TextReview#2_(Hell’s Angels)

Where there is the combination of beer, drugs, and sex in the ‘60s in the state of California, there was sure to be a Hell’s Angel, or fifteen. In his first ever non-fiction book titled Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, Hunter S. Thompson describes the gang from an inside perspective that no person had ever gone before.
Thompson spent a little over a year “riding, loafing, and plotting” with the Angels specifically the Oakland Chapter and their President, Sonny Barger, between 1964 and 1966. There were a lot of characters Thompson meant along the way as well: Tiny, Terry the Tramp, Mother Miles, Dirty Ed, Magoo, and Charger Charley the Child Molester to name a few, and their lifestyles were as wild as their nicknames.
The book spans a series of “runs” (trips the Angels would take for celebratory weekends to get away) that Thompson joined in on with the several hundred, if not sometimes thousands, of motorcyclists from all different chapters of the Hell’s Angels in California.
Thompson describes the Hell’s Angels as a brotherhood: one for all, and all for one. When one Angel has a “beef” with someone, all of the Angel’s have an issue with that person as well. What the President, in this case for the Oakland Chapter was Barger, says goes, and is believed to be truth by all other members. Nothing is their own, the Angels share everything. If one doesn’t have a place to stay, the others take turns putting him up in their homes for the time being. The same thing goes for food, booze, and even sometimes women.
Booze is always prevalent and drugs ranged from Pot to LSD. The Angels at one point in the book were looked at for possibly having business selling drugs, however, according to Thompson’s account, this wasn’t really the case. They were more into buying and using, and less into selling. There may have been some of that going on, but not much. And when the Angel’s decided to party, they partied hard. In the section of the book where Thompson describes the “run” to Bass Lake, Angels there were taking handfuls of pills they weren’t even sure of the names or the amount of milligrams being consumed. They did things to the extreme, and never held back.
Women were also seen as common trade. Thompson describes several accounts of rape, gangbangs, and general encounters the Angels had with women on a daily basis. The girls were sometimes as young as fifteen, and could be having sex with approximately 15 or 20 different men in one night. The accounts were repulsive and gut-wrenching, but not all necessarily true.
Actually, a main point Thompson drives throughout the entire book is the thought that maybe the Angels aren’t so different from the “average Joe” of those days and even nowadays. I think one of my favorite parts of the entire book is when Thompson defines “rape” :
But sex is only one aspect of rape’s broader definition. The word derives from the Latin rapere, “to take by force”; and according to Webster, the contemporary translation ranges from (1) “the crime of having sexual intercourse with a woman or girl forcibly and without her consent” to (2) “the act of seizing and carrying away by force” or (3) “to plunder or destroy, as in warfare.” So the Hell’s Angels, by several definitions, including their own, are working rapists… and in this downhill half of our twentieth century they are not so different from the rest of us as they sometimes seem. They are only more obvious. (249)
I know it’s long, but this particular passage is I think a large part of the main idea to this book. It really wrapped it up for me in a nutshell.
Thompson writes in a third person perspective from a lot of his first hand accounts, and rarely brings himself into the story. He also uses several news outlets circulating at the time such as Life, Time, and the New York Times. He takes quotes from poems, movies, books, and everyday people and places these at the beginning of each chapter to set some kind of tone.
I have a ton of admiration for Thompson for being able to live with these goes for as long as he did, even with having a family. He took a risk not many were willing to at the time, and it really paid off. This book was some of Thompson’s greatest work.
His accounts were raw, and I really like how he touched on not just the Angel’s involvement with the party scene (booze, drugs, and rape), but also their involvement with the political party scene with the controversy surrounding the Vietnam War at the time. He depicted the rise of this group of misfits rising to be public figures with somewhat respected opinions on issues that actually mattered. He weaved himself in and out of the story so fluidly that I had a difficult time trying to describe whether this book was written in third person or first person.
I would like to know more about his tactics. How did he recollect all of these events and quotes? Was his recording constantly recording? Hand constantly scrawling down notes? Did he ever get any photographs? How did he get in with them in the first place/How did he get so close? I think that some of this “Pre-Angel’s” would add a lot, or could possibly be another story in itself.
I did really like all of the technical talk about the bikes themselves. I understand how that could be important, but I honestly was in this book for the stories, not the technicalities of what makes a bike faster, flashier, etc.
Overall I would have to give the book a 4 out of 5 stars. I thought they Thompson remained pretty neutral about the whole experience, and gave great insight that people just couldn’t get anywhere else at the time. He was there to see the misfits at their lowest all the way through to their… “success”?