What’s cookin’ in ‘The Kitchen Readings’? | VailDaily.com

What’s cookin’ in ‘The Kitchen Readings’?

Charlie Owen
Vail, CO, Colorado

Special to the Daily/Karl Wolfgang

Question: Who would Hunter S. Thompson vote for if he were alive?

Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis is confident that he knows the answer.

“… I have a feeling that if he were alive today he would be writing for every journal that offered him cash ” because he wouldn’t write for nothing ” on behalf of Barack Obama. I think Barack Obama would have struck a chord with Hunter …” Braudis said.

Given Thompson’s volume of political writings and voting record, this is probably a good assumption.

Follow up question: Who is Hunter S. Thompson, really?

Almost any idea or image that the world has of this rebellious, visor-wearing, chain-smoking, shotgun-wielding Gonzo journalist is lifted from the film or book version of Hunter’s masterpiece, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” In the movie, Johnny Depp plays Thompson as he mumbles and stumbles through the treacherous Nevada landscape, and his own drug-induced adventures, which mostly consist of doing more drugs. For many, this is Thompson.

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But to two men, one an artist, the other a cop, Thompson was more than the legend and lore that he created with his writing ” he was a friend.

“Nobody could live up to Hunter’s image, and that includes Hunter. The image and the substance were two different things,” said Bob Braudis, long-time Pitkin County Sheriff and even longer-time friend of Thompson.

In a new book titled “The Kitchen Readings: Untold Stories of Hunter S. Thompson,” authors Braudis and Michael Cleverly recall their decades-old friendships with Thompson in a collection of humorous and revealing essays that takes the reader beyond the two-dimensional caricature of the famed writer. The two will be doing a book signing and reading tonight at Samana Lounge in Vail, an event hosted by Verbatim Booksellers.

Verbatim owner Robert Aikens said that the reason for holding the event at a bar was to make it more “Hunter-esque.”

“It might bring back more interest, I mean, anybody that loves Hunter will love this,” Aikens said of “The Kitchen Readings.”

The book is a first-hand account of what Thompson was like when he let his guard down around his friends and family. Its unusual title refers to the center of activity in Hunter’s house ” the kitchen ” where he did most of his writing and would often have his friends read his work back to him as part of his editing process. Most importantly, from the kitchen he had access to a large stockpile of guns ” a favorite Thompson pastime ” as well as a view of the TV and ice-cubes for his drinks. It was also in the kitchen, sitting in front of his typewriter, that Hunter shot himself in the head.

Michael Cleverly ” the Aspen-based artist who used to be Thompson’s neighbor ” co-wrote the book with Braudis and said that he felt it was important for the world to see the Hunter that he knew.

“He was our friend and he was so much more than the public persona. We want people to see the guy who was our buddy, who was also our friend and a father and a neighbor and a real good guy, a decent human being, along with all this stuff he liked to project. The book is more about our friendship than anything else,” Cleverly said.

Thompson’s friendship with both Cleverly and Braudis began at the same location, The Jerome Bar (or J-Bar, as it was affectionately known by the trio) in Aspen during the ’70s, and continued to grow until his suicide three years ago.

A relationship with an artist like Cleverly seems obvious enough, but how does a man of the law like Braudis explain his friendship with an outlaw like Hunter?

“When I entered public safety over 30 years ago I had a desire that I would not leave any friends because I strapped on a badge and a gun,” Braudis said.

He explained that Thompson was never a threat to the social fabric of Aspen and that their friendship was based on an understanding that neither would do anything to jeopardize the other’s career.

Listening to Braudis and Cleverly talk, it’s easy to tell that both men relished the time they spent with Thompson. Even into middle age and beyond, after all the fast times had caught up with them, these three men shared a strange bond with each other and “The Kitchen Readings” details it. They put you in the middle of that action with Thompson, whether it’s a friendly game of shotgun golf or covering the fall of Saigon at the last moments of the Vietnam War.

While most of the world could only be fans from a distance, Braudis and Cleverly didn’t have time to be fans, and both seem unaffected by Thompson’s star power.

Braudis said that even though some of the public’s perception of Thompson was factual, the Hunter he knew had mellowed with age.

“The image people had of him is one that he himself crafted and it was part of his job description of course, so, you know, there’s as much truth in the way people feel about him, but it might have been a thing of the past for the most part. He was an … intelligent middle-aged guy in the end,” Braudis said.

And while most of the world mourned Thompson in their own way after he killed himself, his two close friends were hit especially hard. Braudis said that he was as angry as he’s ever been when he found out Hunter shot himself. He assumed that Thompson would be around for years to come, but when the startling realization came that he was gone, Cleverly suggested that they write a book about their experiences with him. Preserving Thompson’s humanity and integrity is the common thread that runs through all the stories in “The Kitchen Readings,” Cleverly said.

“Look around,” said Braudis, “try to name a journalist today who has that combination of qualities that Hunter possessed.”

There may be a vacuum left in the world of journalism thanks to the absence of Hunter S. Thompson’s hard-hitting style and personality, but thanks to insights from Braudis and Cleverly, we can venture even further into the vortex of Thompson’s mind.

High Life writer Charlie Owen can be reached at 748-2939 or cowen@vaildaily.com.