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Music

The insane way Hunter S. Thompson secured an interview with Keith Richards

The late writer Hunter S. Thompson and Keith Richards are two freaks with the same chemical constituencies. In fact, you get the impression that Richards has been kept with us owing to a healthy diet that the Dr of Gonzo prescribed himself: “Music has always been a matter of Energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel. I have always needed Fuel. I am a serious consumer. On some nights I still believe that a car with the gas needle on empty can run about fifty more miles if you have the right music very loud on the radio.”

Both of the ferocious fuel guzzlers suffer from a condition yet to be quantified by the ever-expanding DSM book of psychological oddities and ails. Thus, their meeting was like a blizzard over desert sands. Fateful in its mix of two madmen who defined the outsider angle of counterculture, the meeting was always forecast to be manic enough in itself—it didn’t disappoint. 

And it didn’t disappoint not just because it was a fabled assembly of kindred spirits both borne by some sort of beast, but because the discussion offered up some candid sentiment. Often both the late Thompson and the eternal Richards are coloured with some sort of notion that they wore a mask that ate into the face and the man behind the artifice was subsumed by a need to keep up appearances and consume substances. 

However, Thompson coaxes Richards into uncharacteristic compliments such as: “There was very little difference between The Beatles and ourselves. There would be no Stones without The Beatles. Have to take my hat off to John, he was the strong one. If they hadn’t kicked the door in there wouldn’t be a way through the door.” In this regard, it is like Richards has found his counterculture confession booth. 

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But you can watch those comments yourself in the video below, for there is one tale amid the meeting of the rambunctiously warped minds that lived up to the armchair notion of a counterculture circus of absurdities occurring in unison. And that is simply how the hell-raising handshake came about. 

Thompson had been set to interview Richards in Aspen but that was scuppered when he “came down with a virulent flu”. However, both men were slightly saddened not to have met each other. Thus, another consultation came to the fore when Wayne Ewing was in charge of filming Richards for ABC’s In Concert in 1993. But suddenly, Richards took a turn. He had barricaded himself in his hotel room and was demanding more money. Thankfully, the calm head of Thompson was on hand to help secure the interview. 

He had a manic plan. As Ewing recalls Thompson arrived on the scene and was steadfast on circumventing Richards’ own management and going straight to the door with a sort of mating call—he would blast the amplified sound of slaughtered pigs through the door via a megaphone while brandishing his famed cattle-prod (gone are the days when journalists had ‘famed cattle-prods’). 

As Ewing wrote: 

“What’s Keith’s room number,” asked Hunter.“Suite 1017,” I said “But we have to go to Jane’s (his manager) room first and she will take us to Keith. He won’t open the door for anyone. Jane has to get us in. That’s the plan”

“Fuck your plans,” said the Beast who had just replaced the Nervous Fan of Keith Richards that had been with me in the car. “We’re going to Keith’s room.”

“We’ve got to go to Jane’s first,” I insisted..

“Fuck You. We’re going straight to Keith’s,” growled the Beast.

The pigs began to squeal as the elevator opened on the tenth floor. A few squeamish guests opened their doors to investigate the horrible noise, and closed them very quickly when Hunter brandished the sparking cattle prod. At the large double doors of Suite 1017 Hunter turned up the pigs’ volume and hit the cattle prod’s siren, screaming “Keith, Keith Come out,” and damned if he didn’t.

Keith seemed overjoyed to meet his hero, and Hunter was beside, under and over himself with glee as well…

If that tale seems like a caricature that may be stranger than fiction, it is perhaps ratified by the prank he played on Jack Nicholson; whereby he rode to his secluded house at night, set off 40 million candlepower flare, which illuminated the vast radius of pitch-black wilderness like “the first flash of a nuclear explosion.” He then aimed a million-watt spotlight at Nicholson’s house and, once more, played the amplified sounds of dying pigs (just where did he get that tape?), before leaving an elk heart on his doorstep and moving on. Thompson was a rare prototype indeed, God rest his tortured soul.

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