After nearly 15 years of production delays and buzz, "The Rum Diary," starring Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, opens nationwide at multiplexes this weekend. For casual movie fans, it's a chance to see Depp in a role outside of a Disney movie. But f*ck that. For myself and Gonzo acolytes/fanboys across the globe, this is more a long-awaited chance to see a great book from the wild literary mind of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson hit the big screen. And I'll buy that ticket and take that ride.
Hunter S. Thompson wrote the "Rum Diary" in the early 1960s as a struggling twentysomething writer bouncing between newspaper gigs across the United States and Puerto Rico. The novel sat in a drawer in his Woody Creek, Colorado, outpost for nearly three decades before Depp discovered it during a visit, asked Hunter about it, and convinced him to publish it. (It hit bookstores in 1998.) The plot follows a journalist named Paul Kemp, who relocates to the tropical streets of San Juan, where he starts boozing relentlessly with his fellow newspapermen. Eventually, Kemp becomes lovestruck and entangled in an affair with a buxom blonde named Chenault (Heard), the girlfriend of Sanderson, a well-to-do developer on the island. What the modern audience needs to know from the beginning is that -- sans a few drunken hijinks -- the book itself reads nothing like "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" or the feature magazine journalism Thomspon's eventually became know for. "The Rum Diary" is fiction -- a novel attempted to be written in the vein of Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises" or Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" -- whereas "Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas" and "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 1972" were fact. If you're going into "The Rum Diary" this weekend expecting Richard Nixon lament or the ingestion of "a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers," you might want to stay home.
Depp and Thompson became friends back in the mid-'90s. Before filming "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" with Terry Gilliam, Depp moved into Thompson's Owl Farm ranch (where he famously and unknowingly smoked cigarettes next to a keg of black gunpowder Thompson was storing in his basement). When Thompson checked out in 2005, the actor paid for his funeral, honoring his friend's last wishes to have his ashes blasted out of a giant cannon into the crispy Colorado night. Using his leverage as one of the most elite A-listers in Hollywood, Depp vowed to get "The Rum Diary" made into a movie, eventually teaming up with Bruce Robinson of "Withnail and I" fame to write the script and direct the picture. Production started and finished in 2009.
Now, with Depp playing a Thompson character on the big screen again, it's a chance for a larger audience to dip their toes into Thompson's legacy as a prolific wrter. He was a rare breed of rockstar writer/journalist, one who managed to capture the public's imagination as a professional hellraiser. That's fine and all, but Thompson was a man with a higher calling beyond the debauchery and booze and drugs and excess. His voice echoed and even amplified perhaps one of the purest ideals of The American Dream: a patriotic middle-finger-to-Those-In-Charge that screams "liberty and justice for all" means "liberty and justice for all," not "liberty and justice for some." And he had no grievances calling anyone in a position of authority a "Thieving Pig Fucker."
In honor of "The Rum Diary" hitting theaters this weekend, I've compiled a slideshow of nine viral gems that have popped up on the Internet since Thompson's passing: Recorded rants that were uploaded to YouTube, missives posted to Letters of Note, and other general miscellany. I've pointed out some life advice hidden in the subtext of each item, so you might want to take notes and maybe learn a thing or two. The Good Doctor's orders.
Click on the picture ABOVE to advance to the first slide...
Always protect your own interests.
In his final piece for Playboy in 2004, Thompson rhapsodized that "Choosing the right friends is a life-or-death matter." Hunter was brilliant when it came making the acquaintance with a good lawyer. Over the years, Thompson aligned himself closely with a coterie of brilliant legal minds, from famed Chicano activist Oscar Zeta Acosta (the Samoan Attorney, Dr. Gonzo, in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas") to Morris Dees, the founder of the Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center. The bottom line? These were the people who helped protected his interests and helped lead court crusades against varying types of injustices. In 1998, as "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" headed to the box office, Hunter turned up the heat on his lawyer, George Tobia (who's credited as a producer on "The Rum Diary"), to look after "the movie money." Hunter's words were less than congratulatory, telling him, "Your work was inadequate and inexcusably negligent." The Gonzo life-lesson: Lawyer up when other people want to take what's rightfully yours. Here's the transcript, in case you can't make out the entire letter.... George Tobia/Burns & Levinson/Boston/May 5, 1998 Dear George: This is to alert you that now is the time to pay close attention to the box office gross for the Vegas movie. It's coming out in three weeks and people in Hollywood are working themselves into a frenzy about who owns exactly which gross points. There appears to be a shortage of them like a game of musical chairs about to run amok. I need to know my position on this and I think you have the paperwork, or at least you should. So, please advise me ASAP inre: my my exact profit expectations, which has suddenly become a very important question. The movie money(?) should be your highest priority now. Never mind the RUM DIARY contract, we got it worked out and I will no longer require your services on that matter. Your work was inadequate and inexcusably negligent. I have formally authorized John Clancy, general counsel for Gonzo Int., Corp. to execute the contract and to handle all legal matters regarding the RUM DIARY. Ok. I have to go now. We are taking a raft down the river and into the swollen rapids. Let me know about the movie money this week and thanks for your work. Sincerely, (Signed) Hunter S. Thompson
Never settle for sub-par quality, especially when it comes to consumer electronics.
Life is short. And it isn't easy to make a buck in today's economy. So, when it comes to making purchasing decisions, why settle for shitty, sub-par quality? This AV dealer got an earful after hawking a product that didn't work as expected. Remember this rant the next time you're at the Genius Bar and some dweeb barks about your motherboard dying in that P.O.S. MacBook Pro.
Don't be afraid to be honest when offering constructive criticism.
Back in 1971, Thompson shot off this brutally honest rejection letter to writer Mike Peterson, who pitched a satirical piece to Rolling Stone, where he served as the chief of the National Affairs Desk. When it comes to spitting truth and dropping knowledge, there's no sense to let emotions get in the way or tip-toeing around the truth. Telling someone to "Jam this morbid drivel up your ass" will get the message across quite efficiently. Here's the transcript, in case you can't make out the entire letter.... ROLLING STONE 625 Third Street, San Francisco, California 94107 . Telephone: (415) 362-4730 You worthless, acid-sucking piece of illiterate shit! Don’t ever send this kind of brain-damaged swill in here again. If I had the time, I’d come out there and drive a fucking wooden stake into your forehead. Why don’t you get a job, germ? Maybe delivering advertising handouts door to door, or taking tickets for a wax museum. You drab South Bend cocksuckers are all the same; like those dope-addled dingbats at the Rolling Stone office. I’d like to kill those bastards for sending me your piece...and I’d just as soon kill you, too. Jam this morbid drivel up your ass where your readership will better appreciate it. Sincerely, (Signed) Yail Bloor III Minister of Belles-Lettre P.S. Keep up the good work. Have a nice day.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
This past summer, Laphams Quarterly published this missive from 1979 detailing Hunter's famous "Breakfast of Champions." There's a reason why this meal shouldn't be skipped. 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 crêpes, a half-pound of either sausage, bacon, or corned-beef hash with diced chilies, 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.
Frivolous paperwork can be maddening.
Back in 2002, a TV production company was attempting to interview Thompson for a documentary. Rather than signing on the dotted line, Thompson scratched down swastikas, wrote "FRAUD" and "Fuck off," ultimately turning in the agreement signed as Dick Cheney. Sure, it was a sign of erratic behavior, but it's doubtful one shit was given.
When the going gets weird, the weird write a check.
This is a picture of a personal check Hunter allegedly wrote in 1979 to mystery novelist Tom Corcoran (who's also the co-writer of Jimmy Buffett's song "Fins") for a bail (or two?) of yayo. Boss move? You better believe it.
The best cover letters are the most honest cover letters.
Hunter Thompson never worked for the Vancouver Sun. However, he applied for a job there as a struggling young writer in New York City, freshly fired from a copy-boy gig at Time Magazine. Just a year later he'd flee the Northeast for San Juan, where he worked as a reporter for a bowling periodical that was aiming to popularize the sport on the island. "The Rum Diary" was made into a movie; the bowling magazine folded. All too often cover letters are teeming with fluff and buzzwords and empty filler, like a copy-and-paste form letter from a college career counselor. But not Thompson's application to the Vancouver Sun. The author's tenacity and scrappiness at a young age jumps off the page, as he laments those in his chosen craft: "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." Sure, that attitude probably wouldn't pass muster with an HR person, but can't fault the man for telling the truth in a field that depends on the truth. TO JACK SCOTT, VANCOUVER SUN October 1, 1958 57 Perry Street New York City Sir, I got a hell of a kick reading the piece Time magazine did this week on The Sun. In addition to wishing you the best of luck, I’d also like to offer my services. Since I haven’t seen a copy of the “new” Sun yet, I’ll have to make this a tentative offer. I stepped into a dung-hole the last time I took a job with a paper I didn’t know anything about (see enclosed clippings) and I’m not quite ready to go charging up another blind alley. By the time you get this letter, I’ll have gotten hold of some of the recent issues of The Sun. Unless it looks totally worthless, I’ll let my offer stand. And don’t think that my arrogance is unintentional: it’s just that I’d rather offend you now than after I started working for you. I didn’t make myself clear to the last man I worked for until after I took the job. It was as if the Marquis de Sade had suddenly found himself working for Billy Graham. The man despised me, of course, and I had nothing but contempt for him and everything he stood for. If you asked him, he’d tell you that I’m “not very likable, (that I) hate people, (that I) just want to be left alone, and (that I) feel too superior to mingle with the average person.” (That’s a direct quote from a memo he sent to the publisher.) Nothing beats having good references. Of course if you asked some of the other people I’ve worked for, you’d get a different set of answers. If you’re interested enough to answer this letter, I’ll be glad to furnish you with a list of references — including the lad I work for now. The enclosed clippings should give you a rough idea of who I am. It’s a year old, however, and I’ve changed a bit since it was written. I’ve taken some writing courses from Columbia in my spare time, learned a hell of a lot about the newspaper business, and developed a healthy contempt for journalism as a profession. 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
Don't let a hangover get in the way of anything...
In "The Great Shark Hunt," Thompson took note of his own tendency to party all night and then spend the day in the high profile political circles of George McGovern and Jimmy Carter: "The real problem is how to wallow with the eagles at night and then soar with the pigs in the morning." In this note to a Playboy editor, Hunter seems to be politely mocking the idea of a "hangover cure," implying his hair-of-the-dog cocktail for success was just to keep gunning full throttle. P.S. — inre: Oui's request for "my hangover cure" — it's 12 amyl nitrites (one box), in conjunction with as many beers as necessary. OK H
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