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Behind the feud between Lou Reed and Hunter S. Thompson

Johnny Depp was perched in a bar one sullen evening in Woody Creek, Colorado. The locals chattered away blissfully unaware or otherwise completely indifferent to the fact that a Hollywood star was uneasily quaffing whisky in their midst. He had a scheduled business meeting planned with an esteemed writer at midnight and was quietly demurring over what sort of hours these freaks keep to. Then, with the clatter, bang and instant unrest of ball lightning strolling into town, the sleepy bar was flung into a frantic ruckus. 

Depp looked behind to see sparks flying everywhere like a Catherine Wheel had inexplicably become animate and developed a thirst. Then this sparking mass began yelling, ‘Get out of the way you bastards!’ And a drunken sea of pariahs parted as the burly mad Moses figure of Hunter S Thompson strode forward, trailing nothing but his own wayward muse towards Depp. In Hunter’s right arm was a three-foot cattle prod, in his left was a taser gun.

There was a reason I mentioned this meeting between Depp and his hero, but I can’t remember what it was now… It can’t be never meet you heroes, because Depp and Thompson went on to be friends forevermore? But perhaps the differing tale of Lou Reed proves the point: Only meet the heroes who you know you’re unlikely to clash with (if such a thing can be deciphered in advance, which in this case it seems like it certainly could’ve) …

Lou Reed might not have been a man who carried a cattle prod, but he may as well have been. A lot of people in rock music purport to be iconoclasts but very few live up to the sound and fury of the man who dubbed The Beatles ‘a load of shit!’ With The Velvet Underground, he relished in the life of a subterranean denizen of the degenerate demimonde, and seemingly when fame tried to drag him from the figurative dive bar, he had no intention to leave. He went through life in the cultural mainstream like a drunk being dragged away from a half-finished drink by the bouncer. Thus, his kicking and screaming artistic brilliance was never likely to meet with Thompson like strawberries and cream, more so a bonfire and a shell suit.

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For a while, however, even a shell suit withstands the flames and Thompson and Reed enjoyed a friendly honeymoon period after they first met. Thompson was a huge fan of Reed’s anthem for the disenfranchised, ‘Walk On the Wild Side’, and he had previously licensed the song from Reed for use on a project. Reed was more than happy to oblige and with mutual admiration in the air and, like Romulus and Remus of the counterculture, a union of seismic artistic outsiders was formed.

Thus, when Wayne Ewing contacted Reed about using the sultry ode to outsiders on his latest movie about the Gonzo progenitor, Breakfast with Hunter, he was expecting a quick ‘Sure, no problem’. Instead, his secretary was told, “Never call about Hunter Thompson ever again.” So, what exactly had caused the odd couple to veer towards their predestined collision?

As the story goes, in 2000 Thompson published Fear and Loathing in America and he was on a book tour despite ill health. His back was ailing, and he developed an intense aversion to stairs. In fact, anywhere with an incline was met with Thompson’s wrath, though many of his cohorts suspected that this was a cunning ploy to simply remain at home seeing as though stairs are fairly ubiquitous the world over since the turn of the 13th century.

After a book signing in Manhattan, Thompson was due to meet Reed in a Manhattan restaurant. Much to the writer’s fearsome chagrin, it was one of these new-fangled swanky joints with dastardly stairs! Thompson’s assistant emerged to find the daunting staircase and an already angered Reed at the top of it wondering where his guest was. Word got back to Thompson that Reed was not at ground level and for him, this was an insurmountable impasse. It is worth reiterating at this point, that although Thompson had a bad back, he was still more than capable of physically tackling a set of stairs. 

Unable to see any way that he could defy gravity to meet Reed, the Rum Diary writer decided to stand Reed up and go for a ground-level feast with Johnny Depp and Demi Moore instead. As it happens, this tuned out to be somewhat of a major victory for him as Depp managed to convince Moore to lend Thompson the private jet that she and Bruce Willis had recently bought in order to get to Washing D.C. after he had voiced concerns that he would never survive that perilous voyage on America’s paved roads in a premium vehicle. All the while, as Thompson was lucking out in a ground floor windfall Reed was raging in his lonely lofty hell. 

As it happens, Thompson would indeed charter the jet to D.C. never pay his fuel bill to Moore and never speak to Reed again. The beast was known to later make one single remark about the fallout: “Something happened in New York on the last trip… He felt insulted, I guess he’s easily offended.”