21 Feb 2005
Today’s word is two words, Gonzo Journalism, probably my favorite form of journalism. Gonzo Journalism was pioneered by Hunter S. Thompson, among others, in the the late 1960′s. It is a form of journalism, based on fact but with room for embellishment, in which the author is part of the story. The motivation or benefit of this style of journalism is to give the reader more of the flavor of the story. A flavor that cannot be captured by just the facts.
The term was coined by Bill Cardoso- a journalist and friend of Thompson. According to Thompson’s website Gonzo is “a corruption of g-o-n-z-e-a-u-x. Which is French Canadian for “shining path”". However, this etymology seems to me to be a urban legend.
Besides Thompson, P.J. O’Rourke and George Plimpton employed Gonzo Journalism to tell engaging stories. George Plimpton wrote a series of articles and a best selling book, Paper Lion. The book Plimpton’s experience, at age 36, playing third string quarterback for the Detroit Lions. Plimpton was not an athlete he was a writer. A writer who got to play pro football and then write about his experience. He created the story around himself, hence the Gonzo.
O’Rouke, one of my most favorite writers, especially when he was writing for Rolling Stone, also employed the technique in a series of articles that lead to a book. The articles are about O’Rouke’s travels to the some most troubled spots on earth, Bosnia, the Czech Republic, Haiti and Vietnam. The book is All the Trouble in the World. I heartily recommend both All the Trouble in the World and Paper Lion. Most importantly, if you want raw Gonzo Journalism, read Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I haven’t seen the movie and as much as I like Terry Gilliam I doubt it does the book justice.
In case you hadn’t heard Hunter S. Thompson took his own life this past weekend.