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Hell’s Angels by Hunter S. Thompson

November 19, 2008

Both Hunter S. Thompson and the Hell’s Angels bring preconceived notions to mind:
Thompson was a crazy sonofabitch. He was a nutbag druggie who liked to blow things up.
The Hell’s Angel’s are crazy motherfuckers. Remember Altamont? They killed like 500 people while providing concert security for the Rolling Stones.

Both of these notions have some basis in reality. Thompson liked drugs and blowing things up. The Hell’s Angels did provide security at Altamont, where one person was killed by an Angel (in self-defense).

It is very fitting that Thompson got close to the Angels in order to write a book, Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga (1969). This book is definitely in the vein of Gonzo journalism—Thompson spends nearly a year with the Angels, drinking, going on runs, and having close encounters with the lawmen.

Don’t expect to read about some elaborate ritual where Thompson gets initiated into the gang. That doesn’t happen. He just hangs around with them enough that they start trusting him (and he doesn’t even ride a Harley, but a British bike!). He sees firsthand what runs are like, what parties are like, and what the members do when they aren’t together. Turns out the Angels are much more tame than their reputation sells them.

Many are married with a mortgage, but some are unemployed couch-surfers. Neither is unique to the Angels—I’m sure you’ll find both types in a Scrapbooking club.

But no one has quite the reputation of the Angels. So, where did this reputation come from?

Guess, c’mon…

Five seconds…

Ok, it was the press. Media is responsible for making the Angels simultaneously feared and revered. Thompson uses excerpts from articles and reports to show how this happened. You may have heard how Thompson got “stomped” out of the club—that’s such a brief part of the story, it’s in postscript.

Point being, don’t read this book expecting to see how brutally Thompson was beat by the Angels. That is not what it is about. It’s about a group of men finding common ground and forming a club. The club—and its members and their actions—get blown out of proportion by the media to become a symbol for all that is wrong with sex, drugs, and motorcycles.

Really, they aren’t that bad. That’s not to say they are good—they just aren’t that bad.

I highly recommend reading it, especially if you haven’t read anything by Thompson before. I also recommend reading it if you’re looking to start a much-feared gang… everything comes down to reputation.


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