The Wintry Gonzo Legacy of Lucian K. Truscott IV

By  Christian W Dietzel

 

"Gonzo journalism is a style of reportage based on William Faulkner's idea the best fiction is far more true than kind of journalism… 'Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas' was a failed experiment in gonzo journalism."—Hunter Thompson, from the original jacket cover of 'Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas'

 

While we remember 1972 as the curious year birthed new journo institutions such as Powder Magazine, a short 5 years prior, Rolling Stone Magazine likewise took flight. By association, it has long been the observation of your mild mannered correspondent that there is a thread of the old gonzo vibe which lives in the heart of the ski journalist, a difficult vibe to articulate, much less pin-point. Some find their compass pointing its needle to the fabled Hunter Thompson in such a search. Yet as we climb into this year of our lord two thousand and fourteen, 40 plus years of such sports writing now pleasantly reveals an obscured history in the wintry gonzo legacy of Lucian K Truscott IV.

 

Ski culture zealots may remember Truscott's role in crafting the fabled "Hotdogging: The Bucks, The Bumps, and The Abominable Snow Persons," a masterful account of the freestyle skiing. This March 11, 1976 work is arguably (at least in this writer's opinion) the epitome of gonzo ski journalism.

 

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The opener to Truscott’s 1976 piece on the freestyle tour.

                                        

With stiff competition such as Thompson himself in the fray, just how did the then young journalist (and accomplished modern screenwriter/author) score this assignment?

"Jann [Wenner, Rolling Stone's founder] brought it to me because he knew I knew Aspen, and of course you had to be able to ski," comments Truscott.

Lucian K Truscott IV, grandson of World War II hero General Lucien Truscott Jr., is a 1969 graduate of West Point military academy. It was during this tenure that his less academic pursuits delivered him into the role of a professional ski instructor and ski patroller cruising the slopes of Aspen and beyond. Early forays in journalism then landed him in gainful employment with The Village Voice as a staff writer before finding his stride with Rolling Stone.

 

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Truscott around the time he was covering the freestyle circuit. Photo: Courtesy of Lucian K. Truscott IV

During these fledging years of the 60s, the freedom of a blue bird afternoon enjoyed with a sheep's bladder stuffed with jug wine were plenty, and frequent visits to deliver groceries to a still undiscovered Hunter Thompson and his wife Sandy would imprint more than just a passing spark of the gonzo spirit on Truscott's developing writing style.

"Aspen was expensive, even back then," comments Truscott.  "I bought food for Hunter and his wife Sandy at the post commissary at Fort Carson and drove them up on Fridays, which covered a large handle of rum. Food was real cheap at the military commissary and very expensive anywhere in Aspen,"

In and around the hollows of Aspen during the early 70s, during a visit, Thompson dropped a curious manuscript in front of Truscott for a first reading.

"I was staying with Hunter the night he showed me some of the first pages of Fear and "Loathing In Las Vegas." With that deep goddamn voice of his, he said something like, 'Here, read this. I don't know what the fuck it is, but read it.' I read and I said I don't know what it is either, but keep writing it."

 

Truscott thompson 22
An old Polaroid of Thompson. Photo courtesy of Lucian K. Truscott IV personal collection.

The two friends would go on to be two of the most accomplished sports and political writers of the golden era of Rolling Stone Magazine and beyond. Ski culture fans may enjoy reminiscing on Thompson's fabled 1969 article, "The Temptations of Jean Claude Killy," which first lost it's mark with Playboy Magazine (where it had originally been assigned), before finding a home with Scanlan's Monthly in March 1970.

 

"It wasn't the puff piece Playboy was looking for, so they killed it and Hunter took it to Scanlans," says Truscott. It was an era when the sport of skiing was likewise coming into its golden age, as luminary names such as Killy fell into competition with the famed Spider Sabich on the Pro Tour, and the further rise of freestyle skiing reverberated throughout the world in an astounding burst of main stream popularity.

 

It seems that this wintry gonzo legacy would buzz on with Truscott through the coming eras. First as a college-bound skier, then a journalist, and in due time, a novelist and Hollywood screenwriter. Yet it was from these humble roots as a collegiate mountain worker that Lucian K Truscott IV's incredible journey took flight into ski culture, perhaps a testament to the limitless potential of where the wide world of action sports and journalism can bring you.

While Thompson invariably made an imprint on his style over many years, Truscott also credits a great deal of his formative literary influence to an incredible relationship with one of the greatest literary minds of the 20th century.

 

"I had the great fortune to be mentored by some guys that really cared about sharing knowledge of the craft, including Norman Mailer," offers Truscott.

 

And what advice does Truscott have for aspiring sports writers of any creed out there?

 

"Hunter chose the lifestyle thing. The whole Gonzo matter just ended up being what Hunter did," he says. "And look how it worked out for him. Something to think about with your own work."

 

 

 

The opener to the TV adaptation to Truscott’s Dress Grey

 

Truscott's 1979 hit novel "Dress Grey" is remembered as an important popular work to emerge from the Vietnam era, and went on to become a television mini series in 1986, starring Alec Baldwin and Lloyd Bridges. The storied writer then moved on to work in Hollywood for 15-plus years.

 

Truscott continues to cover arts and political pieces such as recent works seen in the New York Times. He maintains a healthy leaning towards international politics, and is currently finishing work on his historic memoir, "Dying Of A Broken Heart."

 

For more on where ski bumming, the journo tradition, and the original gonzo vibe intersect, check out his WEBSITE.