The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent And Depraved
429 Records / Universal
What we have right here is a bold, ambitious gamble, one which could well have veered off the tracks and come to a brutal, fiery end, trapped within its own grandiose notions of reinterpretation, trampled and burned up by its own visions of what it could possibly have been.
Fortunately for all involved though, the gamble has paid off, and so The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent And Depraved is a thoroughly entertaining and well executed look at one of the most famous pieces of journalism ever written, set to a score which does nothing but highlight the searing dialogue, adding to it another dimension that even its legendary author couldn’t have captured with just words.
The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent And Depraved is of course the article, written by the late Hunter S. Thompson, which birthed Gonzo journalism, the piece focusing on the depravity and the lewdness of the Derby crowd as opposed to the race itself, Thompson’s search for that epitomising character which summed up the whole debauched affair, only to realise, come the end, that it was him and artist Ralph Steadman, drunken and rollicking, all along.
Basically, the record is a reading of the entire article in all its longwinded glory. Thompson is played by Tim Robbins, Dr John makes an appearance as Jimbo, Ralph Steadman plays himself, all making a great impression. Behind them though, led by the great Bill Frisell, is a solid cast of musicians scoring the action, their music breaking up and becoming fractured as Thompson and Steadman descend further into the drink-ravaged state they carry through most of the story, and conversely solidifying as, for example, Thompson careers down the highway in his monstrous American car, really painting a vivid picture.
The music swells and pulls, always playing second fiddle to the dialogue, but never letting you forget it’s there, making you feel more than when you first read this iconic piece of writing, and that is no mean feat. They finish, just a lone piano, with ‘My Sweet Kentucky Home’, as Thompson bodily hurls Steadman from his car at the airport and the article winds up. A gamble indeed, but with a hell of a result.
Samuel J. Fell