Friday, February 24, 2012

Some Brief Thoughts on Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone

I finally finished reading Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone, a book collecting Hunter Thompson's writing for the magazine, today. Before reading my thoughts, you should read Rory at Totally Gonzo's review of the book, because he sums up the biggest problem with it: namely theheavily edited versions of Thompson's writing that we get. Now, I can live with that more than he can, because I get the whole thing about wanting one book, size limitations, wanting to represent everything, etc., etc., etc. I think they would have been better off doing excerpts like Rory mentions, especially for the pieces already collected in other books. They did a decent job of this with the bit they took from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, because, honestly, you don't need to put much of that in here.

I only wish they'd done something similar with his 1972 campaign material. I wound up skipping over those pieces because I'm planning on rereading Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72 sometime this year like I do in every US election year. What we get here takes up about 150 pages of the book when, honestly, some choice excerpts at about a third of the space would have done nicely.

The main draw for me was the uncollected pieces he'd done for Rolling Stone. Stuff like "Polo is My Life," which hasn't appeared in any of his released books yet -- or that piece on the 2004 election. There isn't much that hasn't been collected somewhere ("Fear and Loathing in Elko" appears in Kingdom of Fear, I believe), but I'd hope that the material that can't be found in other collections appears unchanged. Probably not, though.

Despite these problems, I'd still recommend this book -- at least to someone who's just getting into Thompson's writing. His writing for Rolling Stone was something that shows where he was at almost every stage of his career, so this book functions as a sample at the very least. It may be chopped up, but, even in that state, it's still Thompson -- it's hard to hide his style and talent. If you want to read complete versions of the articles, there's always The Great Shark Hunt, Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Songs of the Doomed Better than Sex, and Kingdom of Fear.

I liked the introductions to each article/section of articles and the use of letters surrounding the article/section of articles. That was one thing Jann Wenner got right in his editing of the book and something that makes this a better book to give to first-time readers of Thompson. Because, honestly, that's who the audience is. There's the appeal of the odd thing that longtime readers haven't seen (unless they got the original issues of Rolling Stone), but, otherwise, it's a taster's menu of Thompson's writing throughout his career tied to one magazine.

Now, what I need is The Mutineer, something that has all of the "Hey Rube" columns not in the print collection, and the promised unreleased stuff...