Sunday, May 15, 2005

“The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved”

Here is it, a week after the running of the Kentucky Derby, an event I during which I generally prefer to be somewhere else, and I seem to be still writing about it! But, hey, ya’ all, I didn’t plan to be writing about the Derby today. It just happened.

I have just re-read Hunter S. Thompson’s great story, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, in a new edition (for me) that also contains other stories by Thompson. The last story in the book is entitled The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved. After my previous cantankerous observations about the Derby, I just have to comment on what Hunter wrote.

Of course, Hunter being Hunter, what should have been a simple trip to Louisville to write an article about the 1969 Kentucky Derby turns into a perverse and uproarious adventure as he comes across characters that only he could encounter. For example, there’s the rich Texan, “just all me Jumbo,” who never misses a Derby and who Hunter convinces that 20,000 army troops are ready to come to Louisville to put down fictitious riots by Black Panthers and busloads of white crazies. Then there is Ralph Steadman, the British artist assigned to create illustrations for Hunter’s article, who draws sketches of people he meets and then gives the sketches to the subjects, who Hunter says take offense at the way they are depicted and want to “tear (Steadman’s) head off.”

The misadventures of Thompson and Steadman begin when they arrive without hotel or automobile reservations—or even press passes for Churchill Downs. They continue through less-than-blissful meetings with Hunter’s Louisville relatives, conning Derby officials to get press passes, and a lot of alcohol consumption.

The result was some real belly laughs for me as well as some discerning reflecting on the times and the event. Regarding the latter, as Hunter heads for the airport after the Derby, the radio reports the National Guard shooting students at Kent State University and that the Air Force is again bombing Cambodia. That brings back memories and not pleasant memories.

Did I learn anything? Certainly—at least I think I did. I learned that I am possibly too honest with people with whom I share a moment of time and will never see again. When some such person asks me who I am and what I do, I generally tell the truth, which is probably dreary to most people.

Conversely, Hunter arrived in Louisville carrying a bag (that he purchased from a pimp in Colorado) that had “Photog. Playboy Mag” printed on its outside. When people noticed the bag, he’d tell them he was a photographer on assignment from Playboy. Of course, that wasn’t true, but it did get conversations going and impressed the guys and enticed the girls. I’ve taken a lot of photographs in my time, but never as a Playboy photographer! (Hmmm, I wonder where I could locate a bag like that?)

Do I agree with his conclusions? Is the Kentucky Derby decadent and depraved? Sure, it was back then and possibly it still is. Of course, I rather like depravity, although I’m not too keen on decadence!


  1. Hunter, quite the character. Thanks for the post, later,

  2. You're welcome. rk! Thanks for the comment!


  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Note the above deleted comment? It was the link to a porno site that someone left. That's something that I will not tolerate.

  5. As a veteran of the "Infield", I can assure you that, yes, the Derby is decadent and depraved.

  6. Now I want to be at your derby more than ever. Thanks, SSN.