Hunter S. Thompson and the Hell’s Angels (1967)

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Canadian Broadcasting Corp

In this clip from 1967, Hunter S.Thompson comes face to face with a member of the Hell’s Angels. Thompson became known internationally for his book “Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs”.

He spent a year living and riding with the Angels, experiencing their lives and hearing their stories first hand.

The biker says 60% of the book is “cheap trash”.

Hunter S. Thompson meets a Hell’s Angel, 1967 | CBC

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THOMPSON’S FIRST RIDE

In 1965, a young Hunter Thompson was given an assignment by The Nation magazine to write about the Hells Angels.

“Members have been observed wearing various types of Luftwaffe insignia and reproductions of German iron crosses.* (*Purely for decorative and shock effect. The Hell’s Angels are apolitical and no more racist than other ignorant young thugs.) Many affect beards and their hair is usually long and unkempt. Some wear a single earring in a pierced ear lobe.”

Thompson’s article was a success and led to an offer to write a book about the motorcycle club. He spent a year living, drinking and riding with the Oakland and San Francisco chapters of the club until he wore out his welcome and was on the receiving end of a ‘stomping’ when he allegedly reproached one of the members for beating his wife.

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The photographer told Life.com: “These guys were kings of the road. I don’t think they ever felt they had to look around for girls. Girls would come to them, and they would take their pick.”
Credit: Bill Ray / LIFE

“It had been a bad trip … fast and wild in some moments, slow and dirty in others, but on balance it looked like a bummer. On my way back to San Francisco, I tried to compose a fitting epitaph. I wanted something original, but there was no escaping the echo of Mistah Kurtz’ final words from the heart of darkness: “The horror! The horror! … Exterminate all the brutes!

― Hunter S. Thompson, Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga

Interview by Studs Terkel

The interview with Hunter S. Thompson occured shortly after the release of Thompson’s book, Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga. The book chronicles the almost two years Thompson spent in the mid-60s living and drinking with members of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle club, up and down the California coast.

This interview comes to us from the Studs Terkel Radio Archive. It originally aired on WFMT-FM in Chicago — the radio home of Studs Terkel for over 45 years.

Wikipedia:

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.”[3][4]

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.[citation needed]

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.

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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.”[5]

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.”[citation needed][6] 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

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.

Original Link: Hunter S. Thompson meets a Hell’s Angel, 1967 | CBC

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