ASPEN -- The recent "Sexiest Man Alive" issue of People magazine at a local market counter features a sweet photo of Johnny Depp wearing a Gonzo pendant. You've probably seen Johnny wearing the Gonzo symbol for several years now -- on his t-shirts, Oscar night bow tie and countless fan photos. Given all the speculation and Internet chatter on the meaning of Gonzo, now might be good time to give a quick rundown for those who are still wondering:
Hunter S. Thompson and Johnny became instant friends in the mid-nineties at Hunter's Owl Farm in Woody Creek, Colorado. Johnny later moved in with Hunter... to a bedroom in the basement (that featured an accidental gun-powder keg as a night stand) to study Hunter before playing Raoul Duke in "Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas." Together, they chalked up all-night study sessions and gun purchasing runs that ended with Hunter seeing Johnny off in the middle of one snowy night to drive Hunter's Chevy Caprice ("The Red Shark") convertible, top down, straight to LA to start filming. After the release of the movie, they traveled together and Hunter loved Johnny like a son and fellow Kentucky Colonel. They continued their friendship and obsession with literature, music and a wry sense of humor that lasted even after Hunter died in 2005.
What is Gonzo? Although Hunter was the only Gonzo writer, it is not widely known that Johnny is also a voracious reader and a very good writer himself. A book about the Beats , published in 1999, features a story by Johnny that reveals his penchant for non-conventional music and literature that started in his teens, after his brother introduced him to tracks ranging from Bob Dylan, Mozart, Brahms, to A Clockwork Orange soundtrack which eventually lead to Beat writers such as Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. As Johnny puts it, "I had found the teachers, the soundtrack and the proper motivation for my life." Johnny goes on to say that "the contribution of these people goes way beyond their own works. Without On the Road, "Howl," or Naked Lunch, for example, would we have been blessed with the likes of Hunter S. Thompson and Bob Dylan?"
Although Hunter S. Thompson comes foremost from the tradition of Mark Twain -- noted by Tom Wolfe that Hunter is indeed our swain of the 20th century as Twain was to the 19th, there is much agreement that part of the Gonzo style comes from the 60s tradition of the Beats. Why not. Gonzo means many things to many people. It's becoming very clear however, whether its influence is Twain or Kerouac, anyone who reads Gonzo gains confidence and good humor -- essentials for survival in any era. So, you can imaging my happiness to see our dear Johnny sporting the symbol on a main-stream magazine cover -- to show that along with being a great husband and father and looking good on camera, reading and understanding great American literature is sexy.