On October 28 Shout! Factory will make available the previously unreleased Gonzo Tapes in a newly produced collection titled The Gonzo Tapes: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, in concurrence with the Magnolia Pictures film release of “Gonzo: The Life And Work Of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson,” directed by Academy Award®-winning director Alex Gibney.
Legendary Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson knew from the beginning of his career that he would one day be famous and so became a dedicated archivist of his own writing, saving copies of all his correspondence including personal letters, drafts for magazines and books, angry letters to his editors, and even notes written on cocktail napkins. But most important to Thompson was his tape recorder, which allowed him to document his experiences as a participant rather than an observer, often setting it down in a bar or hotel room to pick up the mood and conversation, or to record what it was like spending days speeding down highways with the Hell’s Angels.
Recorded by Thompson between 1965 and 1975, these tapes capture his thoughts and descriptions both as they’re happening and in reflection, as he would often go back to rerecord commentary. Filmmaker Alex Gibney, producer Eva Orner and Gonzo archivist Don Fleming were given permission by Thompson’s widow to explore the boxes of tapes stored in the basement of his Owl Farm home in Woody Creek, Colorado, left behind after Thompson’s suicide in 2005. Fleming transferred the audiocassettes and reel-to-reel tapes to digital files, and they made their way to the cutting room for the film “Gonzo: The Life And Work Of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.”
Gibney, the producer/writer/director of the film who also made “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” and “Taxi to the Dark Side,” writes in his introduction to The Gonzo Tapes, “These tapes were pure gold, lending an intimacy to the film that it couldn’t have had otherwise.” As Loren Jenkins writes in the notes that accompany The Gonzo Tapes, “The idea that these tapes will now be made available to the public to help reveal some of what went on behind the Gonzo screeds is something I believe Hunter would delight in if he were still alive today.”
The Gonzo Tapes features original cover artwork by Gonzo artist Ralph Steadman, an introduction by film director Alex Gibney, an essay by journalist and Thompson’s fellow foreign correspondent Loren Jenkins, and notes by The Gonzo Tapes producer Don Fleming, former frontman of the Velvet Monkeys and Gumball who has produced Sonic Youth, Alice Cooper, Hole, and more.
Disc 1 of the 5-CD set is titled “Hell’s Angels,” and includes Thompson’s notes from a year of riding with the infamous biker gang, an unprecedented feat from which Thompson made a name for himself and which famously became a book. Discs 2 and 3 contain the notes that materialized as his well-known novel Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, and eventually of course a major motion picture.
Disc 4, titled “Gonzo Gridlock 1973–1974,” captures Thompson in the years following the completion of his book Fear And Loathing: On The Campaign Trail ’72, recording his thoughts for a new novel, drafts of a never published Rolling Stone story involving Fear and Loathing cohort Oscar Acosta, a cocaine-fueled never-written assignment from Rolling Stone on a book titled Cocaine Papers: Sigmund Freud, as well as notes and an argument with Ralph Steadman during a 1974 trip to Zaire where he was to report on the legendary “Rumble In The Jungle” between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali for Rolling Stone, and which he skipped for a swim in the hotel pool.
Disc 5, titled “Fear and Loathing in Saigon,” finds Thompson traveling to Vietnam just days before the fall of Saigon in 1975, where, armed with a cooler of beer and wearing Bermuda shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, he rode to the front line and observed the final major combat action of the war. The day before Saigon fell Thompson left for Laos to work on a story he had in mind about CIA concentration camps.