Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, by Hunter S. Thompson, is the kind of book that I hated when I first put it down but which grew on my as time passed. The reason for this is simple: upon first reading the book, I was nearly overwhelmed by the drug use and hallucinations which make up most of the book, which was written in by Thompson in an attempt at gonzo journalism.
As time passed, however (in this case about four days), I started to remember the passages of the book which actually said something--those passages which explained why the narrator seems to be hell-bent to destroy himself with drugs.* Below, I've accumulated those passages into one short piece. If this were the entirety of the book, I believe I would love it. As it is only the abridged version of the book, I have a cautious respect for Thompson's work but would be hard-pressed to say it is the one book I would want to take with me on a trip to a deserted island.
And it was extremely important, I felt, for the meaning of our journey to be made absolutely clear. 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. There was also the socio-psychic factor. Every now and then when your life gets complicated and the weasels start closing in, the only real cure is to lad up on heinous chemicals and then drive like a bastard from Hollywood to Las Vegas. To relax, as it were, in the womb of the desert sun.
Old elephants limp off to the hills to die; old Americans go out to the highway and drive themselves to death with huge cars. But our trip was different. It was a classic affirmation of everything right and true and decnt in the national character. It was a gross, physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country--but only for those with true grit. And we're chock full of that. History is hard to know, because of all of the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of 'history' it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time--and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.
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.
Reading the front page [of the newspaper] made me feel a lot better. Against that heinous background, my crimes were pale and meaningless. I was a relatively respectable citizen--a multiple felon, perhaps, but certainly not dangerous. And when the Great Scorer came to write against my name, that would surely make a difference.Or would it? I turned to the sports page and saw a small item about Muhammad Ali; his case was before the Supreme Court, the final appeal. He'd been sentenced to five years in prison for refusing to kill "slopes." "I ain't got nuthin' against them Viet Congs," he said. Five years.
Sympathy? Not for me. No mercy for a criminal freak in Las Vegas. This place is like the Army: the shark ethic prevails--eat the wounded. In a closed society where everybody's guilty, the only crime is getting caught. Especially here in 'our own country'--in this doomstruck era of Nixon. We are all wired into a survival trip now.
I felt like a monster reincarnation of Horatio Alger... a Man on the Move, and just sick enough to be totally confident.
*These passages are found on the following pages: 8, 12, 18, 67, 72, 74, 178, and 204.