My run of good books, which extended through my trip to Thailand, continued with Hunter S. Thompson. I’d long wanted to read this book, and added it to my kindle after reading an article that referenced it. I’m always curious about how I come across books, because I think it’s valuable when I think about how people might come across mine.
It’s safe to say that Thomoson’s book Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga didn’t disappoint. Thompson has a reputation as a druggie scofflaw, and miscreant known for more for his eccentricities than his writing. That, no doubt, thanks to his portrayal in movies such as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and the lesser known Where the Buffalo Roam.
And that rep isn’t necessarily unearned. Thompson was as much a part of counter culture as he was a reporter of it. But that only makes Thompson’s book about the Hell’s Angels that much more real. Because throughout the work he combines extensive research with plenty of firsthand experience. He spent an enormous amount of time with a Hell’s Angels chapter, and went on several now infamous runs with them. But he was, of course, never one of them, as he found out the hard way.
Thompson’s portrayal of the angels shows the kaleidoscope of viewpoints the American public had of the angels; ranging from an angel who would hold down a person, man or woman alike, and pull out teeth with a pair of pliers he kept handy, to a chapter that decided to better their reputation by making it a point to stop and assist every motorist broken down on the side of the road. They loved poet Allen Ginsberg and author Ken Kesey, but hated the anti-war movement. It becomes apparent pretty early in Thompson’s tome that if you’d asked 10 different people in the 1960s about their opinion of the Hell’s Angels, you’d get 10 different responses. And they would all be accurate, at least for their experience.
They were a loose collection of bikers, but not without some central tenets. Angels didn’t practice hygiene, valuing a strong odor. If one angel gets into a fight, all the angels get into a fight. Many had old ladies, and there were also women who served as pass-arounds between angels. And above almost all else, the angels loved to get a reaction.
Thompson’s book serves as one of the most poignant portrayal of the Hell’s Angels, and is a fascinating read. It reveals why Thompson was as popular as he was – not because of his craziness, but because he was a very talented journalist and writer, which really comes through in this volume. His book is a window into a unique counter culture of 1960s, full of imagery that offers a glimpse into that era of California.