Archive for the ‘San Francisco Hippies’ Category

“Everyone an outlaw, until it time to do outlaw shit.”

I picked this up because THE NATION recommended that if I, a pasty suburban leftie liberal, wanted to understand the “forgotten man” Trump voter, I should read this. I find out near the the end, that the goddamn NATION magazine paid the tab on HST’s drink account to dictate this into a handheld tape recorder. Shady.

But the suggestion is not “that” wrong. As with everything HST wrote, there is a near perfect, poetic epiphany right near the end of the article/book that just sparks with soul cleansing crystal magic poetry. In the case of the Angels, HST crafts it out of the sheer loserdom that defines the cyclists’ whole reason for being.


“In terms of the Great Society the Hell’s Angels and their ilk are losers – dropouts, failures and malcontents. They are rejects looking for a way to get even with a world in which they are only a problem. The Hell’s Angels are not visionaries, but diehards, and if they are forerunners of the vanguard of anything it is not the “moral revolution” in vogue on college campuses, but a fast-growing legion of young unemployables whose trapped energy will inevitably find the same kind of destructive outlet that “outlaws” like the Hell’s Angels have been finding for years. The difference between the student radicals and the Hell’s Angels is that the students are rebelling against he past, while the Angels are fighting the future. Their only common ground is their disdain for the present, or the status quo.” p. 256-257.

Lost by their own hobbying, lost by their own addictions, lost by their own purposeful sense of community and belonging. But still given a certain nodding respect by conservative society and it’s wide belted police force. Because, the Angels, are, when it is said and done, still young white boys and probably could be rehabilitated.

HST does an amazing thing, much like Arendt, he unpacks the bluster to strip the myth down to the most banal reality of the outlaw. While he never coins the phrase, the HELL’S ANGELS can be seen as a study in the “banality of hooliganism.”

HST spreads out how popular culture, namely the movie THE WILD ONE inspired the conception of the Angels. Not only were the Angels fans, they sought to emulate and surpass the look and attitude of the bikers in the movie. But the press conflated real news with the events in the movies, to heighten the fears of small town America, when their windows rattled when a bike barrelled past.

It is really the long stretch where HST does a play by play of the party at Bear Lake illustrates just how absurd the whole game of cat and mouse becomes – where the most dangerous thing are the “squares” armed to the teeth and those teeth floating in a bile of pent up fearful rage. The begrudging respect the police afford the motorcycle revelers and the pure drunken inaction of the revelers themselves, puts a fine point on the weekend adventure.

But there are honestly disgusting and troubling aspects to the Angel’s – their attitude toward women, sex, and rape is primal and tribal. But, I wonder, to what extent does their embrace of demeaning and owning women, beating them into submission, and forcibly raping them did not just give full articulation to the mores of the post-war American spirit?

Not to mention their reactionary racism. While they seem to have no issue with individual blacks, they hate “the blacks” writ large. They fear retaliation after kicking the shit out of a young black guy in their bar. The white paranoia was conservative and unironically embracing the “law and order” tactics that are used to corral and harass them, as well.

But the most embarrassing part of the book is when the Keasey/Ginsburg crowd adopts the Angels. I mean why wouldn’t old Uncle Alan want to make it with some greasy smelling bears while quoting Whitman as he came? The Angels were made for his fiddling bits, the slumming would be delicious. He even wrote a four page nonsense poem about them – under the pretext of convincing them not to wail on his gentle anti-war protesting friends. Oh the wiles of the poet, his song weakening the brutal heart of the barbarian to spare the valley of the river nymphs!


HST’s book is an artifact to a time when America was still outraged by the unkempt appearance of the Hell’s Angels, before the “look” became ubiquitous. Now the sight of a bearded, shirtless, leather vested man’s man roaring down the highway, spilling beer and flipping off the camera is used to sell watches to stock brokers, not to instill fear into the hearts of upstanding mom and dads.

And maybe that is what the Trump supporters are most angry about. They are no longer feared and their existence considered outlaw. They are “forgotten” because their idea of outlaw culture is no longer outlaw.


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Last week, I was walking down Haight Street. It was early in the morning. I had just dropped our car off for some minor body work. It had shaped up into a nice day, so I figured I’d just hoof it home.

Nothing was open on Haight. Or hardly anything was open. Some of the restaurants were serving. But the shops were all shuttered.

People were beginning to mill about, but the sidewalk was abnormally empty. Still, there was a group of older men with stained shirts and unfortunate shoes loitering, in a wide huddle, on the sidewalk in front of Amoeba.

As I passed by, this one guy with an oversized white t-shirt with a 1980s faded neon sailboat graphic and a filthy red hat sat squeezing the sea of curls in every direction, said, “I used to have four unopened copies of The Beatles Let It Be. I did not think twice about opening one of them for a special occasion, you know, like if a party was getting good or if a special group of friends were over.”

“Like a fine wine,” cajoled the guy over by entrance who’s shirt did not fully cover the belly roll poking over his belt.

I was too far away to hear how the conversation progressed or if the guy holding an armful of old LPs actually dropped them all over the sidewalk. They were looking very slippery in his precarious bear hug.

A few blocks later, as I waited for traffic, I noticed a little infestation of squatter kids nesting along the wall of an empty store front. They spread their grimy blankets and slowly unpacked their guitars and other stringed bongos, crouching down for the day.

One of their rank friends had set up watch on the corner a few feet from the growing encampment. He was slightly cleaner than the others, but not much. He had his pant legs stuffed into new multicolored striped socks pulled way up and stretched to a bulge. He was holding a wooden sign reading “SMILE” in large bright colors.

He turned with each person who passed. Speaking and smiling. Immediately, when I saw him, I thought to myself, “Who does this bossy hippie think he is? Telling me what to do?! Hrumpf!”

I crossed, when the light changed, and moved to the far end near the curb to avoid this bossy little guy. But it was not far enough, I guess, since he still engaged me as I passed, saying, “Can I get a smile today?”

“Sorry, I got nothing,” I said instinctively.

“Well, I am sorry to hear that, brother. I hope your day improves!”

“Thanks,” I said thinking to myself, “What a jerk.”

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