In 1971 America was at war, not only in Vietnam but also with itself. The sixties were over. Peace and love had been replaced by something else. The American dream was still out there, somewhere, but the idea of exactly what it should be was now up for debate. As Thompson puts it, “Consciousness expansion went out with LBJ, and it’s worth noting historically that downers came in with Nixon.”The times were indeed a-changing. Dylan might have gone electric in 65, but it took a little longer for the world at large to realize the age of innocence was over and plug in. From then on it was every man for himself and to hell with the rest; to hell with consequences too.
Thompson's tale of manic excess encapsulates that brave new dawn and then proceeds to burn it up with mescaline and a wry smile. But hidden in the dope haze, behind the bloodshot eyes of a four day bender lurks an unrequited longing for a simpler time when Scott McKenzie advocated no trip to San Francisco would be complete without flowers in your hair and John Lennon claimed that love was all you needed.
If Kerouac was the voice of the post war beat generation, then Hunter S. Thompson speaks for all those who came down from the summer of love and spent the rest of their lives wondering just where the hell it all went wrong.
Does any of that make Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas great literature? Probably not. But it does make it worth your time.