||Saeculum University Press
||October 20, 2011
"Keep This Quiet! My Relationship with Hunter S. Thompson, Milton Klonsky, and Jan Mensaert" - a memoir - brings alive the cutting-edge moment of Hunter Thompson’s career, when it took off. Harrell, his copy editor on Hell’s Angels, rescued his letters to her from the dustbin of history.
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Hunter Thompson New Book
"Keep This Quiet! My Relationship with Hunter S. Thompson, Milton Klonsky, and Jan Mensaert" - a memoir - brings alive the cutting-edge moment of Hunter Thompson’s career, when it took off. Harrell, his copy editor on Hell’s Angels, rescued his letters to her from the dustbin of history. Through them she recounts a missing chapter in his life that—incredibly—was off the radar screen. Also included are priceless reminiscences of some of Hunter’s oldest friends: William Kennedy, David Pierce, Rosalie Sorrels, editor Jim Silberman—covered in no other account. Featured in addition are “poete maudit” Jan Mensaert and Greenwich Village “poet genius” Milton Klonsky.
"While the job at Random House did offer her the opportunity to meet a lot of writers and famous people, it is Hunter that became her secret office romance. The two start a correspondence within letters and long distance phone calls that morphs from a concealed passion into a long-term friendship. Keep This Quiet! is a book about a woman's life and her loves, determination, and discovery. . . . Every person in the book is bold and well defined" - San Francisco Book Review
"Harrell beautifully tells the story of how her relationships with the three men, predominantly Thompson, progressed, sharing intimate moments and keeping the reader turning the page" – Portland Book Review
Martin Flynn, owner of http://hstbooks.org, calls the book "all new" and "A Feast for the Gonzo Soul."
Includes 27 illustrations, bibliography and index
Prologue: My Personal Myth
It was August 31, 1968. I was in my Random House office, a cubicle that though small gave privacy. I was a copy editor and had resigned.
The head copy editor had tried to dissuade me. She said very few people could wake up every day without a structure—a job. She couldn’t. She didn’t believe I could. I said I needed more time to write. She said I’d be back. When I asked for extra time to clean out my desk, she would not extend the deadline. My decision that night is what makes this book—and a record of part of Hunter S. Thompson’s life—possible.
I had waited till the last minute. It was late. The night watchman kept guard at the front door of the old mansion in which Random House had its quarters in New York City. A janitor had long ago emptied trash cans and vacuumed. I looked at the pile of orange-gold paper, letters from Hunter. Though many concerned the creation of Hell’s Angels, others were written in the two years subsequent. I did not think that a relationship, however much it also involved a book, was anyone else’s business. There was no way to separate the business part out. After midnight, bleary-eyed, I picked up the letters and swept out. Leaving Random House for the last time.
As it turned out, there was no carbon copy of most, handwritten or typed on both sides.
I never considered publishing them before. I needed permission. An impossible hurdle. But Hunter, as if he’d thought of that, told his Literary Executor, Doug Brinkley, about me. No matter how long ago the story took place, it was alive in his memory, alive in mine. And though in a book—not on a tree—I decided to carve our initials.
The period covered is the late ’60s through 1986 because in looking back, I found that that time length, “nineteen years,” made a unit. It cycled around in my life. Some early readers asked me, Why were you with these guys? I thought: You’ve read the manuscript and still don’t know. Besides the romance, it was the lure of genius. How it makes the excitement race through the veins—about anything: an idea, a kiss, the prospect of a kiss. Every little detail made me feel more alive. And I wanted to feel alive. Going beyond that: Could I learn what they had to teach me? Why were they so perfect to fall in love with if one had a life purpose like mine???
I open The Gonzo Tapes: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. And time spins backwards . . . 1967. The Summer of Love. “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair)”; Height-Ashbury, the hippy counterculture. But what I remember is personal: meeting Hunter Thompson. The other two, I’ve written about in the past but not Hunter. Never Hunter. I write this book, triggered by his death.
With The Jefferson Airplane blaring from the computer I remember. After six months of parrying back and forth with my telephone voice two/three time zones apart, in February Hunter was led into my Random House office; there I’d copy edited Hell’s Angels. Preserved in a two-page spread in the booklet of The Tapes is a picture of a couple of those orange-gold pages—with marks in two styles: his in black and red ink, mine in pencil. There, for a few moments in a cubbyhole just for me time stands still, is enscrawled like a signature. Memory halts. I walk in.
In a chapter up ahead, I go into the intensity of that meeting. Here I want to preview one scene. In freezing weather during his press tour we escaped to a Madison Avenue record shop. The Airplane’s “Surrealistic Pillow” was just released—the San Francisco sound. The line extended into the street. A salesperson hustled the crowd into a little room, then again into the cold. I was wearing low-heel pumps, the back open. In his Editor’s Note to Gonzo Letters 2 Douglas Brinkley recounts how Hunter kept sampling, lifting the needle: “You can do whatever you please. The world’s waiting to be seized.” At the fourth track, “Today” (“To be any more than all I am would be a lie. . . . With you standing near I can tell the world what it means to love”) he broke into his big grin and said, “Today is my time.” Indeed. And he knew it.
But my own private memory bank looks elsewhere: to “And I Like It” in the first album: “This is my way . . . my life . . . my time . . . Ain’t gorna be like the rest.” Our theme song. The lyrics warned not to “try to keep [him] tied.” No, it was a given from the outset. And one more thing: he might need to “get away from the mess.”
I’d been a writer since I could read. But never in the forty years since meeting Hunter did I publish but a single paragraph about him. He dedicated the Penguin Hell’s Angels to me. It dropped out in proofing! The whole story slipped out of time, out of history.
If my life was to make sense, I could not get away forever with leaving him out of my biography. It had a missing facet, all he represented deprived of its weight. Over the years I sent him my books published in Romania—that brought into light other relationships. I wondered if he knew he was not omitted for reasons of memory. It would have taken a steely understanding and perspicacious sense of “reality,” which he had. It seemed a pact to speak not one word about him in print. But then, who was the pact with? In the late ’80s I had this dream that died in a matter of months, evidently incinerated in midair—about helping write “The Hunter Thompson Story.” There was no time frame. It was vivid, a certainty. But nothing happened. So I had the instruction. From whom, I didn’t know. But I was sure it was some sort of fact, somewhere. These intense dream communications don’t always amount to anything in fact, though often they do. They are, in any case, information.
Over time I dreaded hearing a TV announcer say he was dead. Then a few weeks before February 20, ’05, waking from a forgotten dream, I felt an excited closeness to Hunter, that mysteriously everything was fine. A few weeks later hearing CNN announce his suicide, I watched my feelings. Not crushed. I felt the dream atmosphere rise up, that it was all right, everything was all right, and I began to hear in my head: “Please don’t let me be misunderstood.” It was about at that moment I acquired the sharp intention to write this book. My idea was to remain a dim figure in the background. But I found I had to step forward. Acquire some flesh and blood.
I had not one, not two—but three—ways to sample a particular philosophy, in men in the mid–late 1960s in New York City: they were audacious standouts, originals, flamboyant to different degrees, flamingly, defiantly nonconformist.
To me, it seemed the extraordinary was the path into life. The basic philosophy was there: “Don’t sleep through your life. Dare and dare again. LIVE. It doesn’t matter if you die young, even. Give back to life the energy it gave you potentially. Sense potential. Don’t wait to see it standing there in front of you in someone else. Make memories. Make joy. Fill your basket with dreams, moments of being fully alive—not knowing what would happen the next instant. Quick, it’s fleeting past. No, you caught it. Catch it while it’s undecided, difficult, no guarantees, no conditions.”
“Carcassonne,” by William Faulkner, is one of his most famous statements on creativity: And me on a buckskin pony with eyes like blue electricity and a mane like tangled fire, galloping up the hill and right off into the high heaven of the world. Now compare this to Hunter Thompson on death:
my concept of death for a long time was to come down that mountain road at a hundred twenty and just keep going straight right there, burst out through the barrier and hang out above all that . . . and there I’d be, sitting in the front seat, stark naked, with a case of whiskey next to me, and a case of dynamite in the trunk, or boot, it would be in a Jaguar, honking the horn, and the lights on, and just sit there in space for an instant, a human bomb, and then fall on down into that mess of steel mills. It’d be a tremendous goddamn explosion. No pain. No one would get hurt. I’m pretty sure, unless they’ve changed the highway, that launching place is still there. As soon as I get home, I ought to take the drive and just check it out.
But who goes over the edge? Where is the snow leopard Hunter liked? that “high white sound”? In the experience of liberated, unfettered creativity experienced by anyone who lets go the reins of conformity and discovers what spark drives the heart within, be it St. Theresa getting pins stuck in her by the Church or any other form against the mold. So I want to look at Hunter this way, not though rules he broke as a bad boy. But with the soaring spirit in each of us that drives self-expression, all too often tamped down unlike in the descriptions here. Everyone can loose their inner fire. The cost is lack of security facing the Unknown. The possible reward is Self-Illumination, pure Joy. Like Faulkner, Hunter wanted to leave his life in stone tablets, mark time with a sign KILROY WAS HERE. As the Airplane said, “Small things like reasons are put into a jar.”
At twenty-six I would race over to Carnegie Hall at lunchtime. From Fiftieth and Madison was fifteen minutes. There I’d take the only class available, ballet for children ten to eleven. I was two heads taller, doing precision jetés or battement tendus across the floor. I loved to gracefully extend my leg, turning my head precisely with or opposite it. So here I am, forty years later, racing to a class—the closest, just five minutes. In one of my ballet classes it’s me and the ten-to-fourteen-year-olds; in another, fourteen to adult. In modern dance ten-to-fourteen. But that’s what keeps me out of traffic. No, I do not look ridiculous. They can pirouette and leap, but astonishingly, most of the time I keep up. Besides, they are outrageously nice to me.
I am rushing off to class. Everyone I teach personal growth to can easily imagine me there. But it would be a giant jump to put together the me who teaches “light body” and the one who copy edited Hunter S. Thompson. What connected them? I teach in the now. This is who I am. Sometimes a few flashbacks to the spiritual initiations. But almost never a story from then, the wild days, as it were. Only, I didn’t consider myself wild. I didn’t even know that I had a flamboyant side, and until my roommate told me at forty-three, “I would never let a boyfriend of mine near you,” I didn’t suspect I made a femme fatale impression on some people. But I’m glad to have my hidden stash of memories that no hard times can take away.
I ponder what it all means. And I see the child: me, two years old. That child, that moment when I decided who I would be. Just two, and the question already came up, Margaret, what kind of life will you have? Will it be a Prufrock measuring out your life in coffee spoons, not daring to walk in water with your trousers rolled? Or on the edge, not knowing what comes next? Not knowing where a decision will lead? I didn’t know I decided it then and there, in a simple impulse. But Carl Jung says that we all have a personal myth. Everyone. No longer are myths primarily found in collective stories that the whole tribe believes.
Keep This Quiet? Not Likely. Margaret Harrell's
By Martin Flynn
There are folks who enjoy reading Hunter Thompson’s work and are happy to leave it there. Then there are those who want more. More being a need to know as much about Hunter’s process as possible, the nitty-gritty, who helped him? Who influenced him? Call them freaks if that’s your pleasure, Gonzo freaks. I’m one. We are out there. Unashamedly. And we love to see new HST-related stuff.
Margaret A. Harrell showed up to tell me about her new book Keep This Quiet: My Relationship with Hunter S. Thompson, Milton Klonsky, and Jan Mensaert. Due for release 15th October.This is no ordinary book about or including Thompson. It’s a memoir detailing personal relationships with three authors, the main focus being on Hunter. I’m going to focus on the HST part but must stress that this book, as a memoir is quite deep and holds the door open for the reader. While Hunter is a huge selling point, the book has the legs to stand alone.
Margaret worked with Hunter as his copy editor (for Random House) on none other than Hell’s Angels, his first book. According to Hunter she was the best copy editor he’d ever worked with. The Gonzo freaks among us will remember her getting hefty mentions in Fear and Loathing in America. I’d (needlessly) be inclined to ask myself where does one go from there? Lots of places as it turns out. Harrell clearly had an impact on Hunter, and witnessed the unfolding of the Gonzo legacy. What gives this book more pull is that until now Harrell has never published a word about Hunter. She says The two other males in this book, I’ve written about in the past but not Hunter. Never Hunter. I write this book, triggered by his death.
And so she wrote. Looking at the picture of Margaret on the back cover and the few inside she strikes me as being an innocent sort. Butter wouldn’t melt for want of a better phrase. Their relationship firstly developed by letter and phone. Yes, on their first face-to-face meeting it would seem she was nervous but as things progressed we learn that she has indeed a reinforced spine, and ample psychological finesse, both of which I believe must have been most important when dealing with Hunter S. Thompson, at the same time I must not belittle the mutual care and respect that developed between them. And there I shall leave that subject. It must be read to be appreciated.
As well as tales from William Kennedy, David Pierce and others we are treated to correspondence from Oscar Acosta, and letters from Hunter we’ve never seen before. The well known Blue Indigo snake story is clarified. Margaret was one of the first to read the Rum Diary. There are loads of HST tidbits and stuff I’d never have thought would be in this book. It would be hard to keep going without giving anything away. So you must buy it to know more.
I remember saying to William McKeen a couple of years ago that I’d be happy if we were done with stuff written about HST for the reason that I felt the subject had been beaten to death. He disagreed and was right. I’m glad this came along. Its all new and a valuable addition to my collection and strangely enough it makes a great companion to McKeen’s Outlaw Journalist.
It has been a while since I have learned new stuff about Hunter Thompson. I feel refreshed. It was a pleasure to read and it was an honor for me to be among the first to read it. Highly recommended.
Margaret’s site is here and you can buy the book here, and here. For discount copies email email@example.com
Review - Keep This Quiet!
By Rory Feehan
“This is my life,
So watch it, babe.
Don’t try to keep me tied.”
And I Like It –JeffersonAirplane
In the ever expanding list of biographies and memoirs about Hunter S. Thompson, this latest offering, Keep This Quiet! by Margaret A. Harrell, is quite simply a breath of fresh air. This is by no means intended as a slight against previous publications, the majority of which are solid and have contributed much to our understanding of Hunter S. Thompson – the man and the myth. However, what sets Keep This Quiet! apart is the extent to which Harrell explores the question of identity and myth, in her quest to simultaneously answer questions concerning her own character and that of one Hunter S. Thompson. As Harrell writes early on – “Who was he? There was no indication how complicated that answer was.”
Keep This Quiet! is a fascinating memoir in this regard, one that is multi-faceted in terms of Harrell’s own journey of self-discovery, both in a personal and artistic sense and the manner in which this is mirrored by the events of the period, with the tumultuous Sixties marking a nation tragically losing its innocence courtesy of the assassins bullet and the toil of war. It is also, of course, a time of exuberant creativity and this is evident throughout, with Harrell also detailing her relationship with “poète maudit” Jan Mensaert andGreenwich Village “poet genius” Milton Klonsky. Working at Random House placed Harrell at the centre of a literary world and this is reflected by the many different characters that make an appearance – from Hunter’s oldest friends William Kennedy and David Pierce to non other than Oscar Zeta Acosta, of whom Harrell includes rare letters that he sent to her concerning getting published at Random House.
It is Harrell’s insight into the development of Thompson both as an author and a character that truly set this memoir apart. There are two quotes in particular that illustrate this understanding – the first is a quote of Thompson’s that Harrell singles out as key to understanding his motivation as an author (incidentally one that I have also identified in my PhD – a nice bit of synchronicity):
“The psychology of imposition…the need to amount to something”…”if only for an instant, the image of the man is imposed on the chaotic mainstream of life and it remains there forever: order out of chaos, meaning out of meaninglessness.”
The above quote comes from a letter in The Proud Highway and Harrell is absolutely correct in singling it out for its importance. As Harrell states – “Like Faulkner, Hunter wanted to leave his life in stone tablets, mark time with a sign KILROY WAS HERE.” To understand this in relation to Hunter and how it shaped his creative development is absolutely essential.
In closing, this book is a joy to read, particularly for anyone that has that urge to express themselves through the creative arts in all their forms. In terms of its importance to the Hunter S. Thompson world I would have to say that there are not many other books out there that have the same intimate understanding of the man behind the myth. Keep This Quiet is not just a reflection on the past but also a rediscovery of that period, with a new understanding of the events and the people that populated that particular corner of the era of rapid change and growth, one of both personal discovery and cultural revolution, whose effects to this day are still rippling across the consciousness of the American psyche.
PS: I meant to post this review ages ago but I have been crazy crazy busy with my PhD. I hope to also post a review of the upcoming record from Paris Records – The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved and also report on the trip of a wayward American in South America. Stay tuned!
Review: Keep This Quiet! - in the Rain Tree Taxi Review of Books
By W. C. Bamberger
Keep This Quiet! opens with the question, “How does the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the times, manifest itself in the world, if not through people?” Margaret Harrell looks back at such manifestations in the forms of three writers she was involved with, aesthetically and romantically to various degrees, in the 1960s. These men were Jan Mensaert (a Belgian painter and poète maudit); Milton Klonsky (Greenwich Village intellectual and brilliant essayist); and Hunter S. Thompson (a category unto himself).
But Harrell’s own history—as a college student with journalistic ambitions, a newspaper woman living the Bohemian life in the Village, and an aspiring novelist journeying through Europe—captures the Zeitgeist as well. In her European travels she stays with a number of men, avoiding sex, and in Marrakech meets Mensaert, with whom she has a dramatic but lethargic romance. She stays with him a while but flees the seductive do-little style of the Moroccan expatriate life.
Back in New York she becomes a Random House copy editor and begins meeting literary figures, including, in 1965, the much older Klonsky. “No one else I’d met so covered this stretch of what a human could be in one container from logic to mysticism, ‘the street’ to erudite and ineffable ends alike,” she writes. Fascinated by the older man’s way with language—he describes her apartment as having “roaches running wild like buffalo on the plain, curtains like a coal miner’s lungs” —she enters into a close, but (to Klonsky’s frustration) platonic relationship that lasts for years.
Things, however, go quite differently with Thompson, whom she encounters when assigned to do the copy editing for Thompson’s first book, Hell’s Angels. (She was also copyeditor for Richard Farina’s Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me and other well-known titles.) Through Thompson’s blustering, contradictory, substance abuse fueled letters—he tapes two hits of Dexedrine to one page, but Harrell doesn’t take them—she finds herself ready to sleep with him on his first night in New York City.
Keep This Quiet!—an admonition from one of Thompson’s letters—tells the tale of Harrell’s intertwined relationships with these three men from 1965 to 1969. (A second volume is in progress.) She remains Klonsky’s intellectual student, Mensaert’s correspondent in an orchid-ripe Romantic exchange, and lustily dons a mini-skirt and garter belt to fly to L.A. to be with Thompson when he calls.
Thompson dominates the book once he enters. Harrell relates anecdotes, clears up historical falsehoods (some perpetuated by Thompson himself, such as the truth about the death of his Blue Indigo snake), and includes a number of previously unpublished letters from Thompson. Stories include nights spent carousing with San Francisco’s mayor, and a momentous day in Thompson mythology:
Some things [William] Kennedy remembers better than I. The book launching [of Hell’s Angels] was the first time he saw Hunter “in costume.” For the tour Hunter wore bizarre sunglasses and a cowboy hat, his first. “I’d never seen him dressed like that. Ever. . . . He was presenting this new persona. It was the costume element of his outrageousness. . . .”
Three men, embodiments of three different dimensions of the late 1960’s Zeitgeist—wispy dissolution, language-charged intellect, and Gonzo persona-building—are brought together by Harrell to invoke a world of passion and commitment, the world she had always hoped she would inhabit. Keep This Quiet! is at once noisy, sensual, and word-drunk, as well as quietly intimate and full of Harrell’s wonder at her luck. While most readers will come to this book for the Thompson content, in truth all the portraits here—all four of them—are compelling and often touching.
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