By Michael Feingold
By Elizabeth Zimmer
By James Hannaham
By Christian Viveros-Faune
By Christian Viveros-Faune
By R. C. Baker
By Michael Feingold
By Michael Musto
You've admitted in past interviews to writing in a hyperbolic manner about something you hoped people would pay more attention to. Do you think Thompson did the same? That he was aware of his intense voice on the page?
He's definitely hyperbolic. There's no question about it. He likes to use maximalist expressions, like [the enemy] is the "most disgusting, depraved, corrupt," you know? Every villain is the worst villain of all time. But [Thompson makes them] live up to it. He sets a bar somewhere, where he says this person is this, but then he makes the case. Within the internal logic of the story, it's true. Even if it's not factually true, it's psychologically, artistically true. It all fits. Again, I don't look at his books as historical works. I look at them more as novels. They're like novels where everything fits and nothing is overstated.
In your own writing, what's more important to you? Creating something that is factual or something that will resonant with the reader--like stretching the truth in order to tell a greater truth?
Well, I'm a little different than Hunter. I think he can get away--well, it's not that he's getting away, he's just doing something different than I am. He's an artist. Again, I think of his books as being more novels, whereas what I'm doing is more classic, straightforward journalism and editorial commentary. I have to stick to the facts. Also, we're in a different era, and my career just evolved into the direction where I am sticking to the actual factual truth. He didn't do that, but it worked for him. If I tried that, it wouldn't work.
If Campaign Trail were published today, would it have the same effect?
Oh, yeah. I tried to say this in the introduction, but I don't think that was really just a story about 1972 and those people. It's a very personal, timeless story about a person who is trying to believe, and he's thrust into this environment where everything is fake and disappointing, and he's still trying to find that meaning in it. That's a timeless story. That could've existed anywhere. The format would've been different now, because nowadays, it's just so much harder to make that good versus evil story out of a Democrat-versus-Republican timeline. I just think it wouldn't be believable. But he'd find some way to do it.
What do you think he'd say about the current political climate?
This era has a lot in common with the early '60s. We had a very long period of relative stability, relative cultural conservatism, and it's kind of coming apart at the seams as people are seeing the hidden fractures and discrepancies and the way our economy has been set up, and all of this is coming out in Occupy. That, to me, is a little bit like the early '60s. And that was a time that Hunter really liked. He loved that whole era, and it really comes out in the other book, the Las Vegas book, that he really fell in love with that whole time period. And what Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was about was that whole era rolling back, and all the great hopes of that era coming to an end. Right now, we're at a beginning stage. I'm sure eventually it'll turn into disillusionment, but we're not there yet. I think he would enjoy this time period.
How do you feel about the comparisons that are often made about you and him?
I'm definitely embarrassed by it, if that's what you're asking. I've said this always: What he does and what I do are very different things. I think his writing is a lot more ambitious than mine is. There was a time in my life when I was really young and [Hunter Thompson] was what I wanted to be when I grew up. I disabused myself of that notion a long time ago. Again, what I do is more classical editorializing. What he does is this weird, four-dimensional kind of writing that's once a generation. I understand where those comparisons come from, because I have his job. I'm writing in the first person. I have a drug problem--well, I had a drug problem.
Also, there's another factor with Hunter Thompson that sets him apart from other writers. Physically, the guy was just a force of nature. The scale of everything. The indulgence. All these adventures, they were so enormous in scope, and I don't think any of us have done that. He definitely lived up to his own cliche.
You wrote in the introduction that people who call Hunter S. Thompson a cynic don't really know him, and that he was always searching for the "Great Shark" to come save American politics. With the end of his life being so tragic, do you think he felt this way his entire life?
I think what people really connected with during those years that he was really, really on fire--which was, you know, mid to late '60s to mid to late '70s, his most productive time--it wasn't all the flamboyant writing. It was the earnestness, the passion, the drive, the sincerity, it all boomed through all of his books. I do think at the end of his life, or in his later years, he had some trouble recapturing that. I think there were some times when he got older where he was having trouble recreating his own style. He drifted into self-plagiarism a little bit, where what he was doing was trying to sound like Hunter Thompson rather than saying what he felt. I think he just got confused and a little lost. But that happens to every writer.
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