Gonzo Journalism and Me

“Sleep late, have fun, get wild, drink whisky and drive fast on empty streets with nothing in mind but falling in love and not getting arrested.” –Hunter S. Thompson

Though I haven’t read nearly enough of his work, I’ve always been (more than) a little fascinated by Hunter S. Thompson. From Fear and Loathing to Kingdom of Fear—a book of his I did read—he has inspired me to be myself in more ways than one. I want to be a journalist because of him. I want to be a writer because of him. I want to be myself, because of him.

“The only difference between the sane and the insane, is in and yet within this world, the sane have the power to have the insane locked up.” –Hunter S. Thompson

I did a little reading on Thompson in the midst of writing this so I could explain what Gonzo journalism is (I will, I promise) and found what is considered his first Gonzo piece, The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved, and holy shit, what did I just read? It was everything, and it was nothing, which is exactly what I want to write about. Everything and nothing.

I came into writing entirely on accident. In my early twenties, I found myself bored with the mundane act of going to work and coming home to cook dinner every day. I had a bit of a quarter-life crisis, and I had to ask myself if this was really all there was to life. I read a lot. There were never books in my home growing up, so I was catching up on lost time. I loved the Young Adult genre (after reading Twilight), but it was hard to connect because I was at the age that my parents were no longer ruling my life like the girls in the books I was reading. I went to adult books, but failed to find the magic I found in the YA books. After searching for months, I decided that I wasn’t going to find the book I was looking for unless I wrote it myself. So I did. The first draft was awful, but I kept at it. Years passed between the word counts and I eventually learned how to write like a real writer. I was fine with writing books for the rest of my life, but then I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and my ideal form of creative expression changed. I started writing about the illness. Even then, though, I never really thought about journalism. I could bear a full time corporate job as long as I got to come home and write. What I found in my essays though, was that editors wanted to edit out the pieces that made it me. My creativity was overbearing, and the final piece often did not reflect what was intended.

Then I read a magazine interview with Robert Pattinson (when I was still Twilight-obsessed, not that I’m not obsessed now), and all I wanted to do was be a journalist. It captured the darkness of Robert Pattinson (at the time), his mannerisms, the fear he had about being spotted. It was a beautiful piece that made me want to interview every important person who ever lived. And then I read Kingdom of Fear and everything I thought I knew was thrown out the window. Hunter S. Thompson was it. He was my spirit animal.

“If you’re going to be crazy, you have to get paid for it or else you’re going to be locked up.” –Hunter S. Thompson

Gonzo journalism is a style of journalism that claims no objectivity and inserts the writer as a first-person narrator. The interview I read was stylized this way. I realized this when I read The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved today. I realized that this is how I want to write, forever and ever. While other outlets have stifled my creativity (my venture into business writing, as another example), Hunter S. Thompson’s piece (highly celebrated at the time, and even still) has inspired me to hold on to that creative edge as I journey my way through journalism school with the goal of becoming a journalist and ultimately, teaching journalism. There is no reason why I can’t be like him, which, the way I see it, is to never let go of my passion (or craziness, as he puts it) for creativity in a world that may not always celebrate it.

(Those of you who have criticism for someone who puts Twilight and Hunter S. Thompson in the same array of words, your concern is noted. Trust me, I’ve heard it all. I know Twilight is terrible, and I don’t care.)

Allie Burke is a writer and mental health advocate. You can find her literary novel Paper Souls here.

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