I had been meaning to read this book for quite a while; ever since a friend of mine mentioned it to me years ago. Penguin then decided to release a number of books in a new mass market format, similar to their original releases back in the early days of the company. The books that they released in this new format were inexpensive and were collected from various authors throughout history. I actually appreciated this because they selected a lot of lesser known books that I probably would not have read if I had not seen them.
One of the books that I grabbed was Junky by William Burroughs, and the other was this one. The reason I grabbed them because not only were they short, but they also fell into the category of 'dodgy'. I say 'dodgy' because in many ways they are not the sort of books that the average middle class reader would pick up and read, but then again the average middle class reader is likely to pick up and read airport trash (though this is not strictly the case, particularly with some of the avid readers that I know at work).
The opening sentence of this book captivated me, and I cannot remember it strictly especially since I do not have a copy of the book on hand. Hold it, isn't that what the internet is for? The description of the Hell's Angels rider 'like Gengis Kahn on an iron horse, a monster steed with a firey anus' simply captivated me to a point that I could not put it down. I had read Thompson before (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) and I must admit that I found that book really amusing, however this was the first time that I had decided to return to his writings to see what he was like with his other books. I must admit that his style of journalism, called Gonzo Journalism, is different and refreshing.
Thompson takes us on a tour through what he considers to be a 'misunderstood part of American culture'. This book was written during the Vietnam War so at this stage the bikie clubs had not had their ranks filled with returning vets. However, at one point he does describe the 'Linkhorns': the indentured labourers and poor people who had come over to the United States in hope of finding a better life but never actually doing so. As such they continue to move off to the west in an attempt to better their life, which never actually comes, and instead of finding a new land and wealth for themselves, they simply fall into the dark undercurrents of the society that is developing.
In many cases people suggest that the Hell's Angels of this book and the Hell's Angels of today are two different organisations. I cannot vouch for that statement as my interaction with bikie gangs have been limited at best. I have known people who have been connected, and I have spoken with them about things, but myself, I have never really been involved. It is interesting though because our government seemed to take a disliking to the bikie gangs above and beyond the normal distrust. There was a section of Adelaide where they used to congregated, but the bulldozers moved in, flattened the suburb, and put up new, and more expensive, townhouses in their place. They also enacted laws (since struck down by the High Court of Australia) banning the groups and any such associations. Thank God that the High Court intervened, because I can assure you that while today it is the Hell's Angels, tomorrow it is the Greens, the Christians, and the Liberal Party Supporters.
It is a bit of a shame that I cannot remember this book too well, but what Thompson tries to paint is that all they really are is a misunderstood subculture. Okay, at the end they go to town on him, but as it turns out it was because he never actually told them that he was going to write a book about them and that he was researching their lifestyle. Throughout the book we are reminded of how the police go out of their way to persecute and harass, so they will be cautious nonetheless. Thus when it comes to light that Thompson is writing about them no wonder they are pissed.
We do go on a journey with them, and meet the bikie girls and enjoy a weekend at a lake. In many cases there seems to just be an awful lot of alcohol, but the drugs do come into the scene. We meet Ken Kesey at the end of the book having one of his massive drug parties, and in a way I was surprised to encounter this side of Kesey. I remember reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in high school and was stunned to discover that the writings of this drug fiend is being promoted in our schools. Hey, I don't particularly care, and as one friend of mine said, if 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' is the worst book that schools are forcing children to read then she would be happy.
This is a short, well written, and entertaining book. I cannot vouch for whether it is relevant today in that much has changed over the years. I cannot even say if it is relevant to Australia. While Thompson does try to open up a 'misunderstood' subculture in America, I still note that it is a violent subculture, and I must admit that I am a delicate person who really does not like to get into fights, or at least physical fights. However, I guess this is simply the nature of males, in that when angry they lash out in anger but two days later they will be back in the same pub drinking beer. However, I'm not entirely convinced of this description, as males are also more than capable of holding grudges, and I suspect that the higher up the food chain you go, the more likely they are to hold grudges (I know I do, even though I paint it over with the veneer of respect and trust, but that is an argument and discussion for another day).