Beatdom Updates

High White Notes: The Rise and Fall of Gonzo Journalism

High White Notes: The Rise and Fall of Gonzo Journalism aims to provide the first in-depth analysis of the writings of Hunter S. Thompson, one of the most misunderstood authors of the 20th century. His Gonzo journalism was an odd fusion of fact and fiction that garnered widespread adoration but for all the wrong reasons.

In this book, David S. Wills traces the author’s life from birth to death, exploring how Thompson developed an entirely unique literary voice and why he used such odd techniques to craft a form of prose that defied categorisation. This book not only explores Thompson’s meteoric rise to literary superstardom, but also charts the startling decline in the quality of his work that came after his 1972 foray into political reporting.

High White Notes will be released in November 2021 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the publication of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” in Rolling Stone.

Cover by Matthew Revert.

About the Book

High White Notes is a critical examination of the writing of Hunter S. Thompson. It is arranged biographically in order to connect life events with literary development. It places the author in his proper literary context by examining those writers whose work he admired – Conrad, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Donleavy, Burroughs – and explores how he developed one of the most unique and brilliant voices in twentieth-century American literature.

This book is divided into two parts: The Rise, which documents the development of Thompson’s unique literary style; and The Fall, which charts his spectacular descent into chronic writer’s block and mediocrity. The first half largely explores how and why he developed his peculiar style of writing and the second explains why he failed to push it further and why the writing done during this period was incredibly poor compared to what came before it. In each sense, representative works (both well-known and previously unknown) are used to examine his literary techniques.

The title, High White Notes, refers to a quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which was of great importance to Hunter Thompson. He never sought perfection in his work, but rather pursued brief flashes of brilliance, such as the famed wave passage in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or the Edge section of Hell’s Angels. Although the scope of this book is quite broad, this is the general frame, which is fitting given that Thompson used Fitzgerald as a model throughout almost his entire life. This book explores his attempts to emulate Fitzgerald and others (primarily Hemingway, Conrad, and Donleavy), looking into why he later departed from these literary templates.

Ultimately, the aim of High White Notes is to give serious literary consideration to one of the most important and misunderstood American writers of the twentieth century without falling victim to the weaknesses of previous publications, which were primarily a focus on salacious details and biographical errors due to underestimating the scope of Thompson’s propensity for self-mythologising. It is a highly critical work, which will dissect his weakest efforts as well as his finest, in search of the first comprehensive analysis of Gonzo – a form of literary journalism that previously defied categorisation.

Praise for the Book

High White Notes: The Rise and Fall of Gonzo Journalism by David S. Wills is the most insightful and in-depth study yet of the life and work of Hunter S. Thompson. High White Notes joins the pantheon of Outlaw Journalist: The Life and Times of Hunter S. Thompson by William McKeen, Freak Kingdom: Hunter S. Thompson’s Manic Ten-Year Crusade Against American Fascism by Timothy Denevi, and The Hell’s Angel’s Letters: Hunter S. Thompson, Margaret Harrell and The Making of An American Classic by Margaret Ann Harrell as the leading studies on Hunter S. Thompson’s life and work to date.

Ron Whitehead, Outlaw Poet & U.S. National Beat Poet Laureate 

In High White Notes, David S. Wills sets himself the task of examining the life and work of Hunter S. Thompson, ‘a writer with an incredible grasp of language’ but also ‘a complex, troubling, and enigmatic figure.’ Quite predictably, the red herrings in the biography made for a formidable challenge, but High White Notes dispels many a myth and takes its subject as seriously as he deserves. It’s time for this comprehensive appraisal—bringing Hunter’s history all too realistically and soberly to life—in the tragic parts, extensively enlarged upon and illustrated, sometimes moving me to tears.

Margaret A. Harrell, author of The Hell’s Angels Letters

riveting… endlessly entertaining… compelling and downright forensic… Thompson knew Gatsby on a cellular level and Wills seems to know Thompson’s work as intimately.

Kevin Mims in Quillette

it is the music in Hunter Thompson’s writing that Wills reveals so masterfully in his book

James Campion in The Aquarian

While another biography of a well-tread icon might seem superfluous, High White Notes is perhaps the most essentially human account of HST, one that dares to actually dissect his writing rather than his outlaw lifestyle.


Further Information

The book is available in printed and Kindle editions here. For review copies, further information, or to contact the author, please e-mail editor [at] beatdom (dot) com.

David S. Wills

David S. Wills is the founder and editor of Beatdom literary journal and the author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the Weird Cult, World Citizen: Allen Ginsberg as Traveller, and High White Notes: The Rise and Fall of Gonzo Journalism.

Recent Posts

Haruki Murakami and the Beat Generation

The Japanese author Haruki Murakami has become internationally renowned over the past few decades for…

3 weeks ago

A Kerouac Centenary Celebration in England [Press Release]

In 2022, the centenary of one of the USA's greatest writers is commemorated and this…

3 weeks ago

Beat Books and Other Updates

As 2021 draws to a close, I wanted to post a short update about Beatdom,…

1 month ago

On the Road: Ginsberg in Siem Reap & Other Beat Tales

The following is a transcript from a speech I gave recently at the Angkor International…

1 month ago

Review: Beat Blues: San Francisco, 1955

Beat Blues is the latest book by Jonah Raskin, author of the wonderful American Scream:…

1 month ago

Review: The Beats, Black Mountain, and New Modes in American Poetry

The latest in Clemson University’s Beat Studies series is The Beats, Black Mountain, and New…

2 months ago

This website uses cookies.