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Hunter S. Thompson at NYU

2005 Mick Cusimano

In 1994 at the Beat Generation Conference in NY City Saturday's capacity crowd pressed forward like a pack of hungry wolves. Smoke filled the air and dogs barked in the alley. The mood at the N.Y.U. auditorium resembled the start of a rattlesnake hunt. Hunter S. Thompson, legendary Gonzo Journalist, took the stage. Thompson started by talking about his Beat connections. He leaned over and asked Allen Ginsberg, sitting in the front row of this conference, "Allen, do you remember the night we met in Boulder? We were partying heavily and I decided to walk on water when I fell into that damn swimming pool you didn't even notice." He continued, "The Hell's Angels were coming down to beat up a group of Berkeley Free Speech protesters and Allen intervened to talk them out of it. Those were the days." Thompson continued, "Back in the sixties, if you didn't get tear-gassed at least once a week there was something wrong. You felt guilty that you weren't doing your job."

Thompson recalled how he first met Ed Sanders of The Fugs ."Ed was hiding out from a cult known as The Process. When he saw me coming up the driveway, he thought I was one of their hit-men sent to get him." Ed Sanders gave his philosophy. "I was inspired by the Allen Ginsberg poem, America. We were part of a non-violent revolution. We were out to use all the freedoms provided by the U.S. Constitution. During the civil rights marches they called us Beatniks. I loved it when they called us that name. This was soon after Sputnik and they were convinced that any group with a "nik" at the end of it was some kind of Communist." Thompson recalled the Nixon era, confessing, "In a way I miss the bastard. He was a real humdinger." He added, "But I should be kind of grateful to him. He paid for my house." Thompson reminisced fondly about lunch time target practice at William Burroughs' house. The floor was open to questions. One person asked, "Is blasting away with high powered weapons counter-productive to a spiritual quest?" Thompson replied, "William Burroughs, like many Southerners is a gun freak." Sanders, the Ex-Fug, added, "Yes, it's possible to have a spiritual life and own a gun......quipping, "Zen and the Art of the .44."

The final questioner asked, "If The Beats stood for freedom of expression, why do you make a big deal about Garry Trudeau's Uncle Duke character in Doonesbury?" Hunter's reply, "It's a savage hideous caricature. It's copyright infringement. I'm stuck being this weird cartoon character for the next 20 years." The questioner followed with, "But weren't your descriptions of Nixon and Edmund Muskie hideous caricatures?" Hunter responded, "This is a rough league we're in."

A year later at a cartoonist conference at Ohio State Garry Trudeau of Doonesbury was asked to respond to Thompson objection to this caricature. Trudeau replied that that was really the way Thompson was back then.

Thompson's books are still entertaining to read. The Great Shark Hunt is one of the best. One story he tells how he arranged an interview with Muhammad Ali in a hotel. Thompson walked in wearing a devil mask momentarily scaring Ali and his bodyguards. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is more interesting than the movie because it gets into the head of the narrator, something that is hard for film to portray. Fear and Loathing On the Campaign Trail (1972) is a bit dated but showcases Thompson in his heyday during the Nixon years.

Complete Beat Conference Article