Dr. Gonzo and the Dead Goat

Posted April 28, 2005 in
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This is a firsthand story about how I got in a fistfight with Hunter S. Thompson at the Dead Goat Saloon.

So we're talking around 1997, the NBA playoffs are in SLC—the Bulls and the Jazz are engaged in a close series that goes back and forth for a couple of intense weeks for fans of the NBA, with the Utah Jazz looking like they have a good chance of possibly bringing down the legendary dynasty of Michael Jordan and his team the Chicago Bulls. For those of you not old enough to remember, the Jazz (as well as the old SLC Hockey Team—the Golden Eagles, for you nostalgic types) used to play in the "OLD" Salt Palace across the street from the Dead Goat Saloon before Larry Miller had the Delta Center built, and who ever in the hell owns the Salt Palace had it renovated into the Convention Center—(There was some fucking awesome shows in there as well—this was all before we inherited the acoustically inept Salt Palace). The combination of Major Sports Arena + Little Local Blues Bar down the alley resulted in the Dead Goat not only being a haven for countless musicians, but also a watering hole for every sports writer in the country who might be passing through traveling and writing about their respective teams.

Well, when the NBA playoffs hit town, every NBA sports writer in the country hit the Dead Goat. It was at this time back in ’97 that I had inherited the position of manager of the Dead Goat and to make a long story short, I got stuck working behind the bar waiting on every NBA sports writer in the country. For those of you who don't know, I DO NOT CLAIM NOR HAVE I EVER CLAIMED TO BE KNOWLEDGEABLE ABOUT SPORTS, (this being the result of me growing up a Gentile in the land of Zion, and the coach not recognizing my face from the local ward or steak house - if you know what I mean). Back to the story, people—I'm gonna tell you, the NBA playoffs were the best of times and the worst of times. Every day these guys would come in to the bar before, after and in between the playoffs and drink drink drink and demand I turn off all music and put sports on the TV and stereo; it didn't matter if we had a band or not or even if there was some hot chick ready to dance naked for the whole bar to the Troggs singing “Wild Thing”—It was SPORTS SPORTS SPORTS as their mantra. Well, it didn't take long before there was some tension between these writers and ol' Bad Brad. Tension like, "Hey ....Why are Sports writers’ eyes red after sex? Answer—MACE,” with them flinging back the lame, "What do you call a musician without a girlfriend? Answer—either no good or homeless.” Anyhow, after a week of fighting with these guys about what was wrong with America, and why sports is more important than music, I began to seek some sort of middle ground that maybe we all could come together on. All of a sudden, I came to a realization that I might actually have something in common with these fucking guys that we could all talk about. Yeah, I asked myself--with that little voice inside your head telling yourself, "Hey, these fucking guys are sports writers and wasn't the great Dr. Gonzo, i.e., Hunter S. Thompson, at one time a sports writer for the San Juan Star? He did write about the Mint 500 in Fear and Loathing—shit, we might have something in common after all—these guys might know him. So I blurted it out one night to a group of about 30 of these guys:

Bad Brad Wheeler: Hey, I know something we have in common.
Sports Writers: What in the hell could we have in common with you, Brad, besides that we both breathe air?"
BBW: Hunter S Thompson. You guys know. Hunter S Thompson, right ? He was a sports writer like you guys, before he got to be big writing for Rolling Stone as well as himself, you know, the music magazine, Rolling Stone? You guys heard of the books Fear and Loathing, Hell’s Angels; he followed a lot of presidents on the campaign trail. He used to be a sports writer; any of you guys know him?"

For a few seconds the Bar became uncomfortably quiet, then all of a sudden, like the Indiana Pacers at a Detroit game, these guys start pelting me with opinions and statements about the doctor, to the point that I know feel like I’ve swatted at a nest of hornets, and that I should have never, ever brought the subject up—NEVER.

SW: [Collectively about 30 guys all at once shouting opinions:] "FUCK HUNTER S. THOMPSON; he's a joke of what he used to be—The man is a fucking animal; he puked on me once, nobody takes him seriously anymore, if you see that guy, Brad, you tell him to get fucked, now turn off those goddamn blues, you doper, and put on the Stanley Cup. Whatsa matter, you never heard of hockey? And while you’re at it, cook me a Goat Burger.

The statements made by these guys hit me personally. I was a fan of Dr. Thompson's, I read Fear and Loathing, Hell’s Angels, the Gonzo Papers, the Great White Shark Hunt, Numerous Essays- (my favorite being the one about him and Judge Clarence Thomas in Reno—fuck, I bet Thomas is still pissed about that one to this day). To me, the man was a literary and political genius. He was an educated man who sought to suck the marrow out of life, or at least suck the end of a pipe filled with drugs and attempt to try all the pharmaceuticals life had to offer—but he did it in such a manner that it made it look like a big beautiful middle finger to the establishment and the complacent. The best quote in my opinion from Dr. Thompson is, "He who makes a beast of himself kills the pain of being a man”—it sort of sums the whole guy up in a nutshell. How could these fucking jockheads not only miss the boat ideologically, but how could they turn on one of their own socially? I was saddened by the whole experience I had that night with those guys. They made fun of one of my heroes, but not out of hearsay, but out of their own personal experiences. As much as I thought these sports writers were ballbusters, I knew they were serious about HST. I just tried to brush the whole thing off

A few days later, I'm tending bar at the Goat, and it’s busy—way busy; I believe it was the last game of the playoffs. So to cut to the damn story now, I'm working my ass off making drinks and trying to keep order in a bar full of chaos, when this old dude walks in and makes his way up to the bar—very unassuming, dressed in old dude clothes—you know, the stuff you would see your father in, that is, if your father’s around age 65 and doesn't drive a BMW—in hindsight now, the dude looked like he was an old drunk from Colorado. Anyhow, he walks up to the bar, and with a loud, slurred voice he yells at me, "Get me a goddamn double gin and grapefruit juice, bartender" I looked at this guy and thought to myself, “Damn, is this dude wasted or what; he looks like he just got off the bus from Wendover and he don't look like he won big out there (he had that look, you know, that KENO players have). For those of you unaware of the Utah liquor code, if I serve an intoxicated person and the DABC is around, I'm busted and so is the Dead Goat, which creates a situation in which I would rather cut somebody off rather than spin the wheel of liquor violations and penalties. So very unemotionally I inform this guy, "Hey, I'm sorry, man, but you’re wasted—by the powers invested in me by the state of Utah, I have to cut you off. I'm not gonna throw you out, but all you’re drinking in here is water. Please excuse me now while I serve the gentleman next to you.”

I pissed this guy off, apparently, because out of nowhere, this dude bolts up and swings over the bar at my face and grazes the tip of my nose, not really landing a punch on my face as much as really just PISSING ME OFF—enough to make me want to come from behind the bar and fight this guy. Well, as all this is going down at this time, my good friend Treetop ( a large 6'10" black man from Kansas City, Mo.) was working as the chef at the Goat and was behind the bar cooking for everyone in the bar. As I started to come around the bar to confront this guy, I had to walk past the grill and kitchen area, where being in a hurry, I knocked over a stack of plates with food on them all over the floor. Treetop freaked. "BOY, WHAT IN THE HELL ARE YOU DOING? GODDAMNIT MY FOOD!" I ran past Tree as fast as I could so as to come around and line up and get to commencing on kicking this dude’s ass. As I came out from behind the bar and got within striking range and drew my arm back, getting ready to clock him in the face—I looked this dude in the eyeballs—I could tell this guy was deranged, but he wasn't afraid of me; as a matter of fact, he looked like he wanted to fight. All of a sudden, as I about to give him his wish, I saw this look of fear came over his face. He looked at me like my shadow was growing behind me, when all of a sudden, before I could fire off a punch, these two long-as-hell black arms shot out from behind my head and grabbed this guy by the throat—I'm not shitting for a second; I thought I fucking had superhero powers, until I heard this loud pissed-off voice of an angry black man: “MUTHA FUCKA YOUSE MESSING WITH MY BABY WHITE BROTHER, AND NOW I GOT RIBS ALL OVER THE GODDAMN FLOOR—SOMEBODY'S GOT TO GO—IT’S GOT TO BE NOW AND IT’S GOT TO BE YOU!"

I'm serious, Treetop pushed me aside (more like walked over me) and in a much more compassionate manner than I would have done, grabbed this guy by the neck, picked him up and walked him out the door like a Raggedy Andy doll. I was pissed and so was Tree, the kind of of pissed where you’re like, "If I ever see that dude again, I'm gonna …" The kind of mad where you would never forget their face kind of mad.

Well, since Dr. Thompson's recent tragedy involving his suicide, there have been or at least there were a number of photos of him posted everywhere from the newspaper to the Internet. It was while reading about his suicide that I had come across a recent picture of Dr. Thompson—not the ones you see in his books, those are publicity shots—these pictures were the pictures of Dr. Thompson the man. As I looked, I realized to myself, "OH MY GOD.” Yes people, it’s true, the same dude in the photo, was/is the guy that Treetop and I got in the fight with. At first, I didn't believe it, honestly—I didn't want to believe it because it sounds so fucking crazy. But, to confirm my beliefs, I showed a picture of the guy to Tree and asked him, "Does this face look familiar to you?" Tree replied, "That’s the mutha fucker we threw out of the Goat that night you spilled my ribs all over the floor—I remember that PRICK."

Treetop really doesn't concern himself with white culture too much unless it involves beautiful white women, so I had to explain to him who Hunter S Thompson was. His reply was, "I still would have thrown that guy’s ass out the door." Me, I don't know, HST pissed me off—I was ready to fight him—but in hindsight, I didn’t know if somebody would have told me who this guy was if I would have asked him for an autograph or if I would have still commenced fighting. I'm proud to say now that I got into a fight with HST, but am embarrassed that I wasn't sharp enough to realize at the time who he was. Who knows what kind of conversations we could have had over by the dumpster down the alley by the Goat. But one thing is for certain—one night in 1997, Treetop, Hunter Thompson and I all had our paths cross at the Dead Goat Saloon, fists were thrown, insults shouted and ultimately, he went his way and we went ours. Dr. Thompson, if you’re reading this up in heaven, sorry about the Utah liquor code—it makes me wanna hurl punches too and thank you for determining I was the guy you wanted to start some shit with. I promise to let them all know that you were a formidable foe and that you got closer to hitting me in the face than any customer or streetwalker ever has. Treetop says "Fuck you," I say, "thanks for the memories."