Hunter S. Thompson’s ‘Leaving Las Vegas’: an Homage to Kerouac’s On the Road

Is this too obvious?

Leaving Las Vegas is so many things in its own right, it is unquestionably its own novel.

Truth be told it was almost unheralded when it hit the market in 1971.

There was an almost golden age of pulp-quality American and British Literature in the late 60s and early 70s, although I have an almost seething, unabashed hatred for Portnoy’s Complaint.  I think of ‘Once were Warriors’ and the rise and fall of the great Maori people, and I ask myself, how in the name of everything sacred, did the people of Moses and King David and Jesus and Maimonides turn into the Catskills? Kafka was right about our people, no he wasn’t writing about socialism, he was writing about what happens to civilizations who let themselves be turned into cockroaches through self-hatred and loss of pride . It’s a cultural nightmare from which I’ve never awakened.

Wait, stop, I just got it. Is it possible?…that Roth was making a subtle reference to Metamorphosis? The man under analysis akin to the cockroach on its back? If so, I can hate Portnoy a little less.

I hate Roth’s ‘Complaint’ almost as much as I hate Stephen King’s ‘Misery’, John Irving’s cringe-worthy ‘World According to Garp’ and Chabon’s ‘Mysteries of Pittsburgh’. I view them all as literary bowel movement, inspid, jejeune, self-involved, derivative drivel of writers writing about writers, wallowing in their own orgiastic, undisguised ecstatic joy of the inner beauty of being writers. Like Hollywood’s horrific ‘Look at Me’ piece titled:  ‘A Chorus Line’, it’s like a painter painting about painting. Although I must state clearly that I hate no work of so-called literature more than Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ It is so horrible, it makes me want to rip out my eyeballs after I read it. It is the ‘Catcher in the Rye’ of bad literature.

I don’t know any of these authors. I am not saying that their works are bad. I am saying that that I hate their work. If it wasn’t for King’s good reviews of Lauren Groff’s ‘Monsters of Templeton’, I could legitimately say I hate almost everything he’s ever written. One caveat, much like Larson’s admission that he loved Kliban, King, I understand, paid homage to ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ when he conceived of ‘Pet Sematary’ (The only work of King that I like), so I can hate his work a little less. Wasn’t Fred Gwynne brilliant in the movie adaptation though? And I loved Matt Frewer as ‘Trash Can Man’ although I thought ‘The Stand’ was insipid and utterly unbelievable.

At least Thompson’s love of Kerouac is open and unabashed. It’s what happens almost a quarter century after ‘On the Road.’ Except this trip is much sadder and more debased. His social commentary of ‘Look at what we did with the America that Kerouac gave us.’ We gave up the spiritual trek for a debased self-involved cheap high of self-interest, self- glorification and self-medication.

Take Gary Larson’s ‘The Far Side.’ When it burst onto the scene, I hated it as derivative of Charles Addams and Especially B. Kliban. But when Larson admitted that he loved Kliban, I could then love and appreciate Larson’s work.


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