As that hippie who lives next to you and plays the bongos more than you like is sure to know, Tuesday is April 20. For the uninitiated, that is the day your hippie neighbor, his hippie friends and a massive collection of hippie-wannabe trustafarians will crawl out of their dirty nests (hippies) or their parent-paid rentals with an Audi parked outside (trustafarians) and join together, at least in spirit, to smoke a lot of marijuana.
While the exact origins of the pot-smoking holiday are disputed, drugs have been a defining element of American subcultures since the drug heyday of the 1960s, and 4/20 most certainly has its roots in that decade.
Although 40 years after the end of the â€˜60s itâ€™s clear the peace, love and drugs revolution failed, itâ€™s equally clear that the drug era continues to shape todayâ€™s political landscape, social interactions and even our futile search for the American Dream.
And to really understand the drug era and where it took America, thereâ€™s no better place to turn than Hunter S. Thompsonâ€™s â€œFear and Loathing in Las Vegas.â€
â€œWe were somewhere around Barstow when the drugs began to take hold,â€ the first line of Thompsonâ€™s text reads. Itâ€™s there, in the desert somewhere between Los Angeles and Las Vegas that we meet Thompson and his attorney, referred to only as Dr. Gonzo, on assignment to cover the Mint 400 motorcycle race for a prestigious sports publication. Itâ€™s also there, in the desert, that Thompson grabs his reader by the throat with his sharp prose and twisted metaphors and refuses to relent until his final words.
The story starts with Thompsonâ€™s attempt to get to Vegas to cover the race, a goal complicated by the massive collection of drugs the writer and his attorney lock into. Once in Sin City, Thompson and his partner wreak drug- and adrenaline-fueled havoc on the city and its citizens, and instead of the couple-hundred-word photograph description for the Mint 400, Thompson ended up with hundreds of pages of bizarre and disconnected adventures.
The novelâ€™s plot is thin, with no real, coherent storyline. Although rooted in Thompsonâ€™s real-life adventures, itâ€™s unclear where reality descends into exaggeration or drug hysteria. Aside from Thompsonâ€™s alter ego, Raoul Duke, and Dr. Gonzo, no truly compelling characters exist, and Duke and Gonzoâ€™s heinous acts and borderline-psychopathic personalities make the duo nigh unlikable.
But plot and likeability are not Thompsonâ€™s point, and instead of a story we get something akin to a psychotic poem that pokes itsderanged nose into the darkest, most primal corners of American culture and revels in what it finds.
Thompsonâ€™s Vegas quest is nothing less than a desperate, balls-to-the-wall scramble to find the American Dream. Find it he does, gun in its mouth, the barrel still warm.
Through the drug and booze haze that produced the â€˜60s and his book, Thompson seeks to understand what went wrong with the drug decade and America by capturing the hedonist hippie zeitgeist in all its glory and demanding to know why it turned the gun on itself.
The answer lies crushed under the â€œwaveâ€ of American reality, in a burned down psychiatric clinic and behind Thompsonâ€™s mad metaphors.
For its flaws in story telling and its graphic, over-the-top antics, â€œFear and Loathingâ€ gives voice to dead eraâ€™s dream and lets it tell its suicidal story, for better or for worse. So before you light that joint on Tuesday pick up Thompsonâ€™s book and let his message resonate.
The drug days are over, hippies. The American Dream is dead. You lost.
News Editor Jim Sojourner can be reached at email@example.com.