilmability. Both have faded over time. As the '70s gets further away, its excesses seem more distant. And with visual creativity and digital effects even Thompson's drug trips can be shown on the screen. (Though before the Humane Society was in full force, one director proposed this solution for one scene: "We'll just get live alligators, we'll give them some quaaludes, and we'll nail their fucking paws to the bar.")

What more can be said? I leave you with two passages of Thompson and one of Dylan:

"San Francisco in the middle '60s was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run ...but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that comer of time and the world. Whatever it meant."
"And that, I think, was the handle--that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn't need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting--on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark--the place where the wave finally broke and rolled back."

"To dance beneath the diamond sky
With one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea
Circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate
Driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow."

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