Review: Keep This Quiet! – Margaret A. Harrell

“This is my life,

I’m satisfied.

So watch it, babe.

Don’t try to keep me tied.”

And I Like It –JeffersonAirplane

In the ever expanding list of biographies and memoirs about Hunter S. Thompson, this latest offering, Keep This Quiet! by Margaret A. Harrell, is quite simply a breath of fresh air. This is by no means intended as a slight against previous publications, the majority of which are solid and have contributed much to our understanding of Hunter S. Thompson – the man and the myth. However, what sets Keep This Quiet! apart is the extent to which Harrell explores the question of identity and myth, in her quest to simultaneously answer questions concerning her own character and that of one Hunter S. Thompson. As Harrell writes early on – “Who was he? There was no indication how complicated that answer was.”

Keep This Quiet! is a fascinating memoir in this regard, one that is multi-faceted in terms of Harrell’s own journey of self-discovery, both in a personal and artistic sense and the manner in which this is mirrored by the events of the period, with the tumultuous Sixties marking a nation tragically losing its innocence courtesy of the assassins bullet and the toil of war. It is also, of course, a time of exuberant creativity and this is evident throughout, with Harrell also detailing her relationship with “poète maudit” Jan Mensaert andGreenwich Village “poet genius” Milton Klonsky. Working at Random House placed Harrell at the centre of a literary world and this is reflected by the many different characters that make an appearance – from Hunter’s oldest friends William Kennedy and David Pierce to non other than Oscar Zeta Acosta, of whom Harrell includes rare letters that he sent to her concerning getting published at Random House.

It is Harrell’s insight into the development of Thompson both as an author and a character that truly set this memoir apart. There are two quotes in particular that illustrate this understanding – the first is a quote of Thompson’s that Harrell singles out as key to understanding his motivation as an author (incidentally one that I have also identified in my PhD – a nice bit of synchronicity):

“The psychology of imposition…the need to amount to something”…”if only for an instant, the image of the man is imposed on the chaotic mainstream of life and it remains there forever: order out of chaos, meaning out of meaninglessness.”

The above quote comes from a letter in The Proud Highway and Harrell is absolutely correct in singling it out for its importance. As Harrell states – “Like Faulkner, Hunter wanted to leave his life in stone tablets, mark time with a sign KILROY WAS HERE.” To understand this in relation to Hunter and how it shaped his creative development is absolutely essential.

In closing, this book is a joy to read, particularly for anyone that has that urge to express themselves through the creative arts in all their forms. In terms of its importance to the Hunter S. Thompson world I would have to say that there are not many other books out there that have the same intimate understanding of the man behind the myth. Keep This Quiet is not just a reflection on the past but also a rediscovery of that period, with a new understanding of the events and the people that populated that particular corner of the era of rapid change and growth, one of both personal discovery and cultural revolution, whose effects to this day are still rippling across the consciousness of the American psyche.

Rory Feehan

* – Originally published March 6th, 2012 at Totallygonzo.org – The Hunter S. Thompson Community

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Hunter S. Thompson: An Insider’s View of Deranged, Depraved, Drugged Out Brilliance

One owes respect to the living: To the Dead one owes only the truth.

– Voltaire

I have to admit that when I first heard about this book I was a little apprehensive. The amount of ink spilled over the years on Hunter is extensive. Some of the better titles I have enjoyed immensely and I return to them regularly. I cannot say the same for them all however, with one offender in particular annoying me to the point that I fired it into the rubbish bin because it was the best place for it. I guess I am a tough customer to please. Having read everything on Hunter it really takes something special to stand out from the crowd. Thankfully this offering by Jay Cowan more than passes the test.

So why exactly does this book add anything new to the field? Well for one Jay Cowan had access to Hunter that few can match. Not only was he a close friend but he actually lived for a number of years at Owl Farm in the guest cabin. The detail that Jay provides about life at Owl Farm is immense and it ranges from an almost inventory-like description of the house and surroundings to various stories from over the years. Some of these capture the King of Gonzo in all his glory, holding court amid the madness and frequently trampling the limits of excess to a pulp. This is familiar and expected territory regarding any book on Hunter and here Cowan more than delivers. Yet he also carefully balances the madness with a genuine account of Hunter the Writer, hard at work and dedicated to perfecting his craft. There is an abundance of information regarding not only the process behind Hunter’s work but also the advice that he dished out to Jay. Whether it was some wisdom on how Jay could develop as a writer or informing him on how NOT to handle a loaded weapon, Hunter was more than happy to help out.

Cowan is not afraid to discuss some of the more difficult issues in relation to his friendship with Hunter either. He does not try and glamorize the Gonzo lifestyle and rightfully so – Hunter didn’t recommend it for a reason. The downside could be extremely harsh and unforgiving and not everybody can deal with or cope with it. Ever wondered what would happen if Hunter was confronted over his self-destructive behaviour? Well why not read about it from somebody who was there and did just that. Cowan also delves into the fallout after Hunter’s death and how it affected everybody. To be honest I believe that some of the uglier issues regarding the aftermath ought to be discussed and resolved in private so the less said about it here the better. Obviously everybody has a different take on these things and that is just mine.

There are some really hilarious tales in this book and I have to say that one of them, courtesy of Sheriff Bob Braudis, had me in stitches. The photos are also worth mentioning as many are previously unpublished.

Overall this book is a very good addition to the field and if you enjoyed The Kitchen Readings  by Michael Cleverly & Bob Braudis then you will certainly enjoy this.

Rory Feehan

* – Originally published April 4th 2009 at Totallygonzo.org – The Hunter S. Thompson Community