Forty-eight years ago, legendary writer Hunter S. Thompson was interviewed about the brutal ass-kicking he received while traveling with an infamous motorcycle gang. The rare audio from one of the 20th century’s most cutting voices has been unearthed—and you don’t need to be a fan to get hooked.
After all this was a journalist who said, at the time of the interview, “I keep my mouth shut now. I’ve turned into a professional coward,” before going on to become the King of Gonzo only two years later. Thompson had a reputation so strong that it ultimately interfered with his ability to cover stories in the way he preferred to: quietly in the back, with a tape recorder in his hand and a brain swimming in whiskey.
But ending your case study of the Hells Angels with an expected savage beating will make words like that come out of you. That reporting went on to become the watershed Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga.
This nearly hour-long interview has been edited down to just more than five minutes by PBS Digital Studios, with animation added over it as a part of series Blank on Blank, which is all released via YouTube.
It’s interesting to hear an interviewer (and especially one as highly regarded at the time as Studs Terkel was) speaking to Thompson like a professional host would usually engage with a legitimate expert on a topic. It’s interesting because, after the release of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter’s satirical persona was increasingly prioritized over his knowledge during his public appearances, and classy interviews became more rare than you’d expect. Out of volumes upon volumes of articles that were meticulously researched and brilliantly written, it was the fictionalized version of himself, who he’d created for a novella, that people were ultimately more interested in.
He was still just as prophetic and wise as ever, though—right up to the day of his self-willed death—you’d just have to read his work to be keen to his insights, as you’d certainly not see him sharing them on television or the radio. He eventually grew to hate interviews to such a vast extent, that he famously forced Conan O’Brien to bring a crew to Owl Farm and interview him from there, if he really wanted to speak with him.
The other 50 minutes of the interview are likewise available online.
Screengrab via Blank on Blank/YouTube