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February 7-13, 2008
buzz@boulderweekly.com

Gonzo in the kitchen
A new book written by personal friends of Hunter S. Thompson sheds light on the man behind the myth
by Ben Corbett


Written words are meant to be heard orally, and Hunter S. Thompson absolutely loved hearing his work read aloud. He savored the ring of carefully selected words and the echo of a reader engaging in his genius. And whether it was visiting celebrities, those in his daily orbit, or newcomers passing through Owl Farm, his ranch in Woody Creek, nobody escaped the fun. He’d pull something out of the pile of books and magazines by the window, flip it open, point to a paragraph and say, “Start there.” If Hunter was in a grumpy mood, he’d soon be purring like a kitten, throwing out a “Wow!” when you passed a certain twist of words, followed by a “Jesus Christ!” when you finished. But if you were a slapdash reader, look out. Thompson would correct your mispronunciations, criticize your cadence with a “Slow down!” and make you restart a passage if you botched it badly. For example:

Hunter S. Thompson lives in a fortified compound near Aspen, Colorado.

“Read that again,” he’d say gingerly. “Slower this time. You didn't understand what you were reading. You only skipped over the surface of the words.”

Hunter S. Thompson lives in a fortified compound near Aspen, Colorado.

“Goddamn!”

These readings were a nightly ritual, taking place in Thompson’s legendary kitchen, the nerve center for the author’s life, with the bar serving as desk, gambling headquarters, drug dispensary and birthplace of everything Hunter published over the past few decades. As Jeff Kass from the Rocky Mountain News once wrote: “It’s easier to get into the White House than the kitchen. The colorful rash of characters that gathered around the kitchen each evening ranged from the dubious to the distinguished, including lawyers, actors, politicians, writers, film crews, athletes, editors, assistants, and always a few good local friends and neighbors.” Two of these friends were Pitkin County Sheriff, Bob Braudis, and Woody Creek erotic artist (read: pornographer), Michael Cleverly, co-authors of the new book, The Kitchen Readings: Untold Stories of Hunter S. Thompson.

For Thompson fans, Braudis’s legend precedes him as Hunter’s mysterious friend in law enforcement that appeared in numerous magazine articles and books over the years. Sheriff of Pitkin County since 1986, Braudis and Thompson shared a special bond, echoing back to when they met, during Hunter’s own run for sheriff back in 1971 on the Freak Party ticket, a political campaign covered in Rolling Stone magazine that gained much national attention. The campaign’s headquarters was staged at Aspen’s Hotel Jerome, whose bar served as Thompson’s watering hole before and after the race for sheriff until, as the book enlightens us, “the principle action moved down the valley to the Woody Creek Tavern.”

Michael Cleverly also met Hunter back in the Jerome days and later became a neighbor after moving into Woody Creek. A columnist for the Aspen Times Weekly, Cleverly is responsible for creating the erotic and infamous Sex and Death calendar sporting lewd photos of naked women in weird positions with skeletons. The calendar inspired Thompson’s famous ode to Woody Creek and Cleverly, “I shit on the chest of art.”

February 20 marks the third anniversary of Hunter Thompson’s suicide, which, in an odd way, seemed to be Hunter’s last stroke of genius to emanate from the kitchen. On the heels of several new HST biographies, the release of The Kitchen Readings not only coincides with the death anniversary but, in spite of the Hollywood caricature of Hunter, the icon, often portrayed in the media, gives us a view into the daily life of Thompson: The father, and the friend and neighbor, whose routine existence was a wild ride just as crazy as any adventure he’d ever written about. Braudis and Cleverly were two of Hunter’s closest friends from the inner circle. They kept each other’s secrets and shared a mutual respect.

“Hunter even said it himself, that there’s no reason not to be candid about the illegal stuff,” says Cleverly, explaining how true the book is and what was censored out. “You know, there aren’t any bodies buried out in the field or anything. Hunter was a larger-than-life personality, and his flaws were large probably in the way his talent was large. There’s stories that, to be civil and decent as a friend, needed [to be] sugar-coated. What needed sugar-coating I simply left out. A portion of the neighborhood has been expecting a hatchet-job for a couple of years now. They’re going to be disappointed.”

Make no mistake, the book is controversial. Some critics will certainly argue that the book should have never been published at all. Others will denounce it as Cleverly and Braudis capitalizing on the situation. But Thompson fans are sure to enjoy it. The book is easy to read and captures moments behind the scenes that reveal a side of Thompson unknown to the public. For the authors, writing the book was a means of catharthis, a chance to retell great Hunter stories amongst old friends.

“One night I was sitting with him during Monday Night Football,” says Cleverly. “It was just the two of us, and I said, ‘Hunter, you wouldn't mind if I mentioned you in my column once in a while?’ And he said, ‘No, as long as you don't make a career out of it.’ Since the book has been written, some people have yelled about letting what happened in the kitchen out of the kitchen. But Hunter was really his own best audience. If you would tell a Hunter story in the kitchen, he would enjoy it more than anyone else. So I think he would have enjoyed this book.”

For Braudis, The Kitchen Readings counts as his first effort as a writer. It was a painful process at first, he explains — the albatross project that sat around for the longest time after signing the contract because the task seemed so enormous.

“We decided to tell the more anecdotal stories about Hunter,” he says, “rather than the ugly shit that some writers focus on. I don’t want to make money on certain things I know about Hunter. If Volume II is ever offered, I’ve learned how to write and discipline myself to some extent. I could tell more of the war stories with Hunter and be more insightful into the depth of his personality. It took this first attempt to teach me a little more about the art of writing.”

In many ways, the book will serve as a sort of closure for many readers, both those who knew and didn’t know Hunter. For Braudis, the loss and anger over the loss of his close friend healed during the writing of the book, not through it.

“It was a self-healing wound. I can’t name the time or date, but at some point life goes on. I’ve had an awful lot of friends die since Hunter, a lot of old age, a lot from the lack of respect for the human organism that a lot of people here have. He was my pole star, my mentor. I could confide in him. When I went to Hunter with a problem, you could see the gears in his brain turning, like an oracle. He was one of the very few people who could give me advice.”

On the Bill
Bob Braudis and Michael Cleverly will discuss The Kitchen Readings: Untold Stories of Hunter S. Thompson at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 7, at the Boulder Book Store, 1107 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-447-2074.

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