Simone Corday. Spent time in Hunter’s storm during his time at The Mitchell Brothers O’Farrell Theater. She’ll give a unique perspective on the ins and outs of the way he operated. You can see my review of her book, and our interview here.
Simone Corday on The Separation of Hunter and Raoul.
Hunter S. Thompson, A “Road Man for the Lords of Karma”–HST –by Simone Corday
Years before I met Hunter, I fell for his writing. Not only was he the most brilliant, original satirist, he was a sharp observer of how western culture was turning. Beneath Hunter’s satire is a depth, a generosity of spirit, an astute intelligence, that was evident to people who got to know him.
I am still in awe when I read some of his gems, like The Curse of Lono; “Bad Craziness in Palm Beach, I Told Her It Was Wrong,” (about the Roxanne Pulitzer divorce case) from Songs of the Doomed; his shorter pieces like hisSan Francisco Examiner columns in Generation of Swine; stories like “Fear and Loathing in Elko” and—where can I stop? Many of Hunter’s works seem so timely because they highlight the corruption in politics and make some farsighted, rather haunting predictions. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was the first book of his that I read, in grad school, that knocked me out with its outrageous images and its commentary.
Hunter wasn’t born into privilege. Maybe this helped him develop a keen eye for hypocrisy and injustice. His determination to work hard to become a good writer as a young man led him to re-type all of Fitzgerald’s classicThe Great Gatsby to sense the rhythm of the words. Although later he acknowledged getting high as part of his process and life, his original style came from a deep well of talent, developed by persistence and hard work. Hunter had a knack for inventive humor that will never be matched.
I didn’t see Hunter being out-of-control indulging in drugs or booze, but as possessing a clear, penetrating eye for what was actually going on. Of course, I knew him against the backdrop of the O’Farrell Theater, a wild, crazy strip club run by the notorious Mitchell Brothers who did quite a bit of hard-partying on their own. Hunter possessed a genuine curiosity about the people at Mitchell Brothers and the dynamics of the place, and got an advance to write a novel about it. He went out of his way to be kind to me. I am reminded of a line from a review of my book by Henry Jones in San Francisco Magazine: “In what other setting could Hunter Thompson turn out to be the most level-headed character?”
Hunter was a self-made man, a witness to great social change, who became a forceful advocate for independent thought and for challenging corruption. This is why Hunter’s work is still so relevant. So, read Hunter because his words feel and sound so current, and because his writing can lift you with its brilliance, its laughter—or skewer the values of modern culture, often simultaneously. I am fortunate to have crossed paths with—as Hunter called himself–this “road man for the lords of karma.”
Simone on Gonzo Journalism: Should it be Emulated?
“Buying the Ticket” by Simone Corday
Early in the warm, distant October when I started grad school in English, our fledgling pack met, trying to look our hippest. One veteran grad student in his late thirties stood out—he was dressed in nineteenth century working-class looking clothes, loose shirt and vest with a slouchy hat and beard–distinct from a hippie, back to-the-land look that would have blended in more at the time. Cold Mountain comes to mind, although this was long before Charles Frazier wrote it or it became a Hollywood distortion. When I asked why he was dressed that way, someone explained he was doing his dissertation on the poet Walt Whitman, and to get into the spirit, decided to dress like Whitman. Even in a more hang-loose era, this was eccentric, and his intense focus set him apart, too. Talk about emulating your favorite author. . . . I don’t know how his experiment panned out, but he was clearly committed. Did he get closer to the spirit of Whitman by trying on his style?
But who am I to point a finger? Fast-forward some years later, when Hunter Thompson was honorary night manager at the O’Farrell Theater and I was a stripper, I chose even more outlandish costumes: gorilla, shark, fencer, horse/cowboy, prom queen, the mayor of San Francisco. . . . “Your shows are so different from what she’s doing. From what everyone else is,” Hunter said, glancing at the dancer onstage posing in a negligee, “Why?”
I digress. We are talking about whether or not a genre of writing, gonzo journalism, should be emulated. And in looking into this, I was most curious about what Hunter’s own view would be. In Wayne Ewing’s documentary Breakfast with Hunter (2005), P.J. O’Rourke asks Hunter, “There have been a lot of kids out there for the past 25 years, trying to write like you. It’s always struck me that there are certain artists, Jackson Pollock is an example, that are absolute geniuses that it’s fatal to imitate.” Hunter answers, “Particularly if you imitate the style without the reality.”
Like it or not, we are each stuck in our own skin, with our own limitations and promise, as writers and otherwise. It’s impossible to escape our exposure to books we’ve read and techniques we have absorbed–but it’s a principle tested by time that to create original work it’s crucial to rely on our own experiences and perspective.
I am not a student of journalism, so I’ve been reading The Gang That Wouldn’t Write Straight by Mark Weingarten (2006), that gives a detailed view of how new journalism, and Hunter’s gonzo journalism, developed and were so innovative while the social history of the 60s and 70s evolved. And as I began to read, journalism as a topic expanded, and I came across so many intriguing books and side issues. I also found a cache of Hunter’s thoughts in Conversations with Hunter Thompson edited by Beef Torrey and Kevin Simonson (2008). But after all this exposure, emulating gonzo journalism seems as complex as reading it is fun.
Hunter didn’t identify with new journalism: “Wolfe and Talese go back and recreate stories that have already happened, where I like to get right in the middle of whatever I’m writing about—as personally involved as possible.” In sending Tom Wolfe the first part of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter wrote to him, “What I was trying to get at in [this] was the mind warp/photo technique of instant journalism: One draft, written on the spot and basically unrevised, edited, chopped, larded, etc. for publication.” quoted in William McKeen’s Outlaw Journalist: The Life and Times of Hunter S. Thompson (2008).
But the technique sounds deceptively simple: “All you have to do is drink a little whiskey, smoke a joint, eat some acid, and you too can write like this! . . . That’s as stupid as it sounds.” HST quoted in “Man of Action: Hunter S. Thompson Keeps Moving,” by Jesse Jarnow, from Relix (2003), in Conversations with Hunter Thompson.
For those new to Hunter, the Las Vegas book started in March 1971, with his infamous drug-fueled trip with Oscar Acosta to cover the Mint 400 motorcycle race, and a second trip to cover a convention on drug abuse. Much of the writing took place that summer, when Hunter wrote for 12-hour stints at Owl Farm. After Las Vegas became a hit, and Hunter’s gonzo reputation was secured, he rarely did rewriting.
Originality and talent are great gifts, but Hunter had augmented his with keen instincts, boldness, experience, hard work—by the time he developed gonzo, he had been a working writer for ten years. “It took me about two years of work to be able to bring the drug experience back and put it on paper. . . . to retain that and to do it right. One of the hardest things I ever had to do in writing. That’s what Vegas is about–about the altered perceptions of the characters. It’s the bedrock of the book,” Hunter explained to P.J. O’Rourke in Breakfast with Hunter.
Douglas Brinkley asked Hunter,” Almost without exception writers we’ve interviewed over the years admit they cannot write under the influence of booze or drugs—or at the least what they’ve done has to be rewritten in the cool of the day. What’s your comment about this?” Thompson: “They lie. Or maybe you’ve been interviewing a very narrow spectrum of writers. . . . Did you interview Coleridge? Did you interview Poe? Or Scott Fitzgerald? Or Mark Twain? Or Fred Exley? Did Faulkner tell you that what he was drinking all the time was really iced tea, not whiskey? Please. Who the fuck do you think wrote the Book of Revelation? A bunch of stone-sober clerics?” (quotes from “The Art of Journalism: An Interview with Hunter S. Thompson,” by Douglas Brinkley, from The Paris Review (2000), in Conversations with Hunter Thompson.
Although drugs enhanced Hunter’s perceptions and were part of his gonzo reputation, when it came to writing he acknowledged being straighter. In a 1974 Playboy interview, Craig Vetter asks, “When you actually sit down to start writing, can you use drugs like mushrooms or other psychedelics?” “No. It’s impossible to write with anything like that in my head,” Hunter answers. “Wild Turkey and tobacco are the only drugs I use regularly when I write. But, I tend to work at night, so when the wheels slow down, I occasionally indulge in a little speed—which I deplore and do not advocate—but you know, when the car runs out of gas, you have to use something. The only drug I really count on is adrenaline. I’m basically an adrenaline junkie. I’m addicted to the rush of the stuff in my own blood, and of all the drugs I’ve ever used, I think it’s the most powerful.” also in Conversations with Hunter Thompson.
A few years ago, in a long glass case, the San Francisco Public Library exhibited the scroll of the text of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. The scroll is 120 feet long, but in the case at least twelve readable feet sprawled before me—this roll of taped sheets the writer fed through a typewriter since the story was spilling from his mind so fast. When I leaned closer, On the Road was there in its magnificence, plus extra material, some different word choices—this stream of consciousness masterpiece had clearly been through some revision, more than one previous draft.
Kerouac scholar Paul Marion said: “Kerouac cultivated this myth that he was this spontaneous prose man, and that everything that he ever put down was never changed, and that’s not true. He was really a supreme craftsman, and devoted to writing and the writing process. . . . In truth, Kerouac heavily reworked On the Road — first in his head, then in his journals between 1947 and 1949, and then again on his typewriter.” Between 1951 and 1957, Kerouac reshaped as many as six drafts, desperate to get his work published. But when television host Steve Allen asked how long it had taken him to write On the Road, Kerouac answered “Three weeks.” (Quotes from “Jack Kerouac’s Famous Scroll, ‘On the Road’ Again,” by Andrea Shea, on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” July 5, 2007)
“Jack Kerouac influenced me quite a bit as a writer,“ said Hunter. “. . . Kerouac taught me that you could get away with writing about drugs and get published. It was possible. . . . I wasn’t trying to write like him, but I could see that I could get published like him and make the breakthrough, break through the eastern establishment ice. That’s the same way I felt about Hemingway when I first learned about him and his writing. I thought, Jesus, some people can do this.” (quotes from Douglas Brinkley, in Conversations with Hunter Thompson.)
The world has turned. Now media and journalism are in flux, with social media and “citizen journalists” playing a part. New technology has added an immediacy and a broad range of input, while newspapers struggle and diminish. We have moved beyond even the new new journalism, it seems. Now that there are fewer newspapers and fewer journalists employed to report on corruption, it is expanding into a cesspool. We need journalists who are skilled at investigation, as well as journalists who master narrative and are developing new techniques. Let us hope they also possess respect for the truth and a sense of ethics. Muckraking can be a masterful tool for social reform, while propaganda can cover up evil-doing, usually by the rich and powerful.
How would Hunter want to influence aspiring writers? He was asked:
“If you found yourself teaching a journalism course—Dr. Thompson’s Journalism 101—what would you tell students who were looking to go about covering stories?” HST: “You offering me a job? Shit. Well, I wouldn’t do it, I guess. It’s not important to me that I teach journalism classes.
“But if you did, what would your reading list be?
HST: “Oh, I’d start off with Henry Fielding. I would read writers. You know, I would read Conrad, Hemingway, people who use words. That’s really what it’s about. It’s about using words to achieve an end. And the Book of Revelation. I still read the Book of Revelation when I need to get cranked up about language. I would teach Harrison Salisbury of the New York Times. All the journalists who are known, really, have been that way because they were subjective. . . . I think the trick is that you have to use words well enough so that these nickle-and-dimers who come around bitching about being objective or the advertisers don’t like it are rendered helpless by the fact that it’s good. That’s the way people have triumphed over conventional wisdom in journalism.”
—from “Writing on the Wall: An Interview with Hunter S. Thompson,” by Matthew Hahn, in the Atlantic Online (1997), in Conversations with Hunter Thompson.
While becoming part of the story can get you to the heart of some substantial material, drugs and liquor in themselves aren’t inspirational. Hunter’s process and mystique won’t necessarily unlock creativity for other writers. His gonzo journalism can’t be pinned down—it retains mystery and power. The world doesn’t need would-be Hunters posing with cigarette holders and glasses of Chivas, mimicking Hunter’s exterior style. What is truly needed? Originality; talent; timely, well-chosen material; insight; ethics; and a power of expression in synch with our new time of challenges and unpredictability.
I—Copyright 2010 by Simone Corday
Simone Corday is the author of 9 ½ Years Behind the Green Door, A Memoir: A Mitchell Brothers Stripper Remembers Her Lover Artie Mitchell, Hunter S. Thompson, and the Killing That Rocked San Francisco
Copyright Simone Corday 2009
Simone was also kind enough to take the time to write a review of Wayne Ewing’s Animals Whores & Dialogue. See below.
Out of all the folks Iv’e had the pleasure of dealing with since this site began Simone Corday is one of my favorites. Simone came to know Hunter during his time at the O’Farrell Theatre, where at the time she was a stripper.
She is author of “9 1/2 Years Behind the Green Door, A Memoir: A Mitchell Brothers Stripper Remembers her Lover Artie Mitchell, Hunter S. Thompson, and the Killing that Rocked San Francisco.”
You can see my review of this book and my interview with Simone here. Simone is the one on the left in the picture with Hunter (Photo is by Michael Nichols.) Also the other picture is the cover of Simone’s book. To buy a copy click the cover image to be taken to her site. For the record, I cannot say enough good things about this book. It’s well written, out-there but believable, honest and open. And dont forget the Hunter S. Thompson factor. Here is Simone’s review of Wayne Ewing’s latest HST film Animals, Whores & Dialogue. Sincere thanks to Simone for taking the time to do this.
Animals, Whores, and Dialogue—Review by Simone Corday
For anyone who was knocked out by seeing Wayne Ewing’s fine documentary Breakfast with Hunter, it’s a great gift to have Animals, Whores and Dialogue released. Excuse my momentary indulgence in Sex in the City images, but it’s like receiving that wedding band after relishing the solitaire, savoring the frosting after the cake. For someone who knew Hunter in the 80s, it’s touching to see him in the last years of his life, lovely to watch his triumphs at the 25th anniversary celebrations for Fear & Loathing, and to hear his fine-tuned political perspective, and listen to the power and elegance of his writing.
I’ve been reading the reviews and am thoroughly impressed. The reviewers cover the video with such alacrity I’m not sure what else I can add. So I will center on the arresting title, which we are told arose from the frequent metaphors the good doctor used in plying his craft. And in several scenes, the inscription “Animals, Whores, Dialogue, Electricity” is taped to Hunter’s typewriter, as he hovers over it wearing an eerie blue sportsman LED headlight strapped to his hat, honing in on just the right word.
“Animals”—we’ve all gotten a phenomenal laugh from Hunter’s mastery of animal metaphors. Often their presence is linked to mayhem, whether they are real animals or hallucinatory. In the DVD, there are shots around Owl Farm of peacocks flaunting their plumage or nesting at night, a sleeping kitten on Hunter’s couch near a glowing fire and his lively kitchen.
“Whores”—As a former stripper and a woman, I must say my ears pricked up when I heard “whores” in the title. But I took a thorough look, and could spy no obvious whores appearing in the DVD. There is one lively brunette who hoists her skirt to reveal a g-string with the Gonzo emblem outside the book signing for Hey Rube at the Aspen Institute, but that is the raciest moment.
“Whores” was another common metaphor of Hunter’s–most often to condemn politicians, evangelists, unscrupulous media types. And I am veering away from the video in talking about this, but In Generation of Swine Hunter wrote: “Not much has changed with these powermongers since Caligula’s time. Sex and power have a long history of feeding on each other. In Hey Rube he says of Clinton and Bush: “They are both whores, because that is the nature of American politics.”
In Hey Rube alone, “whore” appears 16 times. There are vicious uses of the word in its traditional meaning: “two fat young whores from Oxnard,” “gold-plated whores from mysterious harems in Hong Kong, Turkey, and Liechtenstein.” One of the more disturbing uses of the word is in “We have become a Nazi monster in the eyes of the whole world – bullies and bastards who would rather kill than live peacefully. We are whores for power and oil with hate and fear in our hearts.” And other of the reflections and predictions in Hunter’s later writing are just as insightful and grim.
Please bear with me as I digress a bit more. When Hunter was honorary night manager of the Mitchell Brothers O’Farrell Theater where I met him, a legal case was going on when the place was under scrutiny by the police. At that time the theater had the wildest reputation, plus a mystique as a counter-cultural gathering place. Artistic expression in the shows was considered a defense for cannoodling in the audience—but flagrant whoring was risky. It was then that Hunter proclaimed Mitchell Brothers “the Carnegie Hall of public sex in America.” While writing his weekly columns for the San Francisco Examiner, Hunter traveled a lot, was a consultant to the Mitchells, and did research for a novel—but although intrigued by the sex business and curious, he remained wary. Some of his best pieces about it are in Generation of Swine. My impression of Hunter was that he was a romantic idealist, in the best sense. “Whores” and “pimps” are words he uses to show contempt.
After the lawsuit was settled in favor of Mitchell Brothers in the early 90s, word has it that the place has become more permissive. And I am oversimplifying, but in the 90s some strippers began to believe that they could have impact by organizing, and improve their situation at the clubs. This was at a time when many American strip clubs changed the employment status of their dancers to independent contractors and charged them escalating stage fees or quotas.
Meanwhile, whores, escorts and other sexworkers found their livelihood was endangered by political pressure in their communities, and some of them banded together as well.
Some of the women and men in different areas of the sex business began to feel they had more to identify with in one another than in the boundaries which defined their occupations, so they got together, shared experiences, and founded magazines like $pread, a quarterly published in New York. In her recent memoir about Portland, Magic Gardens, former stripper Viva Las Vegas explains, “As I saw it, we were all equally vulnerable as part of the invisible fringe, and when the powers at be picked on one of us, we all took a hit. We needed unity.”
Recently I attended a workshop with the savvy acclaimed author of the Belle de Jour book series, The Diary of a London Call Girl—lately made into a television series. Now retired from the profession, with a Ph.D. and a job as a forensic scientist, she turns the stereotype of whoring on its head.
Nowadays the words “whore” and “stripper” have taken on a broader range of meaning and acceptance. The weak economy plays a part, wide media exposure, and in some cities the Strippermobile packed with pole dancers traverses the streets late at night. One young woman attending the workshop explained she is founding Whore Magazine. “My grandmother doesn’t like the title–she asked me, Can’t you call it something else?” So there is still sensitivity about the word, along generational lines. And for many the word “whore” brings up the ugly practice of trafficking, and other forms of involuntary whoredom, which must rightly be condemned, along with pimps and procurers who prey on those in dire circumstances.
“Dialogue”—In the video we hear that Hunter began Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas with the dialogue, forgetting about the interior monologue that would make it difficult to film. We also hear and see how important friends like Oscar Acosta were to Hunter and how engaging in dialogue was part of his writing process. Along with his inner circle of friends from Aspen, the late George Plimpton, Warren Zevon, and Ed Bradley each appear and pay affectionate tribute.
Thank you, Mr. Ewing, for filming the real deal, the most expansive coverage of Hunter, the best commemoration of all.
–Simone Corday is the author of 9 ½ Years Behind the Green Door, A Memoir: A Mitchell Brothers Stripper Remembers her Lover Artie Mitchell, Hunter S. Thompson, and the Killing that Rocked San Francisco.
Review (©) Simone Corday 2010.