Rating – 6/10
Published in Songs of the Doomed – More Notes on the Death of the American Dream (Gonzo Papers Volume 3)
pages 119 – 128
Summary – Thompson’s 1970 Scanlan’s piece “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” is often thought of as the beginning of his Gonzo journalism. However, “Mescalito” shows that Thompson was – for better and for worse – already well on his way in February 1969.
Review – By early-1969, Hunter S. Thompson was a success as an “outlaw journalist.” The 1966 publication of Hell’s Angels made his name, but Thompson had yet to emerge as the embodiment of the era’s wild excesses. That would come later with his campaign for Sheriff of Pitkin County Colorado, and the publication of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.
The short piece “First Visit with Mescalito” provides some idea of where Thompson was heading. On the surface, the story is just an account of Thompson’s first use of mescaline in February 1969. But, in Thompson’s hands, the story is frightening and fascinating – if not first-rate.
For contemporary readers, “Mescalito” is most interesting as a preview of what came next, as Thompson eventually abandoned all efforts at “straight” journalism. The strengths and the weaknesses of his approach are on display here. There is no attempt to tell a story, at least in the usual, linear fashion. Instead, Thompson’s thoughts careen about.
On the plus side, this gives the reader a graphic idea of the mescaline experience. Consider:
I feel like vomiting, but the pressure is too great. My feet are cold, hands cold, head in a vise… fantastic effort to lift the bottle of Budweiser and take a sip. I drink like breathing it in, feeling it all the way cold to my stomach… very thirsty, but only half a beer left and way too early to call for more (page 123).
On the downside, the rambling style makes it difficult for the reader to follow Thompson’s narrative. Many sections need to be read more than once.
20/20 hindsight shows that, indeed, Thompson was standing at a crossroads; he was on the cusp of both massive success and a subsequent downhill slide into addiction that ruined his writing. Knowing all of this, I thought that one line at the end of the piece was prescient – “…last chance to get straight – final effort – and half-wanting the abyss” (p. 127).
On some level Thompson realized the stakes, and kept heading for the edge. “First Visit with Mescalito” isn’t perfect, but it’s interesting, short, and worth a look.