The Joke’s Over: Memories of Hunter S. Thompson by Ralph Steadman Review

“Don’t write, Ralph, you’ll bring shame to your family” – Hunter S. Thompson.

That he did. A sad shame indeed. Above my desk is a beautiful print of one of Ralph Steadman’s finest pieces. Thompson is pierced through the throat by the carriage lever of a typewriter. The keys of the typewriter spell out “Aaaarrgh,” which I find quite moving. I am not an art expert, but I know enough about the men behind the image to know that “Aaaarrgh,” was perhaps an understatement for the torture they put themselves through. Drinks, drugs and hard knocks settled these men for thirty-five years of knowing each other. Steadman’s book, The Joke’s Over: Memories of Hunter S. Thompson feels like a memoir, biography of the eponymous writer, cathartic release for Steadman and an attempt at re-working the wit and words of the great 20th-century writer.

He captures the time they spent together with accuracy and detail, but they are mere rehashes of what we can learn from reading Thompson’s work. Where Steadman can enjoy himself is in the later moments, those pieces Thompson did not write about for he either did not care or did not have the energy to do so. Those fumbling’s in the late 1990s and early 2000s are brief but interesting, for we have yet to hear them from the horse’s mouth. Steadman conveys these later moments well, but it feels remorseless and unmotivated. There are earlier parts in the book where Steadman tries to capture the Gonzo style. To his credit, he at least explains how it works, and what bad Gonzo looks like, by writing it.

Interactions with a theatre group, going overboard in times of great stress, Steadman is a poor copy of the manic energy and biting style Thompson was. It is lucky that The Joke’s Over: Memories of Hunter S. Thompson only tries it a handful of times, but those handfuls are etched on the memory, seared forever as a man who drew Gonzo tries to write it. It is not a good mix, yet it should be. Perhaps that is the most frustrating part of Steadman’s effort here. He reveals that the book is a cathartic experience, knocking the old dog that bit him so many times in the past. At that point, the discussion of Thompson and Steadman’s relationship comes into play, and Steadman rights with honesty and inevitably reflective style.

There is nothing particularly engrossing, though. For all the detail that Steadman can provide on later projects that failed to see the light of day, reading them would be far more interesting than reading of them. Why not? The Curse of Lono is out there, somewhere. Steadman still banks off of the unreleased content, piecing together limited-edition stylings of many works that have yet to see the light of day. Hopefully, they continue, because when Steadman tries to create these stories himself, the emptiness is clear to see. His memento to Hunter comes from a place of love, but the forced demand of the written Gonzo style is not Steadman’s strong suit.

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