Hunter S. Thompson was a Louisville native and wrote, among many other things, arguably the best work ever on the Kentucky Derby. It focused not on Kentucky Derby bets and festivities but what he called the ‘decadent and depraved’ nature of the event. You have to wonder what he would have thought about the honor he is receiving this weekend. In conjunction with the 2014 Kentucky Derby Thompson is being inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame.
Thompson would go on to write too many great things to cover here with his most iconic work being a look at another ‘decadent and depraved’ city, ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’. His induction plaque at the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame reads in part:
“His first Gonzo story was ‘The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved,’ in the June, 1970 Scanlon’s Monthly.”
That story is a ‘must read’ for any fan of the Kentucky Derby or, for that matter, great writing. It’s a first person account of HST and frequent co-conspirator and artist Ralph Steadman in Louisville for the big race filtered through a haze of countless chemical filters. A quick excerpt from the story gives you the general tone:
“Thousands of raving, stumbling drunks, getting angrier and angrier as they lose more and more money. By mid-afternoon they’ll be guzzling mint juleps with both hands and vomiting on each other between races.”
Thompson had a love/hate relationship with his home town. He loathed its insularity and rigid social strata but would frequently refer to himself as ‘a Southern gentleman’. He referred to his Kentucky upbringing in a letter to his mother written from Bermuda in his mid 20’s:
“If I could think of a way to do it right now, I’d head back to Louisville, sit on the porch drinking beer, drive around Cherokee Park for a few nights, and try to sink back as far as I could into the world that did its best to make me.”
Thompson’s wife Anita thinks that HST would actually enjoy being honored by ‘the establishment’:
“People are surprised to hear me say this, but yes, I think he would be pleased with the attention from the establishment. He believed that people are the establishment, we make the establishment.”
The ‘decadent and depraved’ Kentucky Derby will be run at Louisville’s Churchill Downs race track on Saturday afternoon.