Hunter S. Thompson Remembers Jimmy Carter’s Captivating Bob Dylan Speech (1974)

Forty years ago, Hunter S. Thompson wrote Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, which “is still considered a kind of bible of political reporting,” says Matt Taibbi in a new edition of the book. Fear and Loathing ’72 entered the canon of American political writing for many reasons. But if you’re looking for one bottom-line explanation, it probably comes down to this: Says Taibbi, “Thompson stared right into the flaming-hot sun of shameless lies and cynical horseshit that is our politics, and he described exactly what he saw—probably at serious cost to his own mental health, but the benefit to us was [his legendary book].”

Thompson may have reached some journalistic apogee with his coverage of the ’72 Nixon-McGovern campaign. But his political writing hardly stopped there. The Gonzo journalist covered the ’76 election for Rolling Stone Magazine. And inevitably he crossed paths with Jimmy Carter, the eventual winner of the election. Above, Thompson recalls the day when Carter first made an impression upon him.

It happened at the University of Georgia School of Law on May 4, 1974. Speaking before a gathering of alumni lawyers, Carter upset their celebratory occasion when he dismantled the criminal justice system they were so proud of. And Carter particularly caught Thompson’s attention when he traced his sense of social justice back to a song written by Bob Dylan:

The other source of my understanding about what’s right and wrong in this society is from a friend of mine, a poet named Bob Dylan. After listening to his records about “The Ballad of Hattie Carol” and “Like a Rolling Stone” and “The Times, They Are a-Changing,” I’ve learned to appreciate the dynamism of change in a modern society.

I grew up as a landowner’s son. But I don’t think I ever realized the proper interrelationship between the landowner and those who worked on a farm until I heard Dylan’s record, “I Ain’t Gonna Work on Maggie’s Farm No More.” So I come here speaking to you today about your subject with a base for my information founded on Reinhold Niebuhr and Bob Dylan.

You can read the full text of Carter’s speech here. It’s also worth watching a related clip below, where Thompson elaborates on Carter, his famous speech and his alleged mean streak that put him on the same plain as Muhammad Ali and Sonny Barger (the godfather of The Hells Angels).

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Comments (7)
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  • Thompson has influenced the past few generations with his invention of Gonzo Journalism. The Good Doctor broke the mold on writing and changed the world and the voice of counter-culture. His work and antics will live on to influence even more generations to come. I paid tribute to Hunter S Thompson and his work with my portrait and article on my artist’s blog at

  • Kelly Burnette says:

    Fine for Thompson, but the real star of this post is Carter. I was 6 when he gave this speech. I remember his tenure as president. And yes, the economic woes. But the linked speech is the vision of a president who was gutsy enough to act on his principles. Read the pdf document. Parallel it with what you see currently. Mull it.

  • Carter gets a lot of flak these days, but it’s posts and recollections like this that truly get back to the realities of the late 70s.

    And as to Carter’s term in office, Walter Karp’s LIBERTY UNDER SIEGE is essential reading. Had Carter been as astute a politician as he was a campaigner, our current situation might be very different. As it was, the forces of oligarchy destroyed him.

  • biffula says:

    Thompson sure had Carter painted wrong. He was the most weak kneed, mamby pamby, ineffectual leader in U.S. history. Well, until 2008 that is.

  • Kevin McCreary says:

    This is definitely a joke. The three meanest people he every met: Muhammad Ali, Sonny Barger, and jimmy carter. Ali was one of his heroes, and he stayed friends with Sonny for years after he wrote “hell’s Angels”.

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