I’ve only read one HST book in my life, that being Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. While I thoroughly enjoyed it, I never fully bought into the hype surrounding him (and we’ll get to a couple of reasons why, later). So when I saw this copy in a charity shop for 75p I bought it out of curiosity.
For a year, he followed the Hells Angels, not exactly welcomed with open arms, more like kept at a wary arm’s length. But he got close enough to them in order to get a first hand perspective on them, witness a couple of big moments in their history and to write about the media spin and hype surrounding them. It’s intelligently written (as you’d expect) and opens your eyes to a more different 60s than you’re possibly familiar with.
While he doesn’t exactly glorify them, he doesn’t go out of his way to *really* criticise them. Accounts of rape charges some members accused of, is written with an almost (and on some accounts, obvious) victim blaming tone which every now and then suggests “what can you do, they’re horny men”. In fact this is bolstered by a passage in the book that states every single woman had a thought at the back of their head that they’d like to be raped. And in one video clip of an interview, a Hells Angel confronts HST about the reason why he was beaten in the end of the book. At one point, HST is seen agreeing with the “angel” that when women get out of line, you have to beat them a bit (but I suppose he redeemed himself a little by trying to stop a Hell’s Angel from beating up a woman).
The book is rife with uncomfortable misogyny, and not just on the part of the “angels”, HST is no stranger to it. Women who follow the Angels around and who enjoy sex are more than once referred to in a derogatory manner.
It makes for uncomfortable, vexatious reading however it’s also fascinating and genuinely amusing at times. It’s not just an insight into a biker gang. Think of it as a glimpse into the attitudes and social mores of the 60s from society, the police, the gangs and especially the author. If I can set aside my extreme distaste for his arrogance and misogyny, the book was enough to get me curious about his other work. So yes, I’d recommend it.
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