I’ve loved books my whole life and I’ve amassed a nice little book collection here in the MBIP World Headquarters. One quality I’m glad that I have is that I enjoy reading the same books over and over. I thought that I’d start a weekly Saturday series here on MBIP spotlighting some of my favorite books in my collection with all of you and so here we go!
The MBIP Book Of The Week - Hell’s Angels - A Strange and Terrible Saga By Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter Thompson is probably best known for his book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It was first published as a two part article in Rolling Stone magazine in 1971 and then it was published as a novel in 1972. That’s the first book I read by Hunter Thompson when I was a sophomore in high school and I loved it. When I first read it, I thought, like most people it was non-fiction and that he actually lived through this crazy adventure. Years later, I learned that while it had a basis in reality, most of it was pure fiction and that somewhat disappointed me. And that’s why my favorite book by Hunter S. Thompson is Hell’s Angels.
This book was Thompson’s first novel and Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs was published in 1966 by Random House. It’s 100 percent non-fiction and it’s also a book that breaks a lot of rules. The most important journalistic rule broken here is where the author becomes part of the story. Writers are supposed to stay detached from a story and just report the facts and what’s happening without getting involved. Hunter Thompson broke that rule into a million pieces when he wrote this book. He became a central figure in the novel and he hung out with the Hell’s Angels, he rode with them and ultimately he got the shit kicked out of him by The Hell’s Angels.
In a weird way, this book is a pre-cursor to reality TV. It’s reality TV in a novel and there’s some jarring moments. There’s heavy-duty boozing, drugs, fighting, rebellion and rape. Nothing is sacred and all bets are off. And it’s all real except I’ve always thought that the ending was staged by Hunter Thompson and we’ll get to that later. For now let’s take a look at the book.
The Back Cover
Here’s the back cover of the book and this lets the reader know that Hunter S. Thompson is a freelance writer from “San Francisco, Aspen and points east.” It also gives this synopsis of the book: “His research on the Hell’s Angels involved more than a year of close association with the outlaws including loafing, plotting and eventually getting stomped.” I think he wrote this before he ever started the book and that his goal was to eventually get “stomped” by this outlaw group of bikers and have a great ending for the book.
These are the first couple of pages of the novel with an introductory excerpt from a poem by François Villon, a French poet from the middle ages. It’s a translation from the poem Ballade du concours de Blois:
In my own country I am in a far-off land
I am strong but have no force or power
I win all yet remain a loser
At break of day I say goodnight
When I lie down I have a great fear
The NY Times Review
Here’s a link to the NY Times review of the book. This sentence is what I think Hunter Thompson wanted most from the book: At the conclusion of his year's tenure the ambiguity of his position was ended when a group of Angels knocked him to the ground and stomped him.
This is a funny video where a member of the Hell’s Angels confronts Hunter Thompson about the book. What I love is that the thing he’s most upset about is that Thompson never came through with the promise of giving the Angels two kegs of beer after the book was published! Look for singer/songwriter Joan Baez at the 4:23 mark, she was a friend of Hunter Thompson’s and I’m guessing he invited her to this taping.
This is a 1967 interview with Hunter S. Thompson on the ABC news from back in 1967.
The End Of The Book
In the end of the book, Hunter S. Thompson gets beaten up by a group of Hell’s Angels and I believe he staged this. I could be totally wrong, but others have come to this conclusion as well, including Sonny Barger, who was the ring-leader of the Hell’s Angels when Thompson was hanging out with them and doing research for this book. What happened was he confronted a Hell’s Angel who was beating his wife and called him a punk.
Well, this led to that Angel beating him and soon others joined in. Thompson managed to get away and he took photos of his bruised and beaten face for the book. He had hung out with them for over a year at this point and had witnessed other beatings including wives and women and gang rapes and held his tongue about all of that. But after the majority of the book was written, what better ending than to be stomped by this gang of hoodlums and outlaw bikers?
No one will ever know if this was staged by Thompson and it doesn’t ruin the book for me even if it was staged because that took real balls to do and it was a great ending to one of my favorite books of all time.
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