Hunter S. Thompson is one of the most influential writers of all time. The father of gonzo journalism, his madcap life not only inspired some of the most raucous tales ever put to print but also galvanised generations of budding writers to pick up a notepad.
Thompson showed that to get a juicy scoop, you need to throw yourself at the topic and immerse yourself in the world on which you’re writing, rather than taking a skewed onlookers perspective which is the mode of ‘straight’, vanilla journalism.
Whether it be his time spent with the Hell’s Angels, his time following the 1972 Presidential campaign trail or his classic roman à clef, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Thompson had an unmistakable style and take on the world. His sardonic and surreal perspective was no doubt influenced by the copious amounts of alcohol and narcotics he enjoyed on a daily basis.
A deeply political writer and thinker, Thompson’s writings could be regarded as deeply offensive to some. His takes on the world were his own, and instilled with the countercultural sentiment, he was often critical of the free market world order and of the American government. Whether it be his discussion of Karl Marx to the ‘real’ perpetrator of 9/11, often, Thompson’s opinions veered off from the beaten track, making him one of the most divisive yet through the power of his syntax, alluring writers of the modern age.
In 1986, during an interview with SPIN, Thompson gave us another one of his hot takes, and this time, it was regarding who he hailed as the three most important men of his age. Asked who they were, Thompson replied quickly: “Muhammad Ali, Fidel Castro, and Bob Dylan”.
Asked to explain why he picked three huge, yet contrasting characters, Thompson responded with his unique form of realism. He declared: “Ali is one of the true heroes of our time. He spoke up in the ’60s and stood his ground. He also paid his dues without a whimper. Castro has been running his country for 26 years although everybody’s tried to get him knocked off, from the Kennedy brothers to the Mafia. And no matter what you hear in this country, his people love him down there. He’s a hell of a leader.”
For ‘The Bard’, Thompson saved the highest praise. He said: “Bobby Dylan is the purest, most intelligent voice of our time. Nobody else has a body of work over 20 years as clear and as intelligent. He always speaks for the time”.
The three figures Thompson picked are not surprising. He was an outspoken supporter of Ali throughout his career, and a huge supporter of communism and anti-capitalist rhetoric, and for anyone who ascribed to these political values, Fidel Castro was a hero.
As for Bob Dylan, Thompson was a huge fan, and it is no secret. He cited ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ as one of his favourite tracks of all time, and in a 1970 letter to Rolling Stone editor John Lombardi, he explained his love for Dylan in no uncertain terms.
He told Lombardi: “I resent your assumption that Music is Not My Bag because I’ve been arguing for the past few years that music is the New Literature, that Dylan is the 1960s’ answer to Hemingway”.
Believing fully in his own convictions, Thompson had a knack for supporting his assertions in the most straightforward and concise manner. To have interviewed him surely would have been a blessing. Like watching a rare bird in flight, his discussions in the media were always invaluable. He could cover any manner of topic with panache, and this was his true genius. He segued seamlessly from one topic to the next, but everything he said retained considerable weight.
Watch Thompson discuss gonzo journalism below.