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A Pig in the Wilderness: My Night with Hunter S. Thompson

The following transmission is an e-mail from September 2002, which I sent back to Criterion headquarters after spending a night at Hunter S. Thompson’s cabin in Woody Creek, Colorado, recording commentary tracks for the DVD release of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Reflecting on that peculiar night now, five years after Thompson’s death, I’m struck by how gracious our host was, giving so generously of his time and mind and supplies. It was clear he was struggling physically, but what I remember most about the session is the sense of humor in the room. From the random crank calls at four in the morning to the house full of booby traps like exploding pens and toilet paper that doesn’t unroll, the man really loved to laugh, I think, and that energy was absolutely infectious. When I left in the morning, my face hurt from cracking up. Wherever you are, Hunter, a thousand thanks! Mahalo, mahalo, mahalo.Michael Wiese


Dispatch from Woody Creek:

Well, I’ve been to more than a few weird recording sessions for Criterion, but this one definitely takes the cake. On Saturday night, I recorded Hunter S. Thompson, along with his assistant Anita Bejmuk and producer Laila Nabulsi, in his tiny kitchen near Aspen for the upcoming Fear and Loathing disc. I’m sure Herr Ashcroft or one of his fatherland security thugs will get around to screening this e-mail sooner or later, so in the interest of not spending the next fifteen to thirty years in prison, I’ll spare you the gory details until I see you in person. Suffice it to say, the good doctor’s books should not be interpreted as fiction! The freshly dented Red Shark is parked in the driveway, and there’s a collection of stun guns and cattle prods next to the old electric typewriter on the kitchen counter. Years of artifacts and gonzo debris stacked to the ceiling: a Bible beautifully cut into the shape of a pistol, a huge Ralph Steadman portrait of Bob Dylan dressed as Uncle Sam playing a cruciform guitar, Night Porter in the DVD player. The session started about 7:30 p.m., as Hunter was finishing breakfast, and I ended up turning off the tape recorders around 2:30 a.m. Very smart and funny man, constantly in motion but never leaving his chair. Cigarette holder and all, he opens his mouth and those words just spill out . . . I have bite marks on my arm from trying to keep from laughing (I think). It was a sound person’s nightmare/fantasy: squawking peacocks, refrigerator motors, thunderstorms, bug zappers, ice machines, phone calls from people in prison, seemingly random bloodcurdling screams, and the general din of vice. My increasingly wobbly perch was the Exercycle, with decks draped over the handlebars. Pansexual Luther of Aspen (a.k.a. Victor, one of his devil cats) perpetually attacked the damn cables, and we had a subject who couldn’t sit still if his life depended on it (Johnny Depp is a better mimic than you could ever imagine!). I was happy to get anything even vaguely intelligible on tape, but it should be a good piece when it’s cut together. The HST fans are going to flip! When I finally left around five in the morning, after far too many organic radishes and being forced to read the man’s own work aloud in front of him (“Louder!”), he gave me a copy of his book Screw-Jack, with this touching inscription:

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