Thompson’s Fine Days

It’s been a long while — two or three months, at least — since I’ve seen Alex Gibney‘s Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson (Magnolia/HDNet, 7.4), which I mostly enjoyed and fully respected. David Carr‘s story about it in the 6.29 N.Y. Times has jarred my memory somewhat. And yet mainly I’m reminded that my primary impression of Thompson’s life can be summed up in four words: “Wow, what a waste.”


Hunter S. Thompson sometime in the mid to late ’60s, to judge by his hairline.

The “wow” part — Thompson’s productive years from the mid ’60s to mid ’70s — is what 90% of Gibney’s film is about. The largely non-productive downturn phase — the last 28 or so years of his life from ’77 until his suicide in ’05 — occupies, no exaggeration, maybe 10 or 12 minutes of screen time, if that. It’s understood, of course, that ruination from booze and drugs is not interesting because there’s absolutely nothing say about it except “and then, lacking the courage to kill himself quickly, he decided to slowly commit suicide on a snort-by-snort, bottle-by-bottle basis.”
And yet Carr’s sentence about Thompson’s coke-and-tequila poisoning carries a certain poignancy: “By the time most of America knew who Thompson was, he was pretty much washed up, having gradually been overtaken by his own legend, with steady assists from the bottle, the drugs and his coven of enablers.” Gibney’s handling of it, by contrast, is a little on the hurried and perfunctory side.
The only big problem I had with Gonzo is the pop-tunes soundtrack. Gibney has used cut after cut of the music that was big in the late ’60s to mid ’70s, but listening to these songs, trust me, will drive you up the wall.
What prevented Gibney, an extremely smart guy, from realizing that it’s virtually impossible for a person watching a doc about the social upheavals of the ’60s to listen the Youngbloods singing “Let’s Get Together” without wanting to fire a bullet into his or her right temple? There is no other reaction to that song at this stage of the game. You hear those fucking lyrics — “C’mon, people now, smile on your brother, try to love one another right now” — and you want to die as soon as possible.
I felt this over and over as Don MacLean‘s “American Pie,” Jimi Hendrix‘s “Hey Joe” and Janis Joplin‘s “Piece of My Heart” and I don’t how many other ’60s standards were heard. These songs, of course, are part of the 245-song repertoire that every classic-rock radio station has been playing for the last 35 years and torturing everyone to death with. Has Gibney ever heard of B sides? Of ’60s bands and tracks that don’t make people want to jump off the top of 30-story office buildings? Apparently not.

  • berg

    even the Fear and Loathing soundtrack had some cool tunes like “Time is Tight” or “Expecting to Fly” but yes it also has White Rabbit and Get Together … I read a bio of H Thompson way back in the day and it claimed that Hunter’s doberman, at his bequest, killed Joan Baez’s little dog in San Fran in the early 1960s …

  • Richardson

    I really dont see how an adaptation of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” could have *not* included “White Rabbit”. It makes for one of the best scenes in the book and the movie.

  • CinemaPhreek

    “The only big problem I had with Gonzo is the pop-tunes soundtrack.”
    Nail. On. The. Head.
    It is such a fucking cliche at this point, that unless a director/producer is going for something ironic they really do reveal themselves to be peddlers of pablum by blasting us with yet another run down of the same fucking 10 songs yet again.
    Either hire a composer to do something different or, great suggestion Wells, find tracks we haven’t heard a thousand times before.
    I’m reminded of Douglas Adams talking about how people would be amazed to discover that they actually usually already owned the Theme music to “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” Just had play the last track on side A of a certain album…

  • http://getmcneil.blogspot.com/ MickTravis

    RE: What prevented Gibney, an extremely smart guy, from realizing that it’s virtually impossible for a person watching a doc about the social upheavals of the ’60s to listen the Youngbloods singing “Let’s Get Together” without wanting to fire a bullet into his or her right temple?
    They use THAT song?
    Gilliam used the same song in the same context in “Fear & Loathing” 10 years ago and it bugged me even then.
    That does not bode well.
    Please tell me they don’t also include “I Want to Take You Higher.”
    One of the masterstrokes of, say, Sam Green’s “The Weather Underground” is the complete lack of golden oldies, it’s all electronic/ambient and it makes the coverage of the anti-war movement seem so much fresher and more vital.
    Granted, a Jann Wenner production would have to have rock music, but jesus … like the old knight said, “Choose wisely!”

  • nemo

    I had a soft spot for that Youngbloods tune when it was popular. But then I was also 14 years old when it was popular.
    That song does have a good instrumental passage in the middle. In fact, even at 14 I think was responding to the song as an instrumental, while screening out the sappy universal brotherhood lyrics.
    But it’s no more sappy than John Lennon’s Imagine from a few years later. I had to go through a similar mental screening process to enjoy that song.
    But good god, both the Youngbloods and Imagine would be ridiculous choices for a documentary about Hunter S. Thompson (as well as overplayed and cliched). The last thing in the world that guy was about is sappy sentiments about universal brotherhood and whirled peas.

  • nemo

    This thread got me thinking. What is so wretched about those 60s and early 70s rock classics is not that they were bad songs to begin with (although some of them surely were). What makes a person reach for his revolver is the fact that they’ve become such hammered-into-the-ground cliches. Overplayed, over and over and over and over again.
    What really got me thinking is that this is the answer to the question someone posed to me in an earlier thread — what the hell do you have against Will Smith. Well, I didn’t completely understand it myself, but I can tell you now.
    It’s what I have against Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson as well. Like those overplayed 60s and 70s rock classics, Smith, Cruise, and Nicholson have been overplayed until they’ve been hammered into the ground.
    These guys who can’t fail, these guys everyone likes and respects, they’ve become complete and total , grotesque and cliched caricatures of themselves.
    None of them are capable of playing human beings anymore. Like those overplayed rock classics, they’ve become Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade giant balloon versions of themselves. They’re as grotesque as that giant head of Eddie Murphy.
    How anybody can face a new movie starring Will Smith, Tom Cruise, or Jack Nicholson without wanting to vomit and die is a deep mystery.

  • Edward

    I just played Imagine the other day. Great song. But I am 60 and it was like, my era, like ya know. I’m still waiting for my first acid flashback; best place would be at work when I’m interviewing the Governor.

  • http://www.myspace.com/joetateparttimehero iamjoe

    Interesting. I’m not sure what to think of the songs placed in this doc, Jeff.
    One side of it is that this music is representative to my generation of what the music of the time was.
    The other side of it is that this music is representativeof what my generation had been TRAINED to think the music of the time was.
    I’m seeing a screening here in Chicago on Monday…we’ll see then,

  • http://www.myspace.com/joetateparttimehero iamjoe

    Interesting. I’m not sure what to think of the songs placed in this doc, Jeff.
    One side of it is that this music is representative to my generation of what the music of the time was.
    The other side of it is that this music is representative of what my generation had been TRAINED to think the music of the time was.
    I’m seeing a screening here in Chicago on Monday…we’ll see then,

  • D.Z.

    I think the problem with many of those 60s ballads is they don’t really feel relatable like songs from other decades. You have to have been there when you first heard “I’m a Believer” or “Dancing in the Street”; and you had to be personally affected by and/or involved in the scenario described in the song. That’s why “Walk the Line” made more money than “Across the Universe”. You can listen to the songs for the first time in the former film without having to “get” them. As for “Fear and Loathing” ‘s choice of music, I’m willing to cut Gilliam some slack, since they might have been imposed on him by the studio, and since they actually work with the scenes, and don’t just feel tacked on, like in, say, Forrest Gump.

  • http://merchandiseonline.org Tim

    The last two paragraphs of this are fucking hilarious Jeff.

  • corey3rd

    a documentary scored by K-Tel. It’s like how all those crappy 60s documentaries have to have that black and white clip of the people holding hands and running around in the park. Enough! Let those people go.
    The songs no longer matter since all they become is cheap wallpaper. Shouldn’t a documentary ultimately attempt to figure out what sort of records the subject owned and hummed during those times?

  • George Prager

    Hey Man! Is that FREEDOM ROCK?!!!
    http://youtube.com/watch?v=jKDk-mg1J9Q

  • George Prager

    Yes these somgs are tiresome. They should’ve just used songs by one guy, like maybe Warren Zevon or Herbie Mann (A Thompson favorite). Oh well. At least HIckenlooper’s Edie movie had some good 60s songs that are not as overplayed like Shakin All Over (although I was bothered by the 1967 Quicksilver Messenger Service song from 1967 playing over a scene taking place in 1964). If I was making a movie about the 60s I would not use any pop/rock songs whatsoever.

  • George Prager

    D.Z. — “That’s why “Walk the Line” made more money than “Across the Universe”.
    ???
    That’s like saying that’s why FORREST GUMP made more money than EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES.

  • D.Z.

    George: “That’s like saying that’s why FORREST GUMP made more money than EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES.”
    ‘Cowgirls was a flop, because it was an R-rated Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and because Gus Van Sant is the indie answer to Chris Columbus.

  • George Prager

    ‘Cowgirls was a flop, because it was an R-rated Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and because Gus Van Sant is the indie answer to Chris Columbus.
    That’s like saying polio is the New Coke because Shaun Cassidy is the communist Pablo Picasso.
    No, COWGIRL was a flop because it was a bad movie.

  • Sefster

    George. Funny. Only way to fight nonsense is with nonsense.