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Ralph Steadman’s Visions of Fear and Loathing

Ralph Steadman’s Visions of Fear and Loathing

New documentary ‘For No Good Reason’ celebrates the life and twisted art of a longtime ‘Rolling Stone’ illustrator

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Ralph Steadman
Jeff Vespa/WireImage
April 23, 2014 2:45 PM ET

Ralph Steadman was an underground London cartoonist in 1970 when he flew to the U.S. for the first time to cover the Kentucky Derby for a small periodical. He was paired with a writer that his editor said once worked with the Hells Angels. “The rest of that day blurs into madness,” the scribe in question — one Hunter S. Thompson — later wrote. “Steadman was lucky to get out of Louisville without serious injuries, and I was lucky to get out at all.”

Hunter S. Thompson, 1937-2005

Some months later, Thompson sent Steadman the manuscript for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a chronicle of countercultural misadventures and madness that follows Thompson and his frog-like attorney speeding through the desert to Sin City in an ether-and-amyls haze. “I started to have growing awareness that anything was up for grabs, the crazier the better,” says Steadman, and the artist’s twisted, alcohol-fueled images complemented the demented prose perfectly. He went on to produce some of the weirdest, funniest and most disturbing art of the 20th century in the pages of Rolling Stone, full of unflinching political and social commentary – from portraying Nixon as a decaying corpse in a 1973 RS cover to a politically doomed McGovern being circled by alligators.

“He so enjoyed the idea of this geek coming from England you know, being so innocent and getting involved in anything that he sort of dangled in front of me,” says Steadman, 77. “He had a devil in him, and it excited the devil in me.”

You’ll see a lot of Steadman’s inner imp in the new documentary For No Good Reason, an ambitious profile of the Fear and Loathing artist shot over 15 years by director Charlie Paul. (It opens in New York on April 25th.) The film features interviews with friends like Rolling Stone founder Jann S. Wenner and Johnny Depp, who spends a day with Steadman preparing to shoot The Rum Diary, based on Thompson’s first novel. “I love Ralph,” says Paul. His comments on money and race were too often ignored while everyone was busy making money.”

Reader’s Poll: The 10 Best Johnny Depp Movies

Despite their professional relationship, Steadman and Thompson were opposites in many ways. Steadman only took drugs once, when Thompson gave him psilocybin after dragging him to the American’s Cup in Rhode Island. (The result: Steadman wound up on a rowboat with two spray cans, trying to write “Fuck the Pope” on the side of a yacht.) But though Thompson “could be an absolute son of a bitch” according to Steadman, the two stayed in touch until the writer’s death in 2005. “He said, Ralph, I’d feel trapped if I didn’t know I could commit suicide at any moment.”

Like his hero Picasso, Steadman maintains a near-religious work ethic — he’s currently working on his second book of extinct bird cartoons. Most mornings, he’s up early at his home in the English countryside, has a coffee and a cigarette, and dips a paintbrush into black India ink. Then he flicks his wrist, making a splat on a piece of cartridge paper, like a fly hitting a windshield. “And then,” he says, “sometimes wonderful things happen.” Adds Steadman, “My father said the only thing he noticed about growing old was that the undertaker started raising his hat to him. He hated people complaining about their age. Just get on with it, for God’s sake.”

Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/news/ralph-steadmans-visions-of-fear-and-loathing-20140423#ixzz2zkSSsbZF
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Carl Solomon

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Carl Solomon was born March 30, 1928 in the Bronx, New York. His father died in 1939, which depressed him deeply. He graduated high school at the age of fifteen, and enrolled at the City College of New York. In 1943 he dropped out to joined the US Maritime Service. As a seaman, he traveled all over the world, seeing many notable sights such as the surrealist exposition of Andre Breton, Jean Genet’s first play, and hearing Antonin Artaud read poetry. Solomon began reading a lot of Dadaist and Surrealist poetry. Then, after identifying himself with Kafka’s hero, K, Solomon decided that he was insane. Just after his twenty-first birthday, he voluntarily committed himself and recieved shock treatment at the Psychiatric Insitute of New York.

As Solomon was coming up from his shock treatment one day, he mumbled “I’m Kirilov [of Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed].” Allen Ginsberg, sitting in the waiting room replied, “I’m Myshkin.” Indeed, Solomon said many interesting things after regaining post-shock consciousness, much of which Ginsberg put into his famous poem, “Howl,” which was dedicated to Solomon. Solomon at first thought he was a new patient, though Ginsberg was only visiting his mother.

Solomon and Ginsberg soon became friends, which was Solomon’s only real claim to fame. Despite his mental conditions, Solomon was very intelligent, and was able to teach ginsberg a lot about important writers and obscure geniuses.

Solomon’s uncle happened to be A.A. Wyn, the publisher of Ace books. When he wasn’t in the hospital, Solomon did work for his uncle. Ginsberg pleaded with him to try to publish his seemingly un-publishable friends William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. Ace books ended up signing Burroughs’ Junky as part of a pulp, two-in-one thriller, but they rejected Kerouac’s 120-foot long single page manuscript of On the Road.

Though Solomon was not a writer himself, pepole always thought he was. He did eventually live up to these expectations in 1996, when his first book, Mishaps, Perhaps was published. It was a collection of quaintly psychotic essays including “Pilgrim State Hospital,” and “Suggestions to improve the Public Image of the Beatnik.” Later, two more of his books were published: More Mishaps in 1968, and Emergency Messages in 1989.


Carl Solomon

By Levi Asher on Wednesday, August 24, 1994 08:46 am


Beat Generation,
“… who threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism and subsequently presented themselves on the granite steps of the madhouse with shaven heads and harlequin speech of suicide, demanding instantaneous lobotomy …”
(From ‘Howl (for Carl Solomon)’ by Allen Ginsberg)

Yes, Carl Solomon really did throw potato salad during a City College of New York lecture on Dadaism. He and his friends were making an artistic statement by doing this, but years later when Solomon pleaded for a lobotomy to end his psychotic anguish he was not being artistic.

Solomon, born on March 30, 1928 in the Bronx, is mainly famous for having inspired the poem “Howl”, rather than for any achievements of his own. He and Ginsberg met in a waiting room at a psychiatric hospital where Ginsberg was visiting his mother. Solomon was a regular there. Despite his mental problems he had a hyperactive intelligence, and was able to instruct Ginsberg (not exactly a dummy himself) on many literary points, despite the fact that Ginsberg was two years older.

Carl Solomon’s uncle was A. A. Wyn, publisher of Ace paperback books. Carl worked intermittently for his uncle, and Ginsberg pleaded with Carl and his uncle to help publish his then-unpublishable friends William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. Ace Books finally used Burroughs’ first novel, ‘Junky,’ as half of a pulp thriller “Two Books In One.” But they were among the many publishers who turned down Kerouac’s ‘On The Road.’

Solomon was never a writer himself, although readers of “Howl” often assumed he was. Later in life he gave in and fulfilled the expectation by writing two book of elliptical, erudite and quaintly psychotic short essays, “Mishap, Perhaps” in 1966 and “More Mishaps” in 1968. His “Emergency Messages,” more in the same vein, was published in 1989.

It’s interesting that Kerouac, Burroughs and Ginsberg each traveled with a “doppelganger” — a mirror image sidekick with less literary training but more “authenticity”. Kerouac had the free-spirited charismatic Neal Cassady and Burroughs had the street smart true junkie Herbert Huncke. Ginsberg, who seemed to always inspire to the state of insanity, had Carl Solomon.