Total Gonzo: Hunter Thompson, R.I.P.
Recently, in a reply to a letter from Jane, I wrote a modest note regarding the origin of the word Gonzo, a term that I coined. It was in response to the violent demise of the writer Hunter S. Thompson whose last wish, apparently, is that his ashes be shot from a cannon.
These further remarks, and the hard evidence that follows, address another form of canon. Specifically the issue of being deleted from the canon of Gonzo Journalism widely assumed to include but a single exponent, the late Mr. Thompson. A man whom I never met. The truth is, Thompson was innocent of a self serving plot of a friend, Bill Cardoso, a gifted writer, and editor of the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, now languishing in rural Northern California, to usurp Gonzo from me.
It was my recent intention to just get two cents in and retire from the fray. Let the soul of the dear departed Thompson rest in fragmented peace. Long ago I saw the common sense of not trying to keep up the gonzo life. Clearly, it takes a toll. But as I read the many tributes to Thompson it was increasingly annoying to find myself deleted from the history of Gonzo. A random Google search has revealed an unprecedented tissue of lies and misinformation. The references and misrepresentations of the word now number in the millions.
This morning’s paper, an article by one James Parker, in section D (ideas) page, two states in an article “Last Man Standing” that, “He was called, and called himself, a gonzo journalist. The word-Boston Irish, according to one biography, for the last man standing after a drinking contest-was a gift from his friend Bill Cardoso of the Boston Globe. (“This is it,” Cardoso told Thompson after reading “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” which appeared in Scanlon’s Monthly in June 1970. “This is pure Gonzo.”).” Thompson himself is reported to have first used Gonzo in print in the “Fear and Loathing” article that was published November 11 and November 25, 1971, in Rolling Stone.
While telling an anecdote, probably in June of 1970, to emphasize a dramatic point I said, “It was gonzo man, total gonzo.” This was uttered in the Commonwealth Avenue, Boston basement apartment of Bill and Susan Cardoso, in the presence of James Silin, now living in North Whitefield, Maine and another couple. Cardoso quickly interjected, “Gonzo,” he said, “What does that mean?” To which I replied, “Gone, over the fence, out of the park, gone man gone, total gonzo.” Them’s was my exact woids near as I can rekkelect. Bill mulled that over, muttered the word several times and exclaimed, “That’s a great word, Charles.” In the days and weeks that followed, it was gonzo this, and gonzo that. I sensed that Bill was up to no good and that I should rush the word into print. To claim my copyright and legacy so to speak. Little did I know that I would be the victim of literary grand larceny on such an epic level.
This morning, after breakfast, I climbed up to retrieve from the top shelf of the book case, the first of a stack of scrap books, with bound clippings, that every reporter for the Herald Traveler was required to keep. I had decided ahead of time to devote the minimum of time and effort in that search. I took down one volume, blew off years of dust and flipped open the first couple of pages. Voila. There it was. To the best of my knowledge the first published use of the term Gonzo in a piece that, while now a bit aged, is a classic example of the genre of Gonzo Journalism. All the more remarkable as it was slipped into the pages of the ever so conservative Boston Herald Traveler. The daily paper was sold not long later to the Hearst organization that laid off most of the staff, including me. At the time I was the beat rock and jazz critic. The paper has changed hands since then and gone from a broad sheet to a tabloid now known simply as The Herald. In its day, the Boston Herald Traveler was the paper of record in the city. It was upscale Brahmin to the Boston Globe’s liberal Irish. There was also the lunch bucket tabloid, the colorful old Record American.
What appears below, entered into the canon of Gonzo Journalism, is the first published use of Gonzo.
Boston Herald Traveler, Friday, July 3, 1970, Section A. Page 9
Pop Music: 25,000 at Stadium Hear Ten Years After
By Charles Giuliano
Some 25,000 gonzo fans jammed the bowl end of Harvard Stadium, Wednesday, July 1 to hear their sex-rock idols, Ten Years After. The Schaefer Festival foams on with top rock.
Plagued by equipment failure, Moot the Hoople, the opening act, was off almost as fast as they went on and spent most of the evening brushing their hair.
Cheering the endless stream of crashers flowing in from the opposite end zone, the kids turned to amusing themselves with wine, chanting, grass and Frisbees. Rockets and fire crackers add to the frenzy. The scene in the stadium was worthy of Caligula.
Milling about during the long break the HT canvassed the ladies: Carol from Canada has never seen Alvin Lee before but has all his records. Pam from Newton was more emphatic, “Wow I just flipped out on him at the Tea Party.”
The men registered lesser emotions. Doug Haley was blasé, “Yeah, sort of but not terribly huge.” While Leonard, from Dartmouth, Mass. came all the way to see Alvin. David from Teaneck, N.J. was a touch bitter, “He’s just a male sex symbol.”
Forty five minutes later the PA limped back to life and Moot Hoopled back on for a number. Then more intermission while ushers attempted to clear backstage to bring out TYA.
Madhana a Krishna Consciousness member saw TYA at Woodstock and liked it then but finds that, “The sounds may be terribly pleasing but they are materialistic and everything is temporary. The more you chant the nicer it gets, Hare Krishna.”
At 10 p.m. after two hours of wine, reefer and Frisbee, TYA came on. With his red Gibson covered with peace symbol decals slung around his neck, Alvin Lee puffed on a cigarette. Ever-Adonis-like, under a sculpted mop of blonde hair, Alvin wore a flowered cowboy shirt and jeans. From his belt a motel key dangled suggestively.
The opener “Move Like a Mountain” brought surges of recognition. Floating on the rock solid rhythm of beak-nosed bassist, Leo Lyons, the diminutive organist, Chick Churchill and Alvin’s brother Ric on drums, Alvin launched into the furious note clusters which have earned him a rep as the fastest guitarist in rock. It’s all in the vibrato, however, which gets more from a chord.
The girls swooned for Alvin’s “School Girl” with the suggestive lyrics. Following with “Spoonful” was almost too much. Then Alvin, Chick and Leo went off for a cigarette leaving Ric thumping through the drum vehicle “Hobbit.”
Scat signing effectively Alvin twists his jaw and pouts the lyrics through pursed lips mouthing the mike. After the vocal break Alvin rocks back to trade licks with Leo, humorously parodying the style of Chuck Berry with fake dance steps. TYA is often faulted for not being very original but who cares when they rock through “Sweet Little Sixteen” or “Blue Suede Shoes.”
Abandoning the organ, Red Sox shirted, Chick Churchill mounted an amp to lead the audience in a wild clapping finale. And the fans swarmed the car as a police escort drove TYA back to the motel.
Well folks, that’s the way it was some 35 years ago. The birth of Gonzo. Here and now I reclaim my legacy. Who knew? Hey rock ‘n’ roll. The series of concerts at Harvard Stadium would end abruptly later that summer. Following a concert by Janis Joplin, her last, she overdosed shortly after that. The fans, high on the euphoria of the Joplin concert, swarmed through and trashed Harvard Square. Love, peace, and happiness were getting ugly. But that was then and this is now. Total gonzo.
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