Sunday, April 20, 2008

Uncle Duke and Gonzo

I swear, this will be my last post on Hunter S. Thompson for a very long time. I thought I might string them together as I am becoming obsessed and want to record/share this information that I have just encountered since reading Gonzo.

Two big comments in this post: the origination of "Gonzo" and Uncle Duke in the Doonsebury cartoon.

First, those familiar with Hunter S. Thompson know that he created a new style of writing, Gonzo journalism, and that he wore and sold Gonzo merchandise. In his first big hit as a book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, his sidekick character, Dr. Gonzo, a character based on his attorney who accompanied him on the trip, shows the word in his name.

But where did Gonzo originate?

In the book Gonzo, a detailed explanation is given. Basically, there are three different explanations. First, Hunter stumbled across the word from the R&B song "Gonzo" by James Booker. Hunter played it over and over, becoming obsessed with it. It's purely an instrumental song. Gonzo, the song title was "Cajun slang that had floated around the French Quarter jazz scene for decades and meant, roughly, 'to play unhinged.'" To play unhinged, definitely Hunter's writing style.

Since Hunter played the song over and over, he received a nickname as 'the Gonzo man.' Hunter's friend who deemed him the title, Bill Cardoso, said that his Kentucky Derby piece was pure Gonzo journalism. He then stated, "the term was also used in Boston bars to mean 'the last man standing.'" How would that apply to Hunter? The last man standing?

Next, I wanted to briefly talk about how Hunter was inserted as a character into the Doonsebury cartoon as Uncle Duke. Again, from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Duke comes up because of Hunter's character, Raoul Duke. But Hunter was so big that he was characterized. At first he was angry stating that if he ever met the cartoonist in person, he would light him on fire. In later years, he seemed to like the character and cartoon however.

Wikipedia describes Uncle Duke as such: "He was portrayed as a happy-go-lucky, congenial stoner and alcoholic journalist who struggled to meet his deadlines. Once he became solidified as a main character rather than a recurring character, his personality gradually morphed to make him into a sociopathic con artist whose drug abuse and drinking took on a darker, albeit gallows humor, tone." Even further into Hunter: "When first introduced, Duke was working as a writer under Jann Wenner for Rolling Stone magazine, much to Wenner's chagrin and aggravation over Duke's inability to meet deadlines and/or maintain coherence within the confines of his articles, which were often written with the aid of controlled substances." That defines Hunter to a T when he was working with Rolling Stone.

I will insert some comic strips here. Check them out. It's interesting to look at them as Hunter. The one above is so interesting because it's a tribute to Hunter's passing. Very cool.

That must have been crazy to be so famous that a cartoon creates you as a character. Even more, Hunter had such a distinct personality that it was fun and easy to insert him as a character in a cartoon. One can't really say that about too many people, even famous people or artists. Hunter had the costume, the personality, the drugs, the writing style and behaviors--it's just perfect to impersonate. It's also what makes him iconic and hard to forget.

Last note: Hunter always used the phrase "fear and loathing" throughout all of his articles and books he wrote. He did not come up with the phrase on his own, however. He stole it from a section of prose from a Tom Wolfe novel. Interesting tid bit of information.

Anyway, what do you think about Gonzo, Uncle Duke, or Fear and Loathing?

1 comment:

Marty said...

Hi, thought you might like to share this link. It's to my own research on the origins of "gonzo".
A twisted tale that has no beginning and no end, only a middle.
What is gonzo? The etymology of an urban legend [Hirst 2004]