Hunter S. Thompson Writes a Blistering, Over-the-Top Letter to Anthony Burgess (1973)

Thompson Burgess Letter

We know Antho­ny Burgess for hav­ing writ­ten A Clock­work Orange, but in total, accord­ing to Shaun Ush­er’s More Let­ters of Note: Cor­re­spon­dence Deserv­ing of a Wider Audi­ence (a book based on the well-known blog), he “pub­lished 33 nov­els, 25 non­fic­tion titles, pro­duced poet­ry, short sto­ries and screen­plays, com­posed three sym­phonies, wrote hun­dreds of musi­cal pieces, and spoke nine lan­guages flu­ent­ly.” Yet even such a “pro­lif­ic, ver­sa­tile, and high­ly intel­li­gent” man of let­ters faces writer’s block now and again.

Take the Rolling Stone think­piece Burgess could­n’t man­age to write in 1973. Con­ced­ing defeat — “things are hell here,” he wrote of his life in Rome at the time — he offered the mag­a­zine “a 50,000-word novel­la I’ve just fin­ished, all about the con­di­tion humaine, etc.” in its place. Sure­ly his edi­tor would under­stand? Alas, unluck­i­ly for Burgess, his edi­tor turned out to be one Hunter S. Thomp­son, who fired back the char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly blunt but elo­quent­ly vit­ri­olic reply you see here:

Dear Mr. Burgess,

Herr Wen­ner has for­ward­ed your use­less let­ter from Rome to the Nation­al Affairs Desk for my exam­i­na­tion and/or reply.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, we have no Inter­na­tion­al Gib­ber­ish Desk, or it would have end­ed up there.

What kind of lame, half-mad bull­shit are you try­ing to sneak over on us? When Rolling Stone asks for “a think­piece”, god­damnit, we want a fuck­ing Think­piece… and don’t try to weasel out with any of your limey bull­shit about a “50,000 word novel­la about the con­di­tion humaine, etc…”

Do you take us for a gang of brain­less lizards? Rich hood­lums? Dilet­tante thugs?

You lazy cock­suck­er. I want that Think­piece on my desk by Labor Day. And I want it ready for press. The time has come & gone when cheap­jack scum like you can get away with the kind of scams you got rich from in the past.

Get your worth­less ass out of the piaz­za and back to the type­writer. Your type is a dime a dozen around here, Burgess, and I’m fucked if I’m going to stand for it any longer.


Hunter S Thomp­son

“The desired think­piece nev­er appeared in the pages of Rolling Stone,” writes the Inter­na­tion­al Antho­ny Burgess Foun­da­tion’s Gra­ham Fos­ter, “but the essay referred to in these let­ters, ‘The Clock­work Con­di­tion’, was even­tu­al­ly pub­lished in the New York­er in 2012.” In it, Burgess recalls the ori­gins of his best-known nov­el and con­sid­ers the caus­es of the soci­etal con­for­mi­ty he took as one of his themes, arriv­ing at the Orwellian notion that “the bur­den of mak­ing one’s own choic­es is, for many peo­ple, intol­er­a­ble. To be tied to the neces­si­ty of decid­ing for one­self is to be a slave to one’s will.”

That goes for “where to eat, whom to vote for, what to wear” — and, of course, for what to write a think­piece about as well as how to write it. “It is eas­i­er to be told,” Burgess writes. “Smoke Hale — nine­ty per cent less tar; read this nov­el, sev­en­ty-five weeks on the best-sell­er list; don’t see that movie, it’s art­sy-shmart­sy.” He even remem­bers, with a cer­tain fond­ness, his time in the army: “At first I resent­ed the dis­ci­pline, the removal of even min­i­mal lib­er­ty,” but “soon my reduc­tion to a piece of clock­work began to please me, soothe me.” Fair to say, though, that no mat­ter how demand­ing the offi­cers above him, the expe­ri­ence did­n’t pre­pare Burgess for a supe­ri­or like Thomp­son.

via More Let­ters of Note and Esquire

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

Read 18 Lost Sto­ries From Hunter S. Thompson’s For­got­ten Stint As a For­eign Cor­re­spon­dent

Hunter S. Thomp­son, Exis­ten­tial­ist Life Coach, Gives Tips for Find­ing Mean­ing in Life

Hunter S. Thompson’s Ball­sy & Hilar­i­ous Job Appli­ca­tion Let­ter (1958)

John­ny Depp Reads Let­ters from Hunter S. Thomp­son

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (9)
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  • FTB says:

    As fun­ny and cathar­tic as that was for him truth be told Burgess was ten times the writer Thomp­son ever was.

  • baktash says:

    awsom letter.this was almost too funny.thanks for post­ing it.

  • Chris says:

    Hunter Thomp­son lacks wit and is huge­ly over­rat­ed.

  • Marco says:

    Well, all the world knows, reads and appre­ci­ates Antho­ny Burgess. Who is Hunter S Thomp­son? This says all.
    Not to men­tion we’re talk­ing about Rolling Stone…

  • Joe says:

    Chris lacks balls and is prob­a­bly a hack.

  • allhailgonzo says:

    What a bunch of dis­re­spect­ful, slan­der­ous filth in these com­ments. If his writ­ing is any­thing like clock­work orange, he is in no lit­er­ary sense close to hunter s Thomp­son. You can’t com­pare real life expe­ri­ence to rub­bish fan­ta­sy. Clock­work Orange was a shit­ty movie. I saw it a cou­ple times and I did­n’t enjoy it. It made me think of how delu­sion­al and messed up some­one would have to be to write some­thing like that.

    Hunter S Thomp­son pro­vid­ed a per­spec­tive that no one else on this earth has or ever will. That is wor­thy of respect in my books.

    I’d like to see these key­board war­riors run with the Hel­l’s Angels like Hunter did.

    Real life>Fantasy

  • FTB says:

    Let’s see, you can’t fig­ure out the dif­fer­ence between a book and a movie direc­tor’s vision of that book, you haven’t read any­thing by Burgess, you think rid­ing with the Hel­l’s Angels is some sort of lit­er­ary achieve­ment and you’re angry those who have read both authors don’t agree with your views.

    It’s OK to be stu­pid, often it’s not your fault–genetics, envi­ron­ment, etc all play a role–but the secret is not to show your stu­pid­i­ty off to every­one. Give mom­my her lap­top back, you’ll thank me when you grow up.

  • Rathbone says:

    All kid­ding aside, can some­one please explain why “To be tied to the neces­si­ty of decid­ing for one­self is to be a slave to one’s will.” isn’t com­plete dri­v­el?

  • Ataxias says:

    It’s because tak­ing deci­sions requires men­tal effort, and entails respon­si­bil­i­ty. You are ful­ly respon­si­ble for your deci­sions, and you have to accept the con­se­quences, includ­ing remorse and won­der­ing about what could have been dif­fer­ent should you have opt­ed for some­thing else. By con­trast, being told what to do is lib­er­at­ing — you don’t have to pon­der over pos­si­ble advan­tages and dis­ad­van­tages, loss­es, gains, moral­i­ty. And best of all? No mat­ter the out­come, it’s not your fault. You were sim­ply doing what you had been told.

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