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The Hunter Thompson Interview
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Craig Vetter, a former staff writer for Playboy, Outside and Sunset magazines made a guest appearance yesterday in my Magazine Writing class. Craig is a friend of David Standish, the professor, and also a former editor of Playboy.

Vetter and Standish were friends of Hunter S. Thompson, Vetter more as a friend and Standish professionally (he was his editor for a number of years.)

In the wake of Thompson's death, Vetter shared a few of his favorite Thompson stories. I don't have time to get into them today, but if you'd like me to recreate them, please send a comment...

Vetter also lived the hard-living, pained-writing lifestyle of Thompson, and that's probably why they became close friends. Vetter is a highly-skilled writer and an engaging story teller, and his Playboy interview/profile of Thompson is unmatched. His thought was -- If you want to get inside the brain of Thompson, you've got to get high with him -- a lot. And he did -- and his interview is a must-read for anyone who appreciates, or is intrigued by Thompson.

For your reading pleasure, I've posted Vetter's November 1974 Playboy Interview of Hunter S. Thompson below, in a three part segment.

The Playboy Interview

November 1974


a freewheeling conversation with the outlaw journalist and only man alive to ride with both richard nixon and the hell's angels


"In Washington, the truth is never told in daylight hours or across a desk. If you catch people when they're very tired or drunk or weak, you can get some answers. You have to wear the bastards down."

Hunter Stockton Thompson was born and grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and for the past 15 years he has worked as a free-lance writer. He began it all in the Air Force by lying his way into a job as sports editor of the base newspaper. He was fired and threatened with duty in Iceland when his superiors discovered that he was also writing about sports for a civilian paper under another name. After he was discharged, he took writing jobs and was fired from them in Pennsylvania (for destroying his editor's car), in Middletown, New York (where he insulted an advertiser and kicked a candy machine to death), at Time magazine (for his attitude) and in Puerto Rico, where the bowling magazine he was working for failed and he decided to give up journalism. He moved to Big Sur, where his wife, Sandy, made motel beds while he wrote a novel that was never published.

His first real success as a writer came when he moved to South America and began sending stories on tin miners, jungle bandits and smugglers back to The National Observer, which was printing them on the front page and paying him well for them. He continued to write for it when he returned to the States but quit finally in a bitter dispute with his editors over coverage of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. After another try at a novel, this time in San Francisco, he wrote a story for The Nation on a gang of motorcycle outlaws that he turned into his first book, Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga. He continued to write for magazines, developing his wide-open, often-criticized style. Then, in 1971, he turned two abortive magazine assignments into a stunning romp called Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, which earned him an almost immediate reputation as one of the toughest and funniest writers in America.

Since then, he has written about football and power politics for Rolling Stone and his dispatches written during the 1972 Presidential campaign became his third book, Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72.

Early in the year, Playboy sent Craig Vetter to interview Thompson. Vetter's report:

"This interview was hammered and stitched together over seven months, on the road, mostly, in Mexico and Washington, San Clemente and Colorado, and as I write this, we are in Chicago, where tornado warnings are out, and we are up against a hell-fire deadline that has me seeing ghosts and has Dr. Thompson locked in a penthouse full of mirrors on the 20th floor of an Astor Street high-rise. He has the heavy steel window louvers cranked shut, there is a lamp behind him that has had its neck snapped off and he is bent over a coffee table cursing. We are trying to salvage this interview, making changes, corrections, additions -- all of them unnecessary until nine days ago, when Richard Nixon quit. Thompson is mumbling that the motor control in his pen hand is failing and he is not kidding. You can't read his Rs anymore and all five vowels may become illegible soon. We might have finished this thing like gentlemen, except for Richard Nixon, who might as well have sent the plumbers' unit to torch the entire second half, the political half, of the manuscript we have worked on so long. All of it has had to be redone in the past few sleepless days and it has broken the spirit of nearly everyone even vaguely involved.

"Thompson is no stranger to this sort of madness. In fact, he has more than once turned scenes like this into art: Gonzo Journalism, his own wild and dangerous invention, was born in the fires of a nearly hopeless deadline crisis and although no one can storm his demons and win every time out, the mad and speedy Doctor does it more often and with more humor than any other journalist working today. He's still talking to himself over there, chewing on his cigarette holder, and a few minutes ago he said, 'When this is over, I'm going back to Colorado and sleep like an animal,' and he wasn't kidding about that, either. Because for the past two weeks, Nixon's last few weeks, Thompson has suffered and gone sleepless in Washington with another deadline on an impeachment story that was finally burned to a cinder by the same fire storm that gutted the White House. Finally it has been too much even for the man they call 'the quintessential outlaw journalist.' We have been forced over the course of this epic to use certain drugs in such quantity that he has terminated his personal drug research for good and in the same desperate fit, he has severed all connection with national politics and is returning, for new forms of energy, to his roots.

"We're well into the 30th hour now and there won't be many more, no matter what. Thompson is working over his last few answers, still talking to himself, and I think I just heard him say, 'The rest will have to be done by God,' which may mean that he is finished.

"And though this long and killing project is ending here in desperate, guilty, short-tempered ugliness, it began all those months ago, far from this garden of agony, on a sunshine island in the Caribbean where Thompson and Sandy and I had gone to begin taping.

"The first time I turned on the tape recorder, we were sitting on a sea wall, in damp, salty bathing suits, under palm trees. It was warm, Nixon was still our President and Thompson was sucking up bloody marys, vegetables and all, and he had just paid a young newsboy bandit almost one dollar American for a paper that would have cost a straighter, more sober person 24 cents."

PLAYBOY: You just paid as much for your morning paper as you might for a good hit of mescaline. Are you a news junkie, too?

THOMPSON: Yeah, I must have the news. One of these mornings, I'm gonna buy a paper with a big black headline that says, "Richard Nixon Committed Suicide Last Night." Jesus...can you imagine that rush?

PLAYBOY: Do you get off on politics the same way you get off on drugs?

THOMPSON: Sometimes. It depends on the politics, depends on the drugs...there are different kinds of highs. I had this same discussion in Mexico City one night with a guy who wanted me to do Zihuatanejo with him and get stoned for about 10 days on the finest flower tops to be had in all of Mexico. But I told him I couldn't do that; I had to be back in Washington.

PLAYBOY: That doesn't exactly fit your image as the drug-crazed outlaw journalist. Are you saying you'd rather have been in the capital, covering the Senate Watergate hearings or the House Judiciary Committee debate on Nixon's impeachment, than stoned on the beach in Mexico with a bunch of freaks?

THOMPSON: Well -- it depends on the timing. On Wednesday, I might want to go to Washington; on Thursday, I might want to go to Zihuatanejo.

PLAYBOY: Today must be Thursday, because already this morning you've had two bloody marys, three beers and about four spoons of some white substance and you've been up for only an hour. You don't deny that you're heavily into drugs, do you?

THOMPSON: No, why should I deny it? I like drugs. Somebody gave me this white powder last night. I suspect it's cocaine, but there's only one way to find out -- look at this shit! It's already crystallized in this goddamn humidity. I can't even cut it up with the scissors in my Swiss-army knife. Actually, coke is a worthless drug, anyway. It has no edge. Dollar for dollar, it's probably the most inefficient drug on the market. It's not worth the effort or the risk or the money -- at least not to me. It's a social drug; it's more important to offer it than it is to use it. But the world is full of cocamaniacs these days and they have a tendency to pass the stuff around, and this morning I'm a little tired and I have this stuff, so....

PLAYBOY: What do you like best?

THOMPSON: Probably mescaline and mushrooms: That's a genuine high. It's not just an up -- you know, like speed, which is really just a motor high. When you get into psychedelics like mescaline and mushrooms, it's a very clear kind of high, an interior high. But really, when you're dealing with psychedelics, there's only one king drug, when you get down to it, and that's acid. About twice a year you should blow your fucking tubes out with a tremendous hit of really good acid. Take 72 hours and just go completely amuck, break it all down.

PLAYBOY: When did you take your first acid trip?

THOMPSON: It was while I was working on the Hell's Angels book. Ken Kesey wanted to meet some of the Angels, so I introduced him and he invited them all down to his place in La Honda. It was a horrible, momentous meeting and I thought I'd better be there to see what happened when all this incredible chemistry came together. And, sure as shit, the Angels rolled in -- about 40 or 50 bikes -- and Kesey and the other people were offering them acid. And I thought, "Great creeping Jesus, what's going to happen now?"

PLAYBOY: Had the Angels ever been into acid before that?

THOMPSON: No. That was the most frightening thing about it. Here were all these vicious bikers full of wine and bennies, and Kesey's people immediately started giving them LSD. They didn't know what kind of violent crowd they were dealing with. I was sure it was going to be a terrible blood, rape and pillage scene, that the Angels would tear the place apart. And I stood there, thinking, "Jesus, I'm responsible for this, I'm the one who did it." I watched those lunatics gobbling the acid and I thought, "Shit, if it's gonna get this heavy I want to be as fucked up as possible." So I went to one of Kesey's friends and I said, "Let me have some of that shit; we're heading into a very serious night. Perhaps even ugly." So I took what he said was about 800 micrograms, which almost blew my head off at the time...but in a very fine way. It was nice. Surprised me, really. I'd heard all these stories when I lived in Big Sur a couple of years before from this psychiatrist who'd taken the stuff and wound up running naked through the streets of Palo Alto, screaming that he wanted to be punished for his crimes. He didn't know what his crimes were and nobody else did, either, so they took him away and he spent a long time in a loony bin somewhere, and I thought, "That's not what I need." Because if a guy who seems levelheaded like that is going to flip out and tear off his clothes and beg the citizens to punish him, what the hell might I do?

See Part II

See Part III

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