Recorded by Hunter S. Thompson between 1965 and 1975, these tapes capture his thoughts and descriptions both as they're happening and in reflection, as he would often go back to rerecord commentary while writing. Filmmaker Alex Gibney, producer Eva Orner and Gonzo archivist Don Fleming were given permission by Thompson's widow to explore the boxes of tapes stored in the basement of his Owl Farm home in Woody Creek, Colorado, left behind after Thompson's suicide in 2005. Fleming transferred the audiocassettes and reel-to-reel tapes to digital files, and they made their way to the cutting room for the film Gonzo: The Life And Work Of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. Now for the first time these previously unreleased recordings are available in a 5-CD set. The Gonzo Tapes features original cover artwork by Gonzo artist Ralph Steadman, an amazing 44-page booklet full of never-before-seen images from Hunter S. Thompson's estate, along with memorable photos and an introduction by film director Alex Gibney, an essay by journalist and Thompson's fellow foreign correspondent Loren Jenkins, and notes by The Gonzo Tapes producer Don Fleming.Before I go on please take a look at this to set the mood:
San Francisco in the middle sixties 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 corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant. . . .
History is hard to know, because of all 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. There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda. . . .
You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. . . . 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 — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.
And now forty years later, the watermark has all but completely disappeared, barley leaving even a hint that any moisture had been there at all. The forces of Old and Evil have made the subsequent generations unable to feel any sense of victory or community. They have erased every trace of victory that Hunter and the rest of the revolutionaries fought so hard to create. Raised on fast food, commercials, and situational comedies pimping farcical realities, we are a regressive generation. We exist as if the sixties never happened.
The madness has been erased from our lives, replaced by strip malls, subdivisions, and a robotic sense of conformity to the status quo that would make fascists proud. Splintered generations, cracking at the seams, we are political eunuchs, creatively numbed by commerce and a farcical advertised democracy. It what other time, but this deadened age, could a nation commit to endless war, while simultaneously looting the treasury, and the people… shop on, sleep walking, pushing our faces further into the trough.
Hunter speaks of lighting sparks anywhere and a sense of what they were doing being right, but now the planet is literally melting, resource wars loom in our immediate future, and there is no sense of doing what is right. There is no sense of doing anything. Where is our magical place, when is our time, where we can gather and act and spark the fires?
Where has our gonzo spirit gone? Where has my Gonzo spirit gone? I have read everything Hunter S. Thompson has ever written. If I were to name one hero/role model in my life, Hunter’s name would top the list.
Hunter’s antics and words have guided me on the path I have taken since the fateful day in high school, when I read the opening line of Fear and Loathing. There was a time in my life when I prided myself on my drug and alcohol consumption, and so, Hunter was an obvious role model to emulate, but now older and wiser, I still consider Thompson a father figure. As a high school student, it was Hunter’s sheer bravado that I found appealing, but now I don’t need to know the amount of drugs he consumed, or what an ass he made of himself, I need to be reminded of his faith in the energy that pushed the wave mentioned above, so that maybe we could recreate a movement that will give us hope against the forces of Old and Evil. A faith in our ability to ride a wave of possibilities is what I need from Gonzo today.
In my twenties, I chased Hunter like some rabid fan, trying to feed off his energy. I tattooed his logo on my chest as a reminder of the ideals he stood for. I swore at twenty-four that I would never allow myself to forget what Gonzo means to me.
At thirty-four, sober, with a toddler working in some god forsaken desert for some corporate oil goons. This has got to be the end of the Gonzo line, where to next? What could the symbol possibly mean at this point?
Honestly, I am not sure. This is what scares me and makes this post and these tapes so important. I could type some gibberish about staying true to my beliefs, or maybe about not giving up, but I think this disillusionment about our current time is why I am so excited about these tapes. I don’t plan on ever throwing myself back into the alcoholic whirlpool that nearly drown me, but I do want to lose myself in Hunter’s words, because more than his immature and absurd behavior it has always been his words that have saved me. I need them in any form.
I will keep you posted, when the tapes arrive in a few weeks.