Of all the musical moments in Hunter S. Thompson’s formidable corpus of “gonzo journalism,” which one comes most readily to mind? I would elect the scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas when Thompson’s alter-ego Raoul Duke finds his attorney “Dr. Gonzo” in the bathtub, “submerged in green water — the oily product of some Japanese bath salts he’d picked up in the hotel gift shop, along with a new AM/FM radio plugged into the electric razor socket. Top volume. Some gibberish by a thing called ‘Three Dog Night,’ about a frog named Jeremiah who wanted ‘Joy to the World.’ First Lennon, now this, I thought. Next we’ll have Glenn Campbell screaming ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone?'”
But Dr. Gonzo, his state even more altered than usual, really wants to hear only one song: Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.” He wants “a rising sound,” and what’s more, he demands that “when it comes to that fantastic note where the rabbit bites its own head off,” Duke throw the radio in the tub with him.
Duke refuses, explaining that “it would blast you right through the wall — stone-dead in ten seconds.” Yet Dr. Gonzo, who insists he just wants to get “higher,” will have none of it, forcing Duke to engage in trickery that takes to a new depth the book’s already-deep level of craziness. Such, at the time, was the power of not just drugs but of the even more mind-altering product known as music.
Nothing evokes a period of recent history more vividly than its songs, especially in the case of the 1960s and early 1970s that Thompson’s prose captured with such improbable eloquence. Now, thanks to London’s NTS Radio (they of the spiritual jazz and Haruki Murakami mixes), you can spend a good six hours in that Thompsonian period whenever you like by streaming their Hunter S. Thompson Day, consisting of two three-hour mixes composed by Edu Villarroel, creator of the Spotify playlist “Gonzo Tapes: Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die!” Both that playlist and these mixes feature many of the 60s names you might expect: not just Jefferson Airplane but Buffalo Springfield, Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Cream, Captain Beefheart, and many more besides.
Those artists appear on one particularly important source for these mixes, Thompson’s list of the ten best albums of the 60s. But Hunter S. Thompson Day also offers deeper cuts of Thompsoniana as well, including pieces of Terry Gilliam’s 1998 film adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as well as clips from other media in which the real Thompson appeared, in fully gonzo character as always. Villarroel describes these mixes as “best served with a couple tabs of sunshine acid, tall glass of Wild Turkey with ice and Mezcal on the side,” but you may well derive a similar experience from listening while partaking of another powerful substance: Thompson’s writing, still so often imitated without ever replicating its effect, which you can get started reading here on Open Culture.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.