Monday, June 16, 2014

"The Footloose American," by Brian Kevin

As an author back in 1963, Hunter S. Thompson enjoyed an advantage that Brian Kevin author of “The Footloose American: Following the Hunter S. Thompson Trail Across South America,” does not today.

That was the fact South America was an important part of President John F. Kennedy's foreign policy, whereas, ever since, the giant land continent to the south has fallen into something of a black hole.

When Thompson took off for a year of writing and life experience, he was after evidence that Kennedy was on the right path.

Launching into South America some 40 years later, Kevin has to come up with something matching that policy imperative.

What he came up with was the idea of shadowing Thompson's steps and doing a kind of compare and contrast project that often strays into a simple travelogue of his own ups and downs on the continent.

Alas, enough time has passed since Thompson's death that a brief explanation is necessary. He was the original purveyor of “Gonzo” journalism. It was a wild and wacky style that matched the time and his prime – the 1970s – in which he cast himself as a drug-addled, bald, hippy taking roundhouse swipes at the system and its flaws.

In “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” and “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail,” Thompson delighted readers with manic and comic accounts of middle-American values and mores as seen through a prism distorted by LSD, peyote, speed, hard booze and anything else he could get his trembling hands on.

Thompson's writings about South America were not of the Gonzo type, rather straight accounts of what was going on with flickering hints of the emerging madman woven throughout.

It is Kevin's contention that a year on the southern continent helped bring out the Gonzo in Thompson's ensuing journalism.

Anyway, after reading “The Footloose American: Following the Hunter S. Thompson Trail Across South America,” (TFAFTHSTTASA) this reviewer can't help but think the largely Latin land mass might have benefited from a more Gonzo-like account by either of these two writers.

Given its low place on the totem pole of American foreign policy, it's no wonder the continent is largely “terra incognita” for most in the United States, and an entertaining, booze-swilling, drug-fueled romp might have done something to help Brian Kevin garner more attention for his effort.

Which is not to say TFAFTHSTTASA lacks merit or quality writing. It's brimming with both. Kevin not only writes well, he thinks well.

By way of example and contrast, Thompson wrote during the Cold War and his chronicle took a long, hard look at Kennedy's Alliance for Progress, which was designed to combat communist incursion through a combination of U.S.-financed good deeds and propaganda.

Whereas the Alliance and the Peace Corps were designed to combat negative impressions of the U.S. generated by Cuban information outfits, today's “Propaganda Affairs Section” of the State Department is stuck with the task, Kevin observes, of “fending off the American culture machine itself, the more pervasive and not always flattering elements of our society that manage to promote themselves whether we like it or not.”

The author endures an adventure like all adventures: ups and downs, hard lessons, and delightful surprises that he does not waste when turning his analytic eye and pen to transmitting intelligence about them.

We can only hope you care about his odyssey through Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil and think you should.

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