I won’t lie, as a budding journalist I long harboured a desire to write in a gonzo fashion such as was made so irreversibly famous by the late Hunter S Thompson. Holed up in my rented room in Washington Heights, my Dominican family and neighbours would wonder what it was that I actually did for money. Each day Kirsy would head off to the Pollo Campero chicken eatery in Queens and toil, raising money alone to ensure that her son Raymond would grow up right. He dreamt of playing baseball, although I think he was more skilled on the PlayStation. Overall, I suppose that Kirsy did not worry all too much since I paid on time and did not struggle back in 2004 to raise cash on the odd freelance piece I was able to sell to pay my rent in what was, I later discovered, about the cheapest room in all of New York.
I poured over all of Hunter S Thompson’s works particularly focusing on “Kingdom of Fear: Loathsome Secrets of a Star-crossed Child in the Final Days of the American Century”. It was a highly politicized time as New York had been chosen by the Republican Party to host their convention that summer in 2004 and President George W Bush and team would be descending on the city. Thompson was, to say the least, outspoken regarding this president and it felt as if New York was in the throes of a mini revolution. While there must have been republicans in New York they certainly kept to themselves. Marches and demonstrations were organized; students painted slogans on their rooftops so that arriving Republican Party members would see their displeasure as they flew in. New York was electric and exciting.
It was around this time that I knew I would never be and indeed could never be gonzo. There is but one gonzo journalist out there and he chose to have his ashes fired into the sky from a cannon.
Soon enough I was heading south to work in South America and carve out my life down here once again. First I was based in Ecuador, then Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil. Little did I know that one of my literary idols had also cut his teeth in the region four decades earlier during the height of the Cold War. So, my hat goes off to author Brian Kevin for his dedicated investigation and research into “the lost” letters and articles of Hunter S Thompson from South America dating back to 1962/63.
Kevin has compiled his own book that is part travelogue part Hunter S Thompson investigation entitled: “The Footloose American: Following the Hunter S. Thompson Trail Across South America”. Of course, the letters and articles were never lost, they just didn’t exist on the internet, which is almost impossible to fathom nowadays. Kevin spent time browsing through the microfilm records in various libraries and has come up with a great collection of information about Thompson that shows him finding his voice as a gonzo writer filing for the now defunct National Observer. Some of the articles are published in: “The Proud Highway: 1955-67, Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman v.1: Fear and Loathing Letters: 1955-67, Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman Vol 1”, but for the most part the rest are unknown.
What is so refreshing about Kevin’s writing is that he is clearly not trying to be gonzo, again like any experienced writer he is intent finding his own voice and not imitating the master, and he also starts to put into context what has occurred in South America since Thompson’s visit. The Cold War was in full swing, Colombia was at the tail end of what is known as La Violencia and the FARC was just about to be formed and the continent was, in short, unstable. Later, Kevin’s narrative starts to discuss and develop the nature of travel, but again, set alongside Thompson’s shrewd observations and musings.
A good portion of Kevin’s book takes place in Colombia and the observations are acute and amusing and of course being based here and knowing that the author travelled through Mompos and stayed at my Casa Amarilla is flattering. Travel books come and go but are all too often based around too much self-indulgent dialogue and tales of supposed derring-do and scrapes occurring while under the influence of some sacred indigenous hallucinogen or another now being mass commercialized for a few dollars on the gringo trail. Kevin’s book is not one of these, get your hands on a copy and what you’ll enjoy is an insightful and intelligent take on South America.
For more information tune in and listen to the Colombia Calling interview with Brian Kevin