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Nurse! Get me Rolling Stone on the phone!

Has there been a more thank­less task in mod­ern lit­er­ary his­to­ry than edit­ing Hunter S. Thomp­son? Accord­ing to for­mer Rolling Stone edi­tor Robert Love, the mag­a­zine actu­al­ly assigned junior edi­tors the task of babysit­ting Thomp­son as he approached his dead­line. (Okay, there are worse junior edit­ing tasks than that; I've done them). In a recent in the Colum­bia Jour­nal­ism Review arti­cle, Love dis­cuss­es this and much more in his essay about edit­ing the good doc­tor at Rolling Stone. Charm­ing rev­e­la­tion: HST's blus­ter and bom­bast attained read­abil­i­ty only after long, hard edi­to­r­i­al over­sight. The kind of over­sight that involves tear­ing the thing apart and and reassem­bling it sen­tence by sen­tence:

So, a flur­ry of man­u­script pages would arrive, buzzing with bril­liant, but often dis­con­nect­ed pas­sages, inter­spersed with what Hunter would him­self call "gib­ber­ish" (on cer­tain days) and pre­vi­ous­ly reject­ed mate­r­i­al, just to see if we were awake. "Stand back," the first line would inevitably say, announc­ing the arrival of twen­ty-three or twen­ty-five or forty pages to fol­low in the fax machine. Soon there were phone calls from Deb­o­rah Fuller or Shel­by Sadler or Nicole Mey­er or anoth­er of his stal­wart assis­tants. We always spoke of "pages," as in "How many pages will we get tonight?" "We need more pages than that." "Can you get those pages marked up and back to Hunter?" Pages were the coin of the realm; mov­ing pages was our mis­sion. I would mark them up, make copies for Jann, and then send them back.

The issue for the mag­a­zine was nev­er that Hunter wasn't the fun­ni­est, clever­est, most hilar­i­ous writer, sen­tence to sen­tence or para­graph to para­graph. The editor's role was get­ting those sen­tences to pile up and then exhib­it for­ward momen­tum. (Hunter called this process "lash­ing them togeth­er.")

  • Heard about this from the fun­ny folks at The Morn­ing News. Thanks, guys.