Gonzo: Ben Corbett gets weird with Hunter S. Thompson
Ever since the Good Doctor took his own life at his Owl Farm compound outside of Aspen in 2005, lots of folks have been trying to put into words what, exactly, Thompson left us with. There's a new entry on that list: Gonzo, the literary edition.
This one stands out from the pack, however. That's because it goes easy on the words and heavy on the pictures.
The coffee-table tome compiles hundreds of photos from Hunter's life, many taken by the journalist himself, including shots from his days reporting in Puerto Rico, living freely in Big Sur, riding with (and getting beaten up by) the Hell's Angels and partying with celebrities. Since this is Hunter we're talking about, a few NSFW pics pop up, too.
This being the literary edition of Gonzo (limited-edition, all-photo versions were previously released), there are a few words thrown in -- and they're good ones. The book includes a new biography of Hunter written by local writer Ben Corbett, a no-holds-barred scribe and friend of Hunter's (and mine) who has the distinction of being one of the few people ever to be thrown out of Owl Farm, and then let back in. Check out Corbett's thoughts below on spending time with Hunter -- and trying to channel him in the new book.
On meeting Hunter:
I went up to do an interview for High Times for the 30th anniversary issue. It got sandwiched between Jim Jarmusch interviewing Iggy Pop and an interview with Norman Mailer. That may have been the last magazine article about Hunter printed before his death.
I took this girl with me and she disappeared. This girl ended up puking in his house and Hunter wanted her out. So I actually got thrown out of Hunter S. Thompson's house, then I got invited back [to finish the interview]. That only happened one other time. I think it was the guy form the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. But he got thrown out and invited back all the time.
What it was like being at Owl Farm:
A lot of people got thrown out of his house, not to be invited back. If he thought you were funny, you were out. He'd run people through a test when he invited you up there. It's really weird, man -- it's truly hard to explain. If you passed the test, he took you in. It was bizarre. People would say, "Did he like me?"
On working with him on the Lisl Aumen case, which involved a Colorado woman convicted of murdering a Denver police officer in 1997 even though she was handcuffed in the back of a cop car when someone else pulled the trigger:
When I wrote a story about Lisl Aumen for the Boulder Weekly, he set me up to interview Bill Ritter, then the DA of Denver. I faxed Hunter a transcript of the interview and he faxed it to Morris Dees, a civil rights attorney working on Lisl's case.
She ended up getting released about five months after he died. That was a bittersweet ending for that whole case. I always wonder if she would have been released if he hadn't raised so much hell.
On hearing about Hunter's death:
I was writing him a letter when he did it. The exact moment he did it. I hadn't written him for three or four months. I went out for dinner, and when I got back, the answering machine was full of messages saying Hunter had killed himself. It kind of knocked me back. I wasn't done with him yet.
On writing the biography:
I had interviewed him at least a dozen times, so I had all these original quotes. But it was really weird writing about him. He was such a far-out guy. He was over everybody's head -- it was almost like a whole different language he was speaking. To write about him, you almost have to decipher where he's coming from.
On Hunter's photography:
A lot of people don't realize he was a photographer. Some of the photos in the book aren't champion photos, but some of it is incredible stuff. One time he pitched an article to a photography magazine about how a reporter only needs one lens and one camera. It was typical Hunter, pitching an article like that to magazine that are full of advertising for gadgetry. Nobody ever bought it.
On what's next:
Right now I'm writing a book about socialism in Latin America. I'm just starting the research on that. I'm trying to get down there for a couple years. I've had about enough of this country.