“Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs”
by Hunter S. Thompson
Published by Modern Library (1999)
originally published by Random House (1966)
265 pages.

I have been a fan of Hunter S. Thompson ever since I saw the movie “Where the Buffalo Roam” starring Bill Murray, which was loosely based on the book “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”  After seeing that movie I read the book and realized why it was LOOSELY based, because of the craziness that is Gonzo reporting that Thompson did best.

I decided to go back again recently and tackle another Thompson book and this Hell’s Angels documentary seemed a good way to go.  In this book you don’t get as much craziness that makes the gonzo, Gonzo.  Instead with this book you get the early forms of gonzo reporting where Thompson placed himself at the heart of danger.  It is still told in first person as Thompson did best and with some great descriptive narrative that puts the reader pretty much on the back of a Harley and making some runs with the most dangerous group of the 60s.

During this period of American history, The Hells Angels were a violent bunch, at least according to all the major newspapers.  Hunter S. Thompson, thought they may be getting a bad rap and decided to put himself in the middle of it all.  He approached Sonny Barger, the head of the Hells Angels at the time and told him of his plans to follow them as a reporter, a dangerous move in and of itself due to the Angels not trusting reporters because of the bad press.  But soon Thompson was mildly accepted into the fray and follows them for about a year.  Thompson’s relationship was ended with the Angels after they nearly beat him to death for making a remark to a fellow Angel that the club didn’t appreciate.  The remark was made when Thompson saw an Angel beating his wife, to which Thompson said, “Only a PUNK beats his wife.”

The whole nature of the Hells Angels motorcycle club at the time always teetered on the edge of violence, whether it was  running out of beer or locals wanting to chase the club out of town.   This documentary not only shows the constant chance of violence, but Thompson also sheds some light on the idea that the Angels just wanted to be left alone.  Left to themselves they just wanted to have a good time on weekends and in many cases work their jobs during the week.  As with any large group there are individuals that would do something that would get the negative attention and that is what everyone focused on.  Thompson presented all the stories during his time with them good and bad.

Some of the fun stuff in the book is when Ken Kesey and his Merry Band of Pranksters invite the Angels over for a party and the two cultures converge and the police are the ones that create the clash.  Many exciting adventures in this book and at times you feel you are reading a thriller with an exciting ending rather than  a documentary.  Great writing and interesting cultures make this book a good read.

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