Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs is a book written by Hunter S. Thompson, first published in 1966 by Random House. It was widely lauded for its up-close and uncompromising look at the Hells Angels motorcycle club, during a time when the gang was highly feared and accused of numerous criminal activities. The New York Times described Thompson's portrayal as "a world most of us would never dare encounter."
It was Thompson's first published book and his first attempt at a nonfiction novel.
Hell's Angels began as the article "The Motorcycle Gangs: Losers and Outsiders" (reprinted here) written by Thompson for the May 17, 1965 issue of The Nation. In March 1965, The Nation editor Carey McWilliams wrote to Thompson and offered to pay the journalist for an article on the subject of motorcycle gangs, and the Hells Angels in particular. Thompson took the job and the article, published about a month later, prompted book offers from several publishers interested in the topic.
Thompson spent the next year preparing for the new book in close quarters with the Hells Angels, in particular the San Francisco and Oakland chapters of the club and their president Ralph "Sonny" Barger. Thompson was upfront with the Angels about his role as a journalist, a dangerous move given their marked distrust of reporters from what the club considered to be bad press. Thompson was introduced to the gang by Birney Jarvis, a former club member and then police-beat reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. This introduction, coming from an Angel and reporter, allowed Thompson to get close to the gang in a way others had not been able.
Far from being wary of this outsider, the Angels were sincere in their participation, often talking at length into Thompson's tape recorder and reviewing early drafts of the article to ensure he had his facts straight. The gang often visited his apartment at 318 Parnassus Avenue in San Francisco, much to the dismay of his wife and neighbors. Thompson, however, felt comfortable with the arrangement. When "jokingly" threatened with violence, he pointed to a loaded double-barrelled shotgun that he kept hanging on his wall and replied in a similar vein that he would "croak two of them first."
Thompson remained close with the Angels for a year, but ultimately the relationship waned. It ended for good after several members of the gang gave him a savage beating or "stomping" over a remark made by Thompson to an Angel named Junkie George, who was beating his wife. Thompson said: "Only a punk beats his wife." The beating stopped only when senior members of the club ordered it. Thompson had essentially ended his time with the Angels by then, but he would later note in letters to friends and Sonny Barger that the members who had participated in the beating had not been those with whom he had most closely associated. He continued being fond of Barger and others in the club.
Plot and themes
The book details Thompson's experiences living with the Hells Angels, a notorious motorcycle club in California. The author spent over a year embedded with one chapter, learning their unique subculture and immersing himself in their lifestyle. He recounts his time spent traveling through California by motorcycle, and describes the contrast between the general lawlessness of the club and the exaggerated fear that very lawlessness engenders in society. According to a contemporary New York Times review of the book, Thompson relates how he "drank at their bars, exchanged home visits, recorded their brutalities, viewed their sexual caprices, became converted to their motorcycle mystique, and was so intrigued, as he puts it, that 'I was no longer sure whether I was doing research on the Hell's Angels or being slowly absorbed by them.' "
The book's epigraph is a translation of François Villon's 15th-century poem Ballade du concours de Blois:
In my own country I am in a far-off land
I am strong but have no force or power
I win all yet remain a loser
At break of day I say goodnight
When I lie down I have a great fear
Effects and criticism
Hell's Angels was the book that launched Thompson's career as a writer. Though he had by then published numerous articles for various journals and newspapers and was recognized as a journalist, the book was his first true exposure to a national audience. Reviews of the work were generally very positive and despite a poor performance on the publicity tour by Thompson, who was by his own admission drunk or exhausted for nearly every interview, the book sold relatively well. Even so, Thompson himself made little off of the royalties from early editions of the book, a misfortune he blamed on a succession of agents and the book's publisher, Random House.
Thompson's treatment of a gang-rape by Hells Angels was strongly criticized by feministSusan Brownmiller in her 1975 book Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape.
- Thompson, Hunter S. Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. New York: Random House, 1966.
- Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga. Ballantine Books, 1996 (ISBN 0-345-41008-4)
- Thompson, Hunter S. The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman (Fear and Loathing Letters/Hunter S. Thompson, Vol. 1). New Orleans: Villard, 1997 (ISBN 0-679-40695-6)
- ^Library Of Congress catalogue
- ^Library Of Congress PCN database
- ^Fremont-Smith, Eliot (Feb. 23, 1967) Books of The Times; Motorcycle Misfits—Fiction and Fact. The New York Times, P.33.
- ^"Thompson's classic Las Vegas trip". BBC News. February 21, 2005.
- ^Thompson, Hunter S. (1966). Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (Paperback ed.). Penguin Books. p. 164. ISBN 0-14-028555-5.
- ^CBC (2010-07-07), Hunter S. Thompson meets a Hell's Angel, 1967 | CBC, retrieved 2018-01-26
- ^Litwak, Leo E. (January 29, 1967), "Hell's Angels", The New York Times, retrieved February 15, 2012
- ^Susan,, Brownmiller,. Against our will : men, women, and rape (First Ballantine books edition ed.). New York, New York. pp. 297–299. ISBN 9780449908204. OCLC 28233179.
About George Christie Jr.
George Christie Jr. was born in 1947 in Ventura, California to a family of Greek immigrants and grew up an only child. From an early age, he was fascinated by motorcycles and outlaw culture, and by the time he started school his intelligence and rebellious attitude set him apart from his peers. As a teenager, he became an avid surfer.When one of his surfing buddies showed up at the beach one day on a Harley-Davidson, George knew what he had to do. In 1966, despite the objections of his father, he bought his first bike--a 1957 Panhead--for $200. He was soon hanging around with Ventura outlaw bike club The Question Marks and famous motorcycle customizers Von Dutch and Dick Woods.
As George puts it, "some people run away and join the circus. I ran away and joined the Hells Angels." He became a full-patch Hells Angel in the Los Angeles charter in 1976 and, six months later, became its president, before founding the Ventura charter in 1978. As Ventura leader, George became one of the most powerful voices in the national Hells Angels organization, and spent three decades battling the law, rival gangs and members of his own club, while building the club’s business operations.
He famously carried the Olympic torch in the 1984 Los Angeles Games and spent a year in solitary confinement in prison on numerous charges in 2001. In 2011, Christie resigned his presidency of the Ventura charter and left the club. He was immediately excommunicated by his former brothers. George spent another 18 months in prison from 2013-2014 for conspiring to firebomb two Ventura tattoo shops.
George currently serves as a consultant on organized crime for CNN. He lives with his wife and son in Southern California and has three adult children.
He has no regrets.