Friday, May 03, 2013

Hunter Thompson's Depraved and Decadent Derby

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Ralph Steadman

This is one of my favorite times of the year. On the eve of the Kentucky Derby I traditionally re-read Hunter S. Thompson's piece on the Kentucky Derby for Scanlan's Monthly magazine titled The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved.

Hunter felt he blew the assignment and was demoralized for several months after he handed in his final draft, which he wrote "under duress." I know that nauseating feeling.There's a lag time of several months from when Hunter handed in the article from the time it was published. When it came out, Hunter thought he was going to get lynched for botching his Derby coverage.

I first read the Derby piece in an anthology of his other magazine pieces called The Great Shark Hunt. A lady friend at the time bought it from one of the curbside book sellers in the East Village.  It was a paperback, but almost as thick as a bible, and I thumbed through it and quickly read his column on the Super Bowl and then stumbled across the Derby article.

Ralph Steadman
Hunter thought he fucked up his assignment, but he ended up making tremendous waves with an overwhelmingly positive reaction. Hunter, already drowning in self-doubt, had assumed he handed in a stinker. Instead, he crushed a home run. It's like one of those moments when a baseball player hits a pop fly and thinks it's an easy out and sort of meanders down to first base navel gazing and then finds out that everyone is cheering and the bench is yelling at him to keep on running and the coaches are waving their arms and that's when you realize you didn't make an out, rather, you hit an unexpected and improbable home run.

Here is a clip from the Gonzo documentary which sheds a little background about that Derby assignment in which Hunter teamed up with British artist Ralph Steadmen for the first time. It was considered the "birth of Gonzo (journalism)."

It was hard not to read the Derby piece and think "Holy shit, I want be a writer and cover the Derby some day." It's a dream. Maybe one day, I'll get a chance to eat mushrooms and hang out with the whiskey gentry. Then again, that's what I did in college for four years.

The Kentucky derby is tomorrow. Read Hunter's epic story about his weekend at the 1970 Kentucky Derby.

1 comment:


    This is a great annotated version of Thompson's piece.