Annie Leibovitz is a rock star. She is the most easily recognizable of contemporary American photographers and she is constantly creating new and interesting work for Vanity Fair, Vogue, and various advertising campaigns.
Hunter S. Thompson is the guy who said “when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro”, and who really meant it. He left a legacy of brilliant, drug-induced rants about everything from politics to the American Dream to Hell’s Angels.
At same point, to the way to somewhere, those two met.
Years later, she brought him to life in “Annie Leibovitz At Work”, a collection of about 100 photos from her career along with the stories of how the images came about and Annie’s own comments and thoughts about the subject, the impact on her career, and that time in her life.
“Hunter sweated a lot. When he wasn’t sweating he was screaming that he wasn’t sweating and he thought he was dying”, she wrote.
This below is the jerkish, self-centered, psychotic, awesome, talented, brilliant Mr. Gonzo.
33 years before grabbing his Smith&Wesson and blowing his face off.
Random fact 1:
Hunter’s 2005 suicide left Anita Thompson a young widow. She recently sat down with a reporter at a random event put together by Flying Dog Brewery (the Aspen-born brewhouse started by Hunter’s friend George Stranahan) to talk about a pair of new books and Hunter’s sleeping habits, amongst other things (Btw, she said he didn’t use to snore, hihi. Apparently he was a great sleeper. A quiet sleeper. A very affectionate sleeper. And a good snuggler, too). Here’s a short, cute fragment:
Reporter: Tell me about when you and Hunter first met.
Anita Thompson: We met through a mutual friend. I had asked the question, what is it about football that will create this bond between men who have nothing in common but can have a lifelong relationship over a game. My friend said I have just the person for you, he’s a sports writer, his name is Hunter Thompson. I had read one part of a piece in Rolling Stone about Bill Clinton, but that was it, I hadn’t read anything else. Hunter taught be about football via betting.
Reporter: Bedding? (nods knowingly)
Anita Thompson: (laughs) Not bedding, betting! Good one. I spent a few years working for him and as friends. And at that point I was going back to school and on my way back to university he said ‘hold on, I’m just finishing a book of letters and I need help with it, why don’t you take another semester off and come work for me’, and I took time off and we fell in love. He taught me about football through betting on it. He taught me about…
Reporter: He taught you about capitalism! Do you still watch football?
Anita Thompson: I do, I didn’t for about two or three years. I didn’t even really turn the tv on. It was hard, emotionally.
Random fact 2:
He used crates of dynamite as furniture, almost blowing up Johnny Depp in the process. Johnny Depp lived with Thompson for a while to get his mannerisms down for the film version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. His quarters were down in Thompson’s basement, and apparently they were hastily assembled out of whatever was handy at the time: Depp recalls going to ash his cigarette into an ashtray on his bedside table and then casually noticing that the table itself was a crate of dynamite. He called Thompson down to the basement and asked if the dynamite was real; Thompson replied, “Good God, Colonel [his nickname for Depp]! You could have blown us all to bits!” Explosions seemed par for the course during the tenure of Depp and Thompson’s friendship. Their relationship began with Depp blowing up propane tanks in Thompson’s yard, and ended with the actor bankrolling Thompson’s request to have his ashes shot out of a cannon.
The fact that Thompson had so much dynamite simply lying around his home that he actively misplaced a crate of it is indicative of how much the man loved to blow shit up. Johnny Depp living in his basement like some kind of wacky sitcom roommate only adds to the gonzoness.
Random fact 3:
The month was October. A “tart-tongued” columnist named Jack Scott had just been promoted to editorial director of the Vancouver Sun. On the other side of the continent, a pre-fame and pre-Gonzo Hunter S. Thompson read a story in Time magazine about Scott’s penchant for journalistic stunts. Broke and living in a Greenwich Village basement apartment, Thompson thought to himself, “Here’s a man I might like to work for.” There’s no indication that Scott ever wrote back to Thompson. Then again, he might not have had the time: he was demoted a few months later. I re-read it, and laugh, wishing that I had even half his chutzpah. In case you’ve never seen this classic, here is a (short) fragment from the greatest cover letter ever written:
[…] As far as I’m concerned, it’s a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity. If this is what you’re trying to get The Sun away from, then I think I’d like to work for you.
Most of my experience has been in sports writing, but I can write everything from warmongering propaganda to learned book reviews.
I can work 25 hours a day if necessary, live on any reasonable salary, and don’t give a black damn for job security, office politics, or adverse public relations.
I would rather be on the dole than work for a paper I was ashamed of.
It’s a long way from here to British Columbia, but I think I’d enjoy the trip.
If you think you can use me, drop me a line.
If not, good luck anyway.
Sincerely, Hunter S. Thompson
(Full letter here: http://boingboing.net/2010/10/05/hunter-s-thompsons-1.html)
Random fact 4:
He terrorized Jack Nicholson on his birthday. Thompson’s birthday celebration for his friend Jack Nicholson consisted of the following, outlined in his book Kingdom of Fear: “a massive outdoor amplifier, a tape recording of a pig being eaten alive by bears, a 1,000,000-watt spotlight, and a 9-mm Smith & Wesson semiautomatic pistol with teakwood handles and a box of high-powered ammunition.” Oh, and a frozen elk’s heart, which he left on the actor’s doorstep while he played the tape through his Jeep and the amplifier, and let off a couple rounds from the Smith & Wesson.
Considering Nicholson had just had a brush with an actual stalker and was home with his two young daughters at the time, this might fall a little to the “jerk” side of the gonzo scale.
Random fact 5:
Would you like to try out Mr. Thompson’s “Breakfast of champions”? If your answer is “Sure!”, then you should probably think twice. Really. Why think twice? Well, let’s just say that Mr. Gonzo’s breakfasting habits were just like the man himself: over the top and very… unique. So, wondering what’s the definition of breakfast, according to HST? Here it goes!
Breakfast is the only meal of the day that I tend to view with the same kind of traditionalized reverence that most people associate with Lunch and Dinner. I like to eat breakfast alone, and almost never before noon; anybody with a terminally jangled lifestyle needs at least one psychic anchor every twenty-four hours, and mine is breakfast. In Hong Kong, Dallas or at home — and regardless of whether or not I have been to bed — breakfast is a personal ritual that can only be properly observed alone, and in a spirit of genuine excess. The food factor should always be massive: four Bloody Marys, two grapefruits, a pot of coffee, Rangoon crepes, a half-pound of either sausage, bacon, or corned beef hash with diced chiles, a Spanish omelette or eggs Benedict, a quart of milk, a chopped lemon for random seasoning, and something like a slice of Key lime pie, two margaritas, and six lines of the best cocaine for dessert… Right, and there should also be two or three newspapers, all mail and messages, a telephone, a notebook for planning the next twenty-four hours and at least one source of good music… All of which should be dealt with outside, in the warmth of a hot sun, and preferably stone naked.
Makes your weekend booze benders look like a celery eating contest, ha?
Random fact 6:
He turned a fire extinguisher on Jann Wenner. One night, while staying at Owl Creek, a pot-addled Wenner failed to pay as much attention to a Joni Mitchell album as Thompson wanted him to. Thompson elected to wake him up by discharging a fire extinguisher at Wenner, who awoke coughing and blinded by the spray. Wenner was often on the receiving end of Thompson’s “pranks,” to give a kind name to what was often closer to sadism. A now-famous Annie Leibovitz photograph (above) depicts Thompson engaging in one of his favorite party tricks: spitting fire. Hunter called his pyromaniacal tendencies toward Wenner “the ultimate ambition every writer has about his editor.”
Considering that Wenner was one of Thompson’s biggest champions and his technical boss, and kept him on the Rolling Stone masthead long after Thompson stopped contributing to the magazine, the fact that Thompson continually assaulted him is pretty gonzo. (That said, these days, rare is the Rolling Stone issue that I open that doesn’t conjure in me the urge to set Wenner on fire.)
Random fact 7:
He reinvented the process of autographing books. How? Well, in a wicked way, of course! He autographed books by shooting them. Writer Douglas Brinkley describes taking a group of students to meet Thompson at Owl Creek. Though some of the students voiced their concern that Thompson might spike their drinks with LSD (possible, though that was probably more of a Ken Kesey move), Thompson had other plans. He had the students line up one by one, propping the copies of his books they’d brought for autographs up against a tree, then using his .44 Magnum to blast a hole through each book. The ritual was completed in near-silence: Thompson’s only utterances were “Next!” and (in Brinkley’s words) “the occasional primal scream to keep everybody on high alert.”
Imagine you’re a young Thompson fan. Then imagine Thompson blowing a hole through your treasured, dog-eared copy of your favorite book with a massive handgun. The philosophical implications of shooting holes in your own work are interesting, but Thompson probably just enjoyed playing with guns more than signing autographs. Still — pretty gonzo.
Hunter S. Thompson, Annie Leibovitz, 1972
Random fact 8:
After an argument between the Angels and Thompson he was savagely beaten by the gang (also known as ‘stomping’ which conjures up some nice thoughts doesn’t it kiddies?) and (hell yes!) lived to tell his tale. The story: In 1965, Carey McWilliams, editor of The Nation, offered Thompson the opportunity to write a story based on his experience with the California-based Hells Angels motorcycle club. After The Nation published the article, Thompson received several book offers and spent the next year living and riding with the Hell’s Angels. The relationship broke down when the bikers concluded that Thompson was exploiting them for his personal gain. The gang demanded a share of the profits from his writings and after an argument at a party Thompson ended up with a savage beating, or “stomping” as the Angels referred to it. After the book’s publication CBC Television filmed a meeting between Thompson and ‘Angel’, a member of the Hell’s Angels that had attacked him, in front of a studio audience: ‘Author meets Critic brings together Hunter Thompson and the reader he antagonised the most, the bike rider – Hells Angel, Cliff Dirkman.’ You can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ccyu44rsaZo Man, Hunter had huuuge balls. That’s all I can say. He didn’t even have to say his version and he came out the better man. But, well, being the most intelligent person in the room is often enough. And rough.
Random fact 9:
In Ralph Steadman’s book “The Joke’s over” he describes the first time he met Hunter S. Thompson. Apparently Steadman had never been to American and was at the Kentucky Derby. Baffled by the American’s he saw in the diner where he met up with Thompson he began to draw them in his trademark style. Thompson freaked out thinking that the people around them would think he is insane so he began to beat the living crap out of Steadman in the Diner and throw him out the door. Thompson later explained it was for his own good.
Random fact 10:
He invented the sport of shotgun golf. Thompson was an avid sportsman and firearm enthusiast, so he was almost duty-bound to combine the two at some point in his life. Enter shotgun golf, first conceived with Bill Murray (of course) at 3:30 in the morning on a Tuesday, then written up for Thompson’s last column for ESPN. The equipment list is short and sweet: golf club, golf ball, shotgun. (Preferably a 12-gauge.) The participants are a shooter, a golfer, and a judge, though the game can be expanded for two-man teams. The objective is simple: if you’re golfing, you need to make it onto the green. If you’re shooting, you need to blast your opponent’s golf ball into oblivion. Two points are awarded for success on either end. Thompson played the first game with Aspen Sheriff Bob Braudis… and then John Cusack played a round with him after somehow being coerced (or bullied) into stealing Don Henley’s car.
“Shotgun golf” is a profound melding of high and low culture, though it’s unlikely Thompson had post-modern aesthetics on his mind when he called Bill Murray in the middle of the night. But nothing involving golf can be truly that badass, so this falls relatively low on the scale.
Discharging a Smith&Wesson model 29 on a Harley: is there a more American late-20th century pop-culture image than that? No.
Yet, he was annoyingly constant in his love for firearms, since he chose to make his exit by using the same Smith&Wesson.
HST’s legend ended with a hole in the face, along with these words: “Football season is over. No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax — This won’t hurt.”
Hunter, you dog! Wish you could have stayed around for longer.
[…] She learned similar lessons from her work with Hunter S. Thompson, saying “He didn’t want a photographer around, he pushed me away,” but Leibovitz thinks that in a way, “he helped me to see.” By seeing that her career would always make her an outsider, a documenter, when it came to pictures that were not posed Leibovitz saw that she had the power to choose She was the one who chose the things that she photographed or the things that she did not and these choices allowed her to create the images that she found to be most artistic or effective. Many of her photos focus on the “little moments” rather than the big ones, “A lot can be told in those moments between the main moments,” she says. Her shots of the carpet being rolled up after Nixon’s resignation, people crowding around the murder site during the O.J. Simpson trial, or of Barack Obama waiting in the wings during the primaries all hold the quality of being viewed by a silent observer that many photographers would miss. This is where Annie Leibovitz’s news photos gain their power. (Source: http://artculture.com/photography/annie-leibovitz-an-american-icon)
Note: The last two photos don’t belong to Annie. I just thought they were awfully cute and just couldn’t help but post them. 🙂 Excerpts are taken from: http://www.nerve.com/entertainment/the-five-most-gonzo-stories-about-hunter-s-thompson