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Discussing the book "Hell's Angels' ; part 1

BROADCAST: 1967 | DURATION: 00:35:51


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Studs Terkel Hell's Angels, even the name itself I'm sure evokes a variety of emotions and people hearing the phrase Hell's Angels. During World War I they were heroes, aviators, but Hell's Angels today represent something else doesn't it? A certain kind of motorcycle gang. There's a book by Hunter S. Thompson; it's a very powerful book. In fact I think Hunter Thompson, our guest, is a new kind of journalist, and I say may his tribe increase. The journalist who is not detached, who who observes his phenomenon from a distance and writes; he becomes involved and in fact he was almost an honorary member you might say, we'll hear about that. Or dishonored member of the group in California, the Oakland Hell's Angels. It's called "The Stran--" the subtitle, "The Strange and Terrible Saga Of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs," and Random House, the publishers and it's a book that to me is far more important and its implications far more than about the Hell's Angels but about perhaps our own society and who we are and what this group represents to us. And I was thinking Hunter, as we're talking, before we hear there's the voice of a kid in Chicago [cough]. Oh he's had a rough time. He's about 17. He's been on his own since he was 12. He thinks not too much of his parents and he belongs to a motorcycle group, but very respectable, he belongs the American Motorcycle Association and doesn't like the other groups though he he understands though. He's talking about well he, I asked about that film, "The Wild One" with Marlon Brando. Let's let's hear this. [New tape starts] I assume you've seen Marlon Brando in "The Wild One"?

Chuck Yeah, I saw.

Studs Terkel What's your feeling about a film like that?

Chuck Um, I enjoyed it. When I saw it I was real young and I wanted to be another Marlon Brando, you know. I wanted to feel like just riding out and so on, because in the movie it was funny because in the movie he was as independent as I was trying to be, and he stressed that all way through the movie. And on weekends he'd just leave the herd and he'd go ride, which is the same feelings I had, but I felt good and bad about it, both.

Studs Terkel What is your feeling? This is, I suppose this is a bit difficult when you're on a motorcycle and you know you're going a pretty good clip. What's your, what's your feeling when you're on a motorcycle?

Chuck Freedom I guess you'd call it. Being out in the world. Complete control over something that's much stronger than you are and a lot faster than you are. This is the feeling I get. I enjoy, I enjoy it immensely.

Studs Terkel That's a very good comment you just made, Chuck. You were on something that is stronger than you were when you were in control of it.

Chuck Yeah, which is true. I mean the motorcycle, if a fool gets on a motorcycle when he plays around with it, it'll kill him. [New tape ends]

Studs Terkel And thus we have this young kid whom we call Chuck or Chick, and Hunter Thompson, author of Hell's Angels, is listening to this and I'm sure many thoughts come come to your mind. Here's this young kid Chicago. You've, what he said about this feeling of being in charge of something very strong, Hunter?

Hunter S. Thompson I was just looking for that in the book.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Hunter S. Thompson Somewhere. Something that's

Studs Terkel That's almost parallel to it.

Hunter S. Thompson Well it's something that I got you know.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Hunter S. Thompson Even the, it's something that does get hold of you right away.

Studs Terkel Yeah. Well in this matter this feeling to explain the idea of the mystique if you will, that isn't the mystique anymore to you. You've been through it. You were beaten up by [them too?].

Hunter S. Thompson Well I still have it in a way. I'd like to get another big another big bike, you know.

Studs Terkel You would?

Hunter S. Thompson [Going?] forward.

Studs Terkel By bike, by bike you mean motorcycles?

Hunter S. Thompson Yeah, yeah. You know a big, a brute. There's a big difference between the little ones and the big one.

Studs Terkel You pointed out somewhere in the book I remember, "The Wild One." Many of those who are members of Hell's Angels were very young when they saw the film in 1947.

Hunter S. Thompson No.

Studs Terkel And they envision themselves how?

Hunter S. Thompson No, fifty-three or -four I think.

Studs Terkel But they envision themselves what? As this loner?

Hunter S. Thompson Well, the thing about "The Wild One" was that they all tended, all these potential Hell's Angels tended to do identify with Brando or as really Lee Marvin you know, the villain, was a much more true-to-life Hell's Angel than Brando. Brando was a romanticized Robin Hood sort of.

Studs Terkel [Now?] In what way was the other guy a more true to life to Hell's Angels?

Hunter S. Thompson Oh, Christ.

Studs Terkel Yeah. You mean did 'cause he fights foul?

Hunter S. Thompson Well Brando, Brando is.

Studs Terkel for one thing.

Hunter S. Thompson Yeah and just kind of congenitally violent, and griped at everything and ready to fight for no particular reason. And not very articulate. Or if he was articulate it was in a violent way. Whereas Brando had this kind of, you know, he projected an image of if only things might've been different, you know.

Studs Terkel Yeah. Well this

Hunter S. Thompson I want to be a good guy.

Studs Terkel Are they? Now we come to the question, it's not a question of moralizing good or bad guys. The question of Hell's Angels, inarticulate and violent. You used these two words, didn't you?

Hunter S. Thompson Yeah.

Studs Terkel Inarticulate and violent.

Hunter S. Thompson Well.

Studs Terkel Who are the men you've known? You speak of a great number of these guys throughout. There's the leader who is now celebrated.

Hunter S. Thompson Some are very articulate.

Studs Terkel Hmm?

Hunter S. Thompson Barger.

Studs Terkel Sonny Barger, their leader.

Hunter S. Thompson Tends to be, yes. Sonny is very articulate. I remember a press conference he called when he sent that telegram to President Johnson volunteering their services in Vietnam.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Hunter S. Thompson As guerrillas. Animals, G-O-R gorillas. He was totally poised in front of, I counted I think 42 reporters and I forgot how many cameras and the TV dollies.

Studs Terkel Is it because now he has become a celebrated figure? We come to this too.

Hunter S. Thompson No I think he could have been articulate in just about anything he decided to do, but given his temperament, if he went to work in a factory he'd probably stuff the foreman's down a airshaft or something.

Studs Terkel What makes a man join Hell's Angels? Perhaps we should, maybe get down to specifics. This is in California now. There are groups, similar groups, in Chicago there's a group called The Outlaws who say they are tougher than the Hell's Angels. But back to, there are several branches. Now this is, they're called one-percenters, aren't they?

Hunter S. Thompson Well the AMA called them one-percenters.

Studs Terkel A.M.A. American Motorcycle Association. What does that mean?

Hunter S. Thompson Well the AMA is sort of a sporting competition arm of a much larger trade association of bikes and scooters and the almost anything with two wheels and a motor. The AMA is, well they're a motorcycle lobby, really. And they sponsor all these races around the country and some of them pretty big, but they don't like the image the Hell's Angels have given the motorcycle. So at one point they came out with a statement saying that, don't believe all this bad stuff you hear about motorcycles. It's only one percent. So the angels and, you know, with their kind of, their pattern for adopting disparaging remarks, picked it up and were proud of being the dirty evil one percent. So now they all wear this triangular patch on their vest.

Studs Terkel It's a patch called one-percenters.

Hunter S. Thompson Yeah. There it us, up there.

Studs Terkel The insignia by the way, on the cover of the book of Hunter Thompson our guest, the book Hell's Angels, is the shot in the back the back of a long-haired member of Hell's Angels. A skull with an Indian, a skull with wings: Hell's Angels. And there's one, for the one percent.

Hunter S. Thompson That little thing, yes. One is a percent.

Studs Terkel [Above] North Cal. There are branches then. This is the the outside the pale of respectability group, right? The Hell's Angels represent this. There, there, aren't there various echelons of society here? Isn't there a question of status involved here with all the groups that are outside?

Studs Terkel Oh, definitely.

Studs Terkel Now Hell's Angels are what? They're number one on the social pattern, on the social scale?

Hunter S. Thompson I think even even you know all across the country, all the other motorcycle gangs, they don't want to be called a gang [like]. They call themselves a club. But all the other motorcycle clubs, put it that way, The Outlaws, even defer to the Angels being the number one you know like like John Dillinger, that sort of thing. But there's a group in the east called The Pagans that claim two or three times the membership of the Angels have now. And they say they want to take over the East Coast like the angels have taken over the West Coast. That's their concept. The Angels have taken over the West Coast.

Studs Terkel It's almost as though a syndicate were at work in a way, saying this is my turf and this is your turf.

Hunter S. Thompson Oh yeah.

Studs Terkel This is my territory--

Hunter S. Thompson They all talk very strongly of--

Studs Terkel This is your territory.

Hunter S. Thompson of turf.

Studs Terkel Ah hah.

Hunter S. Thompson Like you in L.A. the the Los Angeles, the Angels are centered out towards San Bernardino. They have their turf. Whereas, and the Satans Slaves are other pretty big, you know, sort of a venomous group. They have their turf. The only they really have trouble is when they meet and some either neutral turf, or one of them goes in and you know, is found at a bar or in somebody else's turf. It's like wolverines and animals.

Studs Terkel So this Hell's Angels turf, the Hell's Angels of Sonny Barger, who is the most known fig- leaders from Oakland, California.

Hunter S. Thompson Now.

Studs Terkel Right from around Oakland.

Hunter S. Thompson As I remember he's a native, more or less, I don't, you know he's, I think he was born there, or somewhere in California.

Studs Terkel Well how would you how do how did they come to be? Now we come to the key. Why are the Hell's Angels this kind of group? You speak of foul fighting; they stomp someone. You were stomped. In which there's a question of rules involved here just beating some- violence for the sake of violence.

Hunter S. Thompson Well they have. It's bylaw either a number of 10 or 11. It says when an Angel punches an un-Angel or other Angels will participate. So I was a victim of bylaw number 10 or 11. I should've known that, you know, it's as a lapse of caution.

Studs Terkel Now the participation involves any form and this is not Queensberry rules?

Hunter S. Thompson All necessary participation as far as it goes.

Studs Terkel Kicking, gouging.

Hunter S. Thompson Oh that's that's elementary.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Hunter S. Thompson The, you could get as well as, I was telling somebody even though it wasn't you, about all during this stomping, I could see the guy who'd originally teed off on me just out of, you know, from nowhere with no warning, circling around with a rock about 12 inches long must have weighed about 20 pounds, trying to get at me to crash it down in my head. That was my main worry. I tried to keep my eyes on him because I didn't want to have my skull fractured. They, they wouldn't, you know, that sounds bad talking about it now, but they wouldn't have seen anything unusual about that.

Studs Terkel Well now this is interesting. We hear more and more of course of senseless violence, and throughout the book you are dotting this, your observations, are more than about the Angels, they're about our society. And it's since World War II pretty much isn't it, this phenomenon's come to be?

Hunter S. Thompson I think the Angels came out of World War II, and not just the Angels themselves, but what you're talking about, this whole kind of [inundated?] violent subculture of people wandering around looking for, you know either an opportunity or if not an opportunity then vengeance for not getting an opportunity. Because you get to a point you know, they get they get to be 30 and suddenly they wake up one morning and they realize, you know, there are no more chances, it's all gone. Yeah I've been an Outlaw for 10 years or 12 years, and by this time you know, they've been in jail a few times or maybe the pen. And it makes them very bitter. The old- the older ones are generally much more bitter than the younger ones 'cause the younger ones have options you know, they can quit. At least they have the illusion of being able to quit and go straight. But the older they get, the more they lose their illusions and that makes them meaner, you know.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Hunter S. Thompson They want to get back at the people who put them in this terrible you know this dead-end tunnel.

Studs Terkel Now who are these people they want to get back at?

Hunter S. Thompson Oh I don't know. It's kind of "they." Paranoid. You know, it's you, it's me, it's whoever might come too close to him on the highway you know, car. It's somebody who makes a remark in a, in a bar to them. It's, they have they call them the citizens. Anybody who looks respectable, looks like he, he isn't doomed. You know, like he has some kind of option or money or a home or all the things they don't have.

Studs Terkel And the things deep down, do you do you sense the things deep down that they really want that they want? Do you sense this, that they really want to be respectable in the sense of having that home and those possessions?

Hunter S. Thompson Well they did at one time. It's hard to say, you know, has to kind of treat it individually.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Hunter S. Thompson But when they get to a point when they, where they realize they can't have them, you know, that they don't have these opportunities anymore to kind of make it in the Great Society. Once, once this realization comes then it makes them resent these things even more and they, like it's like the one-percenter patch.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Hunter S. Thompson You know AMA saw it as a derogatory thing. They adopted it as a positive thing.

Studs Terkel The very fact that somewhere [along the], whether your book which is a very excellent one, but there have been write-ups of course in the mass media, considered bad publicity, but they would rather have that than no publicity, wouldn't they?

Hunter S. Thompson Oh absolutely. They would die right away with no publicity. There'd be no reason for being in the club.

Studs Terkel But now they're recognized even though they are the enemy quote unquote, they recognized as somebody.

Hunter S. Thompson Well, it's the recognition that makes them, it's, it makes up for all their deprivation, you know, jobs, money, respectability, and all that.

Studs Terkel So these are the losers in our society, but who won't be the passive losers you point out, but as outlaws they become active.

Hunter S. Thompson Yeah, and that's part of the appeal. That's why they appeal to people who are passive losers. Because all the people who would like to take a big rock and crash it down on the finance company manager's head can watch, you know, movies of the Hell's Angels or read about them you know getting vengeance on all the people who have wronged them.

Studs Terkel Before I ask you, about own own experiences, and throughout the book is filled with this, the various, the variety of of the ones who join. The great many, aside from someone like Sonny, are had, they work as, they have jobs, regular jobs, construction workers.

Hunter S. Thompson Yeah.

Studs Terkel A great many hard hat guys, or some work as installment collectors, right? As mechanics

Hunter S. Thompson Well actually that's a terrifying story about Tiny. You know, that's that monster you know?

Studs Terkel Yeah, Tiny's the big man.

Hunter S. Thompson Yeah, the one who attacked that Vietnam Day demonstration. I was reading that in the book the other day, that I had, I didn't think about it you know, but while I was writing it none of it really seemed that strange because I'd see these people during the day and I'd write at night. So the bizarre quality of something you know other people might see in the book didn't come through while I was doing and now it's beginning to. That I was thinking the other day of, when I was reading over that section about Tiny being a bill collector for a credit manager he was, for a chain of TV stores in Oakland and he he'd go to work wearing a blue suit and a white shirt and red tie with pigtails down to his, and he'd he'd tie up his shaggy hair in a pigtail. And, the thing and everybody how he collected his money, and then you know beating on the doors and going out and threatening people, and if anybody got wise he'd take some of the Hell's Angels out to collect. I was thinking how people in Oakland could be-- here that they read about it and look at their TV set and think, "My God the payments are three months overdue and any minute you know, the door will come crashing down and these brutes will come through and cut up my children and rape my wife, whip, whip [on] me with chains. But you really like, all like, one of one of them was a janitor in the San Francisco Hilton for a while. So you're likely to see one anywhere without really realizing.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Hunter S. Thompson What he is.

Studs Terkel So we come now to how come [ice clinking in a glass?], how come this is the [unintelligible], oh you spoke of their breaking up a Vietnam anti-Vietnam demonstration in Oakland. What's the attitude of the, of the say the California police toward them?

Hunter S. Thompson Oh it varies considerably. In Los Angeles, they've been harassed to the point where they almost can't ride, or at least they can't get in any group of more than two or three. That is, well all over California now, they've used this technique in Berkeley to break up peace marches and demonstrations. If you get arrested for anything, even spitting on the street, they'll run a traffic check on you to see if you haven't, see if you have any unpaid citations.

Studs Terkel Who're you talking about now?

Hunter S. Thompson The police. All over California.

Studs Terkel No you're talking about as against whom?

Hunter S. Thompson Oh anyone.

Studs Terkel No, but I meant what the attitude of the police is toward the Hell's Angels.

Hunter S. Thompson Oh well that

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Hunter S. Thompson In Cal-- in L.A., what they do is stop them and just check and see if they have any unpaid citations you know, for oh speeding, anything at all, and they almost always do. But this has spread now to; it was first used on just the Angels or maybe other people too. But now it's a common technique. They I use it, on the police use it on everybody.

Studs Terkel Well what was their attitude when they busted up the Vietnam demonstration in Oakland?

Hunter S. Thompson It was very funny. The Berkeley police were trying to keep the march as peaceful as possible, and they were on the side of the marchers but they were more or less neutral. Whereas the Oakland police at the Oakland-Berkeley line, which is just a line on a map, formed a solid flying wedge of 400 helmeted cops with billy clubs held at port arms, long truncheons not just little clubs. And in the middle of it with a mic was Police Chief Toothman. It looked like they were trying to repel some manner of invasion from you know, the yellow peril.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Hunter S. Thompson Or something. And I came up to the confrontation from the Oakland side, and the cops were just about as bad as people behind, on people behind them as they were you know, they were just as as ugly about letting anybody through the riots either way. It took me about 30 minutes to get through with cameras and tape recorder and press and all that, but somehow 12 of these Angels got through that whole wall of police which was literally a solid human wall.

Hunter S. Thompson Mmm hmm.

Hunter S. Thompson And were allowed to attack the, attack the Berkeley marchers.

Studs Terkel So when we come to something else now. Hell's Angels must represent something in in our society right now at this moment. Somehow it would be inconceivable to think of them pre-World War II. It's since World War II.

Hunter S. Thompson Yeah. Well, what I finally decided, trying to trace some kind of roots, it's hard because they're very reluctant to talk about you know, who they really are. It's hard to even get them sometimes to tell you their names. But rather than just kind of blaming poverty, I decided that it was more of a quality of rootlessness you know, a sort of having no home. Like Terry the Tramp, one of the Angels helped me the most, listed about seven places as as where he was from. He didn't really know where he was from. He had no, I think he knew where his mother was, and I think he knows now, but he never mentioned his father and they apparently lived all over the country. Every place from Detroit to Norfolk to Fresno. It's, I think it's a--

Studs Terkel This aimlessness and rootlessness here you're talking about.

Hunter S. Thompson Yeah, it's the sense of having no, no place to be no place to go.

Studs Terkel You know I'm just thinking here, is the is the conclusion you've come to. This is, we'll just wander back and forth.

Hunter S. Thompson OK.

Studs Terkel In the book. On page 258, Hunter S. Thompson is our guest and the book is Hell's Angels, subtitle, and a very appropriate one this is not exaggerating, "The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs." We have to see this though as a mirror of ourselves or else I think the point is missed. You say here because there's a romantic attachment it would seem; we speak of the individualist tradition of the rebel. But you say, toward the end after a ye--, you were with them for about a year or so?

Hunter S. Thompson About a year, yeah.

Studs Terkel A year or so. [reading] I realized the roots of this act, these acts, was not any time honored American myth but right beneath my feet in a new kind of society only beginning to take shape. To see Hell's Angels as caretakers of the old individualist tradition that made this country great, quote unquote, is only a painless way to get around seeing [that?] what they really are, not some romantic leftover, but the first wave of a future [there?] is nothing in our history has prepared us to cope with. The Angels are prototypes. [Their? The?] lack of education [not?] only rendered them completely useless in a highly technical economy, but has given them the leisure to cultivate a powerful resentment translated into a destructive cult, which the mass media insists on portraying as a sort of isolated oddity, a temporary phenomenon that will shortly become extinct now that it's been called to the attention of the police. [reading completed] This paragraph to me is almost the the key to your book, Hunter.

Hunter S. Thompson Yeah, yeah it is. Yeah, if I thought I was just going to write about the Hell's Angels, sort of a group portrait, it wouldn't have been worth writing.

Studs Terkel But here we have a technology; we have the computer, we have labor-saving devices. We have the need for more and more college education for almost any kind of job. And you have this tremendous mass of young who find themselves what? Obsolete, almost.

Hunter S. Thompson Yeah, and the Angels are, see, they, they, most of these are people who found themselves obsolete years ago. So the people who are, you know, say the Hell's Angels that are being created now probably won't be obvious for another five years. But it takes a while to cultivate that kind of bitterness. Where when somebody calls you, you know, a dirty bum, you don't look in the mirror and think, well maybe I should wash my face, you go out and you know, rub scum on you and get dirtier. Then you go back in and punch him and break a bottle and stick it in his gut. So that we won't we won't see what really this technological, you know, what, what's happening today. The evidence, the people who are being left out and put behind won't be obvious for years. And Christ only knows what'll happen when, you know, it's 1985. [When?] the million Hell's Angels, or, not, they won't be wearing the colors but they'll be people who are just looking for vengeance because they've been left behind.

Studs Terkel Because then that which was considered derogatory becomes, as it has, you point out, it becomes that badge of honor.

Hunter S. Thompson Yeah.

Studs Terkel They take this very thing, the obscenities and all become their way of life.

Hunter S. Thompson And they kind of, they like to throw it back in your face and say, Yeah sir, I am a dirty bum, I'm even dirtier than you thought. And I'm also going to punish you for calling me that and making me that, too.

Studs Terkel Incidentally, since we're talking, we had to get one thing straight now, the matter of age, you know. So people won't misunderstand and think these are young kids. A great many are married or live with women. They have kids, have jobs, right? They're of a certain, the age goes from what? From?

Hunter S. Thompson With a few exceptions, from 20 to 40. There are a few over 40, but very few. I noticed toward the end of my involvement with them that more and more younger types were arriving. There were there were a lot more hangers on and people who were younger kids were trying to get in. And these were people who were attracted by this, you know, sort of being a loser. It's, you know, even in your own eyes there was, this as a way to be a loser and yet be a winner in your own eyes and you know, as long as they stay together they kind of reflect each other.

Studs Terkel So it's appealing to the peer group, the old, Frank Tannebaum points this out. You point out, you have quotes. By the way there's, the book is fascinating in many ways. The quotations you have, beginnings of chapters are quotations from gangs of various past eras, reactions of respectables, quotations. And throughout this question of everybody's really saying, I want to be someone, doesn't he? To want to be recognized as someone.

Hunter S. Thompson Yeah, and if I can get it one way I'll get it another way. And if you ignore me on the streets, I'll punch a hole in your windshield, then you'll recognize me.

Studs Terkel Mmm.

Hunter S. Thompson And when I do it, I'm powerful enough so you can't do anything about it. Because when we get together and big mobs they're, they're very hard to handle. You know the police treat them very generally.

Studs Terkel That's--

Hunter S. Thompson I mean gently, excuse me.

Studs Terkel You point that out several times. And again attitudes of pol--, I askes you about police several had because there's back and forth; you have confrontation. You also have friendships. You find out when they're alone or if, or when the Angels are just a couple of them, they're harassed, but when there are a great many of them, they're treated with great respect.

Hunter S. Thompson Well, they, they're aware of this. So rather than be just rousted for parking tickets or speeding tickets, rather than take a chance on that, they try to get together in as large a band as they can so the police know it's not just a matter of grabbing somebody by the ear and leading him into the traffic court. That they might cause you know, a riot, and of course it's not just the police, it's the, in a small town the people who live there, like a town of ten or twenty thousand get excited and terrified and they arm themselves and stand around in bands with you know, on street corners with guns and knives and clubs because they really believe that the Angels are going to come in and decimate the town.

Studs Terkel So we have two aspects of violence here. You have this confrontation dramatically in the, and the very famous place, Bass Lake.

Hunter S. Thompson Bass Lake.

Studs Terkel Bass Lake. Hollister is a town that was the basis of "The Wild One," the film, wasn't it? Hollister Cali--.

Hunter S. Thompson Hollister, yeah. It was the basis of the film, and also probably the sort of the Yorktown of the whole Hell's Angels movement.

Studs Terkel But in Bass Lake we had vigilantes on one side, Hell's Angels on the other. The respectables, if you will, on one side. Violently so. The non-respectables violently so. So you had violence on two sides almost poised. You used the Dulles quote, balance of terror.

Hunter S. Thompson Yeah, that's old friend John, yes. Well I was I was almost as afraid of the locals, probably more so, than I was. When I got there I was totally neutral, because it was the first time I'd seen the Angels.

Studs Terkel You went there to cover it, as a journalist?

Hunter S. Thompson Yeah. And by this time I knew it was working in the book so I, I was going back into the scene that I already got out of after working on a magazine article. When I got there and found the locals all armed and probably 100 of them just forming a human wall in front of this shopping center, I'd, I wasn't sure who to be afraid of. Whether the Angels who were hitting with chain whips from behind or the locals from in front, or where to turn my back or anything. And the old locals were armed. They had, they'd hired private gunmen and people with hunting knives and long sticks. That's, the Angels bring out this kind of violence in other people by confronting it, you know, they confront them.

Studs Terkel You just touched on something fascinating. There are so many thoughts coming to my mind. Angels bring out this violence in other people because they're dressed [unintelligible], you see? Bearded, long hair, earring in ear perhaps, a swastika helmet or a Confederate flag, which the, some of the locls would like very much, but. Something occurred to me. They bring something out. I was visited one day by six members of The Outlaws. Friendly, they just came over, curious. The house. An acquaintance of acquaintance suggested they come over. They wouldn't talk [for the] tape recorder. And they were drinking. And they were telling experiences of their own, as sitting at a tavern, and as though they are looking to be--. Somebody comes over, a local tough of the neighborhood, who starts a fight. That's what they're looking for.

Hunter S. Thompson Yeah.

Studs Terkel That was something you recognized, [with] someone?

Hunter S. Thompson They claim, the Angels anyway, claim that they don't look for trouble, you know they just try to live peaceful lives and be left alone. But on the other hand, they go out and put themselves into situations deliberately and constantly that are either either going to humiliate somebody else or cause them to you know, avoid humiliation by fighting. So they they really put, I've seen them countless times put people in situations where they have to either crawl or fight, just almost by just being there and smiling at them. And of course, you know, they they live in a world that isn't as polite as what the world as, you know a lot of people live in.

Studs Terkel And yet our society, the various aspects of it. So Hell's Angels it would seem, the songs in the jukeboxes for example, what's that is it "Blue Denim Trousers"? And what's the one, "Black Denim Trousers"?

Hunter S. Thompson "He wore black denim trousers a motorcycle vest," or jacket or something like that. "That fool was a terror of Highway 101." We'll probably have to pay somebody for saying that on the air.

Studs Terkel No. Now the fact is that song became our song. [unintelligible] And they romanticize the other one, "A World of My Own"?

Hunter S. Thompson "World of Our Own."

Studs Terkel "A World of Our Own.

Hunter S. Thompson They never, they never recognized that. That struck me one day when I was--.

Studs Terkel Yeah. But it's fantasy. But the point is the fantasy here.

Hunter S. Thompson Well, they have, they need the fantasy.

Studs Terkel

Hunter S. Thompson The fantasy and the reality. Without, without the fantasy they they couldn't face the reality, because it's too horrible. Every day they wake up and their teeth hurt more and no dentist will touch them, you know, without payment in advance, and that sort of thing. So their reality is really pretty bad, and their fantasy is, it almost, it isn't, really they've chosen it so much as that that's all they have left. This fantasy of being big and tough and powerful and, you know right against all these people who are wrong and evil and going to push down on them, bend them.

Studs Terkel So its, it's this myth then, that is so necessary from this fantasy because the reality is so bleak and so joyless.

Hunter S. Thompson Well the myth is as necessary to the Angels as it is to Time and Newsweek, because in order to see the Angels for what they really are, as a sort of reflection of President Johnson's you know, foreign policy [tape drop out] really. Then you'd have to really think about it. You'd have to see that we're breeding Hell's Angels on every street corner. They just don't wear the jackets yet. So it's ea--, it's much easier to, that's why [tape drop out] mentioned isolated oddity. It's much easier to see them as something that came out of some past Gypsy culture, you know dying out because they can't proliferate or breed anymore. That isn't that isn't the case. I think the world will have ten times as many Hell's Angels in ten years as we do now.

Studs Terkel I think now Hunter Thompson our guest is coming to the nitty-gritty of it as as the kids would say. Here we come to it now. You speak of two of the most celebrated organs of our mass media who delight and gloried, and the Angels to delight and gloried in being celebrated. These became great stories, cover story for Saturday Evening Post, for newspapers. Now something happened here, right now. These organs of opinion and journalism covered this. It was great. It was an isolated oddity to them and therefore in being an isolated oddity, they're OK, they're guiltless. And we're seeing these horrible Hell's Angels at work.

Hunter S. Thompson Yeah, now that the you know the alarm bell has rung, the cops are going to take care of it and scrub it all out and pretty soon they'll have some other isolated oddity to look at. You know like beatniks dancing on a trampoline or something. It's it's hard to really see that we are breeding these things. It's hard to bring yourself to look around at the nice, you know, kind of rural Americ-- American Norman Rockwell culture that everybody, you know, all the editors of Time and Newsweek grew up in, and to realize that it's turned into something else now. We're breeding monsters you know, and it it's hard, you can't say it's not their fault or it is their fault. It's happening and I'm not sure how to, you know, what we can do about it.

Studs Terkel You're merely as a journalist recounting, and again I'd like to point out Hunter Thompson, not just as a journalist observing from the sidelines, very much part of it and involved to the extent of himself being stomped on, beaten up. Toward the end there's this postscript. But we come again to our society, the respectables. Bass Lake is where the celebrated almost-happening took place. You know, the tear on both sides, vigilante on one side. And they were scared tourists would not come. Now what happened?

Hunter S. Thompson They had the largest crowd of tourists for any July Fourth, and you know, in any year that anyone would remember. They were all very pleased. At first they wouldn't sell them any beer. There had apparently been some sort of pact, you know among the local local merchants like, keep these beasts sober and they won't hurt us. And it's hard to make laws against the Angels because they aren't they aren't illegal in the, you know on the face of it. But when they first went to buy beer, I went with them, I was the agent to go get one hundred and fifty dollars worth of beer or something, and they wouldn't let us buy it at this one store. That's where the vigilante mob was waiting. But the sheriff directed us to go to another store. The man there sold them beer and that just broke the dike, the dike, because the Angels all swarmed into this market and it became like a circus for two days. People, all the tourists came there. The man who wouldn't sell them beer lost all of his business, and he didn't have the animal act for the weekend.

Studs Terkel He didn't have the animal act for the weekend for the respectables.

Hunter S. Thompson Right.

Studs Terkel To enjoy.

Hunter S. Thompson Oh you couldn't--.

Studs Terkel Still keep their respectability. I'd like to find that quote. I remember I was I just, here. Here it is. The man named Williams refused to sell them the beer and he was afraid of difficulties and trouble. [He must?] Where as the other, sure, the other recognized. And so here's the end of this particular chapter, a part of "Hoodlum Circus and Statutory Rape of Bass Lake." "And if nothing else," writes Hunter Thompson, "the weekend at Bass Lake was a monument to free enterprise. It is hard to say what might have happened if the outlaws hadn't been able to buy beer, but the moon-faced man at the tourist market," he's the one who sold them, very delighted to, you know, "was the visionary who turned the tide. After the first purchase the Angels were welcome or at least tolerated everyone except at Williams' store." He's the one who didn't. [were it?] "Which even the vigilantes abandoned when it became apparent the action was across the lake. Poor Williams was left holding civic the bag; he had taken a gutty stand, his image was all moxie, but on Monday night, when the Angels were finally gone, he had earned the leisure that enabled him to go out to the lake front and gaze off in a proud [tape noise? lighter?] wistful way like Gatsby at the green neon lights of the taverns across the water where the others were counting their money."

Hunter S. Thompson It sounds very different when somebody else reads it, you know it's.

Studs Terkel It's good writing.

Hunter S. Thompson Well, thank you.

Studs Terkel And now we come to again, another. We can't evade, no matter how we try to talk about the Hell's Angels or something esoteric.

Hunter S. Thompson Let me just inject.

Studs Terkel Go ahead.

Hunter S. Thompson A little thing for a minute there. I was thinking it sounds different when somebody else reads it. One of the weirdest experiences of my life was having groups of Angels drop by the apartment at odd hours of the day or night and read this thing aloud. I had selected parts I'd let them read.

Studs Terkel Oh that you, from this book?

Hunter S. Thompson Yeah, they want to know what I was doing.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Hunter S. Thompson Here's this mysterious person hang-- lurking around and writing something. And of course they figured, you know he'd write a book in three days and be out next week. They had no idea of the time. So they really had to reassure themselves always that I was doing it. And they'd sit there and read this thing to each other, and their reactions were completely different from mine or yours or anybody else's. They'd get highly insulted at things I thought were you know, kind of gentle and funny. And the most horrible epithets or you know, descriptions didn't offend them at all. They'd laugh at them. And it was it was almost like, you know reading your book in a bad translation in another language. And that went on for oh, I guess four or five months. And as as they'd hear about it more and more would come by, so we'd eventually have oh, 12 people in there and I'd have to, I'd have to leave the room because I wasn't sure which one was going to flip out and pick up a huge instrument and wail on me with it.

Studs Terkel Now this is a this is a, [sneeze?] has been quite an experience, a traumatic experience for Hunter Thompson but an interesting one. You thought, there were certain, you were scared they'd read, they'd be horrified and stomp you. If, at certain of the references, and they loved those, right?

Hunter S. Thompson Yeah. I never, I could never predict and I still couldn't. I couldn't possibly predict how they'd react to the book. Even though I've been accused of writing it, I've been, one reviewer called me an apologist for the Angels but I'm sure they won't see it that way.

Studs Terkel Well he missed the whole point. If he called you an apologist for the Angels, thenn this reviewer, I'm sorry, to me at least, missed the entire point because--.

Hunter S. Thompson Yeah, well he did.

Studs Terkel You, in telling us the story of Hell's Angels [tape drop out] telling us about, to me at least, in horrendous cartoon, I use complimentary fashion, you know caricature, fashion but true. What indeed our society can become.

Hunter S. Thompson There are caricature of a lot of people who don't realize that they have this in them.

Studs Terkel Yes. You're talking about respectable society now too.

Hunter S. Thompson The citizens, yeah.

Studs Terkel The citizens. We come come to the matter now--.

Hunter S. Thompson That's not my term. Excuse me.

Studs Terkel Eh?

Hunter S. Thompson That's a that's a Hell's Angels term.

Studs Terkel No, that's their term the citiz-- We come to something else now. Since, and this is a funny, sad, horrifying at the same time. And we're going to hear an acquaintance of mine's voice in a moment. He's not a Hell's Angel. He sort of works quasi-legally. Ooh, some would say he's a [hood?]. He's strange. He's outside the pale of respectability though. But I think he loves respectability [lighter?] as they do. About what a celebrity is. You know C. Wright Mills used that great quote, you know that, the the new the celebrity today comes out of the hierarchy of publicity; no longer of dissent or even of wealth. Now the Angels, certainly Sonny Barger have become celebrities haven't they?