Hartman's Visit with Hunter
by Diane Hartman
Editor’s Note: This article was written in 2003 and published in The Denver Post.
We thought it timely to run again.
When I got home from an interview with Hunter Thompson, my daughter made me take a shower. You’re permeated with cigarette smoke, she said, waving me out of her new baby’s room. I was also a little tipsy and she stopped me from throwing the baby into the air.
On a whim, since I was going to be in Aspen to visit family, I had called Thompson’s book publicist to see if I could chat with him and they agreed. I called him when I got there and we had an odd conversation in fits and starts. What about Friday afternoon? He was flexible, he said. 1 p.m.? Errrrr. 3 p.m.? Errrr. I was not part of the hard-core cult and didn’t know he was totally nocturnal, usually going to bed at 9 a.m., arising at 5 p.m. That night didn’t work, but the next did, and I drove over "the dip, the bump and the rumble strip" at Woody Creek and up a dark, winding road with dread in my heart. I knew just enough from the four of his books I had read — he ingested great quantities and varieties of drugs and alcohol, loved to shoot guns and made up wild stories. I was too old for this kind of hassle, but really too old for this kind of fear. What if he insisted I match him drink for drink of Wild Turkey? I vowed to write a real story, not just a story about the interview like everyone else does. Ha.
From the road, his house is brown and plain; up close, it’s more substantial. ("I keep a low profile, " he said.) Anita — official assistant, unofficial girlfriend — was bringing in some wood. She’s pretty, very nice, and anticipates Hunter’s needs, refreshing the amber liquid beside him, offering to slice up fresh pears. She also adds continuity to the conversation.
What am I doing here? He’s an outlaw icon, apparently knows everybody in the world, has been asked every question possible and just his name elicits some 460,000 hits when Googled (a fact that seemed to amaze him, since he doesn’t use the Internet).
He shakes my hand, says hello, asks me if I have any connection with the police, then goes back to reading The Aspen Times. I’m not offered a chair, but Anita offers me water (water?), wine, whatever. I choose red wine, plant my tape recorder as close to him as I think won’t bother him and decide to stand next to it.
He looks like he’s wearing mis-matched pajamas and has on reading glasses, a watch, bracelet and a rubber band. Obviously, we’re in command central. It’s a huge kitchen, with a counter/desk that has an IBM Selectric typewriter, phone, good view of a large TV and the storyboard of his recent book, Kingdom of Fear (that took him 18 bleeping months to finish). A plate of cookies is within reach, a bowl of fruit, some Craisens. Nearby is an exercise bike and a view of a nice fire in the other room.
Perhaps we can bond over being southern? He has little to say about that subject except that he once considered moving to the Kentucky hills. But he had "a horrible load of books and pictures" and didn’t want to move it again.
He remembers the Dick Lamm era — "it was wild and about as advanced as politics anywhere in the nation." He said he had been part of the movement to stop the Olympics from coming to Colorado.
Gov. Owens looked like a puppy dog, he thought. And worse.
President Bush’s present course? "Everyone in the world underestimated the American public’s capacity to panic, from top to bottom. They’re crazy like sheep … "
He notes (with approval) that Bush’s approval rate is dropping. "A lot can happen in two years and I think it’s going to happen. These suckers are stepping too hard on the bar of soap. And when you step too hard, it shoots out." He’s horrified at the rush toward war and says besides the immediate awful situation, he feels it would take generations to win back the good opinion of the world if we attacked Iraq with no provocation. (He didn’t use all those words, but that’s what he meant.)
He wasn’t willing to bet on who would become the Democratic contender. "There’s a rumbling in the country. People are looking for a leader, a cause, something to feel good about. People in this country, above all, need to feel good."
He and Anita both said they want to get more involved politically. "And of course, that’s what my book was all about."
When I listened to the tape later, I realized I hadn’t asked him anything of importance, like about his drug usage, where he kept all the guns in his "fortified compound," how much of his stuff was made up, blah, blah. I did get to hear myself laugh and laugh and talk too much to fill the silences that just lay there.
Was he weird? my friends asked. Well, sure. Even if he wanted to stop now, he couldn’t. But weren’t you scared, others wondered? A little.
As we ended the session, he asked me to read a section of his new book out loud — I think it’s the price you pay for an interview. He selected what he wrote about 9/11 for ESPN (he has a weekly column on the Internet site), also included in his book. Even though I’d read it before, reading it aloud made me realize how incredibly prophetic his words were. Throughout the reading, Hunter and Anita softly cheered me on, like a chorus of amens. At the end, he said hearing it gave him chills. Me, too.
I know that many excellent writers are not excellent talkers. He was more lucid than I was led to believe (he reads lots of newspapers and books all the time), but we didn’t have anything that resembled a conversation. Still, I thought he seemed kind, thoughtful and funny and obviously very bright.
Anita asked if I was going to ski. No, I said, I have a hip replacement. Oh, Hunter said, I have one too! Those doctors scare you to death about what might happen.
For a moment, we bonded.