CD Review of The Gonzo Tapes: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson by Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter S. Thompson: The Gonzo Tapes: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
Recommended if you like
fear, loathing, drugs, life
Shout! Factory
Hunter S. Thompson:
The Gonzo Tapes:
The Life and Work of
Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Reviewed by Jason Thompson


ou’re either Gonzo or you’re Banzo. That’s what Ralph Steadman told me a few years ago when I interviewed him and asked a question regarding up-and-coming writers who were influenced by himself and Hunter S. Thompson. "Remember," Steadman told me, "Gonzo is good, Banzo is bad." It’s something I still take to heart. Too often, fans of the duo’s work will unfortunately make their best attempt at mimicking their idols and fail miserably.

As of late, Hunter S. Thompson is going through something of a premature renaissance since his untimely suicide. Last year we were treated to the movie documentary "Gonzo," and along with it, this box set. And how does one accurately review something of this nature? Is it something that only the diehards are going to want to hear? Perhaps. Will those seeking to find Thompson going apeshit on tape be thrilled? Probably not. The five discs contained in this set find Hunter’s mind at work, his mouth spewing out his ideas of what he’s taking in at the time, but don’t necessarily come here looking for the wacked-out world of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." This isn’t a bad thing, as you must understand that Thompson’s legacy was far greater than that of some silly acid-trip-influenced freak show.

It doesn’t hurt if you’re familiar with Thompson’s literary works before delving in. Certainly the first disc’s contents reach a peak when Hunter is recounting the story of the girl getting gang-banged by a bunch of Hell’s Angels at one of their get-togethers. Reading it in the "Hell’s Angels" book itself was harrowing enough, but hearing Thompson go through the emotions of having witnessed it from the distance he did and recount it right then and there – listening to his own soul being disturbed – is something else.

Of course, we then get to hear some field notes from the "Fear and Loathing" months, as Hunter reorients himself at the beginning of the ‘70s and leaves the naiveté and peace and love sludge of the ‘60s dead in its tracks. Hell, why not have gone on a giant bender and let the world in on it? But again, it’s illustrated quite well here that it wasn’t just about the drugs. It was about being there, reporting on whatever the hell was going on in the world within Hunter’s immediate radius and then letting it all digest.

Five discs is certainly a lot of ground to cover, and perhaps many fans will be disappointed that Thompson’s seminal ‘70s political work isn’t included here. After seeing a good chunk of how involved he was with all of that in the "Gonzo" documentary, or just reading "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail," it’s a bit of a letdown that that portion of Hunter’s life wasn’t touched on here, as there were plenty of fascinating moments to be gleaned from it – but it is what it is, and what’s here is very enjoyable, indeed.

But again, it’s hard to nail it all down in a simple review. If you’re a fan, then of course you should have this in your collection. If nothing else, it provides more insight into the man that reconstructed journalism to fit his own design. Not all of it is engaging or memorable, but then again, it’s hard to imagine how it could have been. Even Hunter was human, and his personal tapes can sometimes be as wearying as anyone else’s. But the bulk of it is fascinating, and it comes complete with one of those snazzy books that are all the rage in these sets, so there you have it. Let the fans rejoice that this stuff was released. But it’s not like Hunter ever really left us, anyway.

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