Johnny Depp Reads Hunter S. Thompson’s Famous “Wave Speech” from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Read 10 Free Arti­cles by Hunter S. Thomp­son That Span His Gonzo Jour­nal­ist Career (1965–2005)

Hunter S. Thomp­son Inter­views Kei­th Richards

John­ny Depp Reads Let­ters from Hunter S. Thomp­son

Hunter S. Thomp­son Gets Con­front­ed by The Hell’s Angels

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.

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