Few journalists — if any — have been as revered or reviled as Hunter S. Thompson. The man rose to the height of prominence on the back of an acid trip, co-creating New Journalism with the pop of a pill or swig of beer all the while examining culture with so much vitriol he still makes your teeth curl. His life is one that grew even greater speculation with this summer’s release of “Gonzo: The Life and Works of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson,” the latest in many documentaries about the writer from Alex Gibney (“Taxi to the Dark Side”).
So, it’s only natural that the soundtrack to Thompson’s life would be the Holy Grail of media reviews, and this one is virtually untarnished (although some of the chosen tracks are puzzling). Yet, these songs bring the writer’s oddities to life in a manner that is both insightful and entertaining.
Many of the classic songs selected for this soundtrack come from the Vietnam War era, the time when Thompson was arguably at the peak of his journalistic career. And the tracks represent varied genres of music, from Brewer & Shipley’s mellow “One Toke Over the Line” to Hot Chocolate’s funky “You Sexy Thing.” While the latter may seem the most out of place among the majority of tracks on this soundtrack, it’s this element of variety that complements the eccentricity of Thompson’s character, both as a writer and human being.
Another enjoyable aspect of this soundtrack is the excerpts of the documentary wedged between most the tracks. Some consist of Johnny Depp, who played the iconic writer in the motion picture rendition of Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” reading quotes from works like “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved,” said to be the writer’s first work of Gonzo journalism. Others are sound bytes from notable figures in Thompson’s life such as Ralph Steadman, the cartoonist who accompanied Thompson to the Kentucky Derby in the aforementioned story and who also designed the documentary’s cover art, or political figures like Jimmy Carter. Both Thompson’s and the other figures’ musings offer extended insight into the writer’s inner thoughts.
But, although it may be near journalistic sacrilege to cast a disapproving eye on anything related to the infamous writer, there are certain aspects of this soundtrack that are slightly off. Sometimes the soundtrack plays out more like a pre-pubescent love letter to the ’60s and ’70s. Yes, everyone loves The Youngbloods’ “Get Together,” and finding anyone who despises Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm” or “Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man” is a long shot. But these songs seem almost too general for Thompson’s notably eccentric life.
While certain aspects of Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson don’t play out just as they probably should, these flaws are negligible. Instead, the album, even ignoring the documentary itself, gives a more enlightening and entertaining glimpse into the life of the notorious Hunter S. Thompson. And, for a writer who basically wore his heart on his sleeve, that’s saying something.
4 stars out of 5