Hunter S. Thompson’s 1958 cover letter is the bravest job application of all time
“I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.” ― Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter S. Thompson, the iconic journalist and author who founded the gonzo journalism movement, was never one to mince his words.
Thompson, famed for works such as Hell’s Angels, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and more, developed a prolific reputation for his mind-bending working routine which established him as the wordsmith of a pioneering counterculture movement. Having triumphed the legalisation of drugs for large portions of his life, saying they should be decriminalised “across the board”, Thompson had strong opinions that he was able to profoundly exhibit with prolific accuracy.
While many iconic figures of popular culture tend to change their approach to life after achieving success, Thompson was strong-willed and confident from the get-go. With talent running through his veins in almost every challenge he took on, Thompson was granted an honourable discharge from the US Military Air Force and would look for a new life. “In summary, this airman, although talented, will not be guided by policy,” chief of information services Colonel William S. Evans wrote of Thompson’s departure from the military. “Sometimes his rebel and superior attitude seems to rub off on other airmen staff members.”
That rebel attitude, one which remained with him for the rest of his life, would define his brilliant career—but it was an occupational path which looked a little difficult to navigate for a period of time. Starting out and enduring a couple of troublesome journalistic positions, a young Thompson would apply for a writing position with the Vancouver Sun and do so with the kind of courageous vocabulary he became famed for.
“By the time you get this letter, I’ll have gotten hold of some of the recent issues of The Sun. Unless it looks totally worthless, I’ll let my offer stand. And don’t think that my arrogance is unintentional: it’s just that I’d rather offend you now than after I started working for you,” Thompson’s cover letter stated.
“I can work 25 hours a day if necessary, live on any reasonable salary, and don’t give a black damn for job security, office politics, or adverse public relations,” he added. “I would rather be on the dole than work for a paper I was ashamed of.”
While Thompson didn’t end up moving to Vancouver, the letter remains a fascinating insight into early creative mind of literature’s most endearing characters.
See the full transcript, below.
Vancouver Sun TO JACK SCOTT, VANCOUVER SUN October 1, 1958, 57 Perry Street New York City
Sir, I got a hell of a kick reading the piece Time magazine did this week on The Sun. In addition to wishing you the best of luck, I’d also like to offer my services.
Since I haven’t seen a copy of the “new” Sun yet, I’ll have to make this a tentative offer. I stepped into a dung-hole the last time I took a job with a paper I didn’t know anything about (see enclosed clippings) and I’m not quite ready to go charging up another blind alley.
By the time you get this letter, I’ll have gotten hold of some of the recent issues of The Sun. Unless it looks totally worthless, I’ll let my offer stand. And don’t think that my arrogance is unintentional: it’s just that I’d rather offend you now than after I started working for you.
I didn’t make myself clear to the last man I worked for until after I took the job. It was as if the Marquis de Sade had suddenly found himself working for Billy Graham. The man despised me, of course, and I had nothing but contempt for him and everything he stood for. If you asked him, he’d tell you that I’m “not very likable, (that I) hate people, (that I) just want to be left alone, and (that I) feel too superior to mingle with the average person.” (That’s a direct quote from a memo he sent to the publisher.)
Nothing beats having good references.
Of course if you asked some of the other people I’ve worked for, you’d get a different set of answers. If you’re interested enough to answer this letter, I’ll be glad to furnish you with a list of references — including the lad I work for now.
The enclosed clippings should give you a rough idea of who I am. It’s a year old, however, and I’ve changed a bit since it was written. I’ve taken some writing courses from Columbia in my spare time, learned a hell of a lot about the newspaper business, and developed a healthy contempt for journalism as a profession.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity. If this is what you’re trying to get The Sun away from, then I think I’d like to work for you.
Most of my experience has been in sports writing, but I can write everything from warmongering propaganda to learned book reviews.
I can work 25 hours a day if necessary, live on any reasonable salary, and don’t give a black damn for job security, office politics, or adverse public relations.
I would rather be on the dole than work for a paper I was ashamed of.
It’s a long way from here to British Columbia, but I think I’d enjoy the trip.