"Hunter [Thompson] was always asking me and other people to read his work aloud," remembers Matt Moseley, friend and fellow freedom fighter with Thompson in the controversial Lisl Auman case. "He wrote his work to be read aloud. When he was working on a new piece he'd say, 'Read a couple of paragraphs, I want to hear how it sounds.'" And in honor of what would have been Thompson's 75th birthday, Moseley and the rest of the team that produced the Gonzo funeral in '05 are reuniting for an unabridged reading of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Saturday afternoon at the Hotel Jerome in Aspen. "This will be the Ironman of readings," he promises.
"When we put the flier together, we wrote 'at the Hotel Jerome, Fat City, USA," Moseley says with a chuckle. "And many people began calling us and asking, 'Where is Fat City? Is that Denver?'" Replacing the name Aspen with Fat City is a mid-level Gonzo-nerd reference that goes a long way toward separating the surface fans (Johnny Depp is most likely their primary association with Thompson) from the heavy devotees, for whom a six- to seven-hour reading of a book in its entirety is a reasonable use of a Saturday.
In 1970, when Thompson ran for sheriff of Aspen on the Freak Power ticket, one of his campaign promises was that he'd change the name of Aspen to Fat City. "This would prevent greed heads, land rapers, and other human jackals from capitalizing on the name 'Aspen'," he wrote on his campaign platform, which also included plans to rip up the streets and replace them with sod, and make all drugs legal and free of charge. (He promised never to take mescaline while on duty as Sheriff.)
For good or ill, Aspen has gone through many changes over the last four decades, and while it doesn't have streets of sod or a new name, Moseley believes the gonzo spirit is still alive there. "Beyond all the glitz and the glamor and the billionaires, there's a strong, dark underbelly of Aspen that's holding out," he says. "They're still having fun."
Unlike with rock shows, big-budget films or even epic theater productions, getting a large audience to sit patiently for a literature reading can be a daunting task. This why when an author comes to town on a book tour, the reading itself is only twenty to thirty minutes of an hour-long event. Faced with the prospect of a seven-hour reading, the organizers of the Fear and Loathing event knew they had to dress it up a little bit. Which came naturally, considering that these were the same people who shot the writer's ashes out of a cannon with the Freak Power logo.
"There will be what we're calling a 'family picnic,'" Moseley says. "Because of the fire-ban we can't do a real cannon, so we have a master cannon maker driving up, and he's bringing what he calls 'the ham cannon.' I am not shitting you, it shoots a fourteen-pound ham a hundred yards, into a display of knives, which slices the ham, and then it falls on to bread and cheese. So it's a cannon that makes ham sandwiches."
The event will also feature a revolving door of guest speakers reading from the book, including George McGovern, Jerry Goldstein and Vanity Fair contributing editor Mark Seal.
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The unabridged reading of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas begins at noon Saturday, July 14 at the Hotel Jerome in Aspen (Fat City), which is located at 330 East Main Street. The event is free and open to all ages; more information, visit www.gonzoreadingproject.com