Gonzo – The Life And Work Of Hunter S. Thompson OST – [Album]

Thursday, 18 December 2008

The notion of making the soundtrack to a film available for purchase has always seemed like a dubious prospect to me. Honestly, without the accompanying flicker show, how is a grab bag of basically unrelated songs supposed to make any sort of lasting impression? The idea that what amounts to a mix tape will give a listener some background and conjure images of a film seems akin to attempting to explain the step-by-step action and the subtlety of the movements and gesticulations happening on the screen in real-time to a blind man and stretches the realm of possibility to its illogical limit. The fact is that the release of a soundtrack album to a motion picture is a calculated end zone run to pick up the last possible dollars from the wave of publicity that follows a film on the strength of name recognition and, possibly, “that one song” that breaks onto radio airwaves.

For lack of a more redemptive phrase, the soundtrack release for Gonzo – The Life And Work Of Hunter S. Thompson is different. Yes, of course the music that supports the documentary film is present here, but unlike other conventional soundtracks, the music is combined with excerpts of dialogue from the film seeks to stand apart from the documentary to produce what was often lyrical and existential, political and outward-looking but simultaneously self-reflexive prose.

The songs included on this soundtrack may very well have appeared in the documentary  film that bears the same name, but here they prove to illustrate something that Gonzo, the film, did not. Of course, fans that have followed Thompson’s character in film (Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, Where The Buffalo Roam and so on) will recognize “One Toke Over The Line” (by Brewer & Shipley), “Combination Of The Two” (Big Brother & The Holding Company), “Get Together” (by The Youngbloods) as songs that have appeared in other films that the author was attached to and they’re presented here to give the impression (along with James Booker’s “Gonzo” – the song from which Thompson lifted the name of his authoritative style) that the music was as important to the foundation and background of Thompson’s work as the people that surrounded him and the events he chronicled and put his own spin upon. The music is celebratory in its own way and, with an image of Thompson as well as a literary background of his work in mind, all makes perfect sense; images of hippies and illicit substances, the contrasts of darkness and light – hope and defeat – colour the proceedings and help to substantiate the snippets of dialogue interspersed between musical passages.

Those little bits of dialogue (performed here by Johnny Depp – Thompson’s most influential supporter in Hollywood – and Tim Crouse) and field recordings made by Thompson himself (featuring conversations between the author and Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas/Curse Of Lono illustrator Ralph Steadman as well as Oscar Zeta Acosta, a.k.a. Dr. Gonzo) flesh out the continuity of the disc and add some familiarity to the sounds. With the additional characters present as well, a narrative world begins to take shape and the album begins to sound like a conversation both by and about the subject of the film and compact disc; thus giving listeners the impression that the whole thing was very much a collaborative effort by a large cast of people (including the author) to get the story told.

Because of that manifested and/or implied sense of collaboration in Gonzo OST, listeners are actually given an image of Hunter S. Thompson independent of Gonzo the film or any other non-textual document released since Thompson’s passing in 2005. There is a feel and air to this document that seems to let listeners in on Thompson’s truth and nature and, because there is no visual aid aside from the forty-page booklet that accompanies the disc (including rare photos and a lengthy essay by Depp and Douglas Brinkley), their minds are allowed to wander and fill in the gaps to design complete images of the author  at their leisure. In that way, the Gonzo soundtrack offers a different unique look that moving pictures haven’t produced; it’s succinct careful and engaging, and lets listeners come up with their own mythos. Somehow, that’s all more personal than what anyone has done on screen before.


The Great Thompson Hunt

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