Hunter S. Thompson was a literary icon – a moralist, a gun nut, and the original gonzo journalist. He was the inventor of the true breakfast of champions and author of the most hilariously profane presidential obituary ever.
Of all his writing though, his book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a journey through bat country and into the twisted dark heart of the American soul, is his most famous and beloved. And aside from perhaps the book’s opening line – “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold” – the most memorable section of the work is his “wave speech” which shows up in the eighth chapter. It is a poetic, heartfelt monologue about the idealism and the crushed dreams of the 1960s. Thompson himself said that the passage is “one of the best things I’ve ever fucking written.”
You can see Johnny Depp – who has played Thompson twice on the silver screen — read an abbreviated version of the speech above. You can read along below. And make sure you turn up your speakers a bit.
Strange memories on this nervous night in Las Vegas. Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era—the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run… but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant.…
History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time—and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.
There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda.… You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning.…
And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.…
So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.
Fear and Loathing was, of course, adapted into a 1998 film starring Depp after a very long development stage. Alex Cox – who directed the punk cult hit Repo Man – was originally slated to make the movie until he made the mistake of proposing to turn the wave speech into an animated sequence. Thompson was extremely unimpressed. Cox got canned and soon after Terry Gilliam was given the reins to the film. You can see the Gilliam’s treatment of the wave speech sequence below.
Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.