Join 3,439 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"When we do right, nobody remembers. When we do wrong, nobody forgets."
December 22, 2010 7:08 PM   Subscribe

Never-seen Hells Angels Photos, 1965 - LIFE photographer Bill Ray and writer Joe Bride recall the weeks they spent with Sonny, Buzzard, Hambone, Big D, other Angels and their "old ladies." Of the 36 photos in the gallery, only one had been previously published. (via Daily Jive)

More Hell's Angels photos by Hunter Thompson in his Gonzo gallery (not all photos are SFW)

Previously on Mefi: Hunter S. Thompson vs. a Hell's Angel. On a talk show.

Hell's Angels MC World - official site
posted by madamjujujive (79 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
Whoa. I'm almost done reading No Angel by Jay Dobyns (on my phone or would link) so this is good timing. He makes the point in the book that motorcycle gangs are the only true home grown American organized crime. I had never thought about that before. Things like street gangs have aways existed, Mafia and others are imports. So while he totally was into busting the HA he also had a bit of awe for them and Sonny Barger.

I really need to read the Hunter Thompson book.
posted by sio42 at 7:16 PM on December 22, 2010


Great series. I'm left wondering what became of these bikers in the 45 years since then. Who's still alive, what's their life like now, if any drifted back to a more mundane existence, and so forth. There's a story waiting right there.
posted by crapmatic at 7:23 PM on December 22, 2010


Sonny's still kicking at 72:

On November 30th, 2010 Barger made a short guest appearance on the season 3 finale of the FX Television series Sons Of Anarchy, about a fictional Outlaw motorcycle club, allegedly based on the Hell's Angels. Show creator Kurt Sutter spent time with Barger and other member's of Hells Angel's researching for the show, and acted opposite Barger in his scene.
posted by valkane at 7:26 PM on December 22, 2010


In early 1965, LIFE photographer Bill Ray and writer Joe Bride spent several weeks with a gang that, to this day, serves as a living, brawling embodiment of our schizoid relationship with the rebel: the Hells Angels.

There's nothing rebellious at all about hanging around with a bunch of people who look the same as you, dress the same, ride the same brand of bike, have the same backward attitudes to women, get the same tattoos, socialise in the same clubhouses, and allegedly get their incomes from the same activities.

Bikie gangs are basically just a codependent circlejerk of neanderthal losers who can't get by like regular individuals, and instead have to hide within the shelter of a supposedly tough crowd of drones devoid of individual personalities, just so they can feel like they fit in somewhere, gain some validation, and not be seen as the deadbeats that they really are.

Or so some guy said to me at the pub the other day.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:29 PM on December 22, 2010 [10 favorites]


I have a relation by marraige who, when he was beginning his law career, worked as a lawyer for an HA chapter in a rough east coast city. At the time, to save money he was still living at home, where the bikers would leave messages with his very stereotypical Nice Jewish Mother. One exchange went like this:

"_____ there?"
"No, he's out, can I take a message."
"Tell him Tombstone called."
"Is that your first name or your last name?"
"Just..Tombstone."
posted by jonmc at 7:29 PM on December 22, 2010 [23 favorites]


Nice post,... and, for those that haven't checked it out yet, read the narrative below the photos, much more meaningful.

I've spent the last few years riding a Harley... most of the miles have been alone, but many of them have been on "charity" runs (raising money for local causes). Often the charity runs are a mix of patched riders and weekend riders...

The patched riders are an interesting group... bottom line, they're people, some are involved in some sort of illegal activity... and some of the weekend riders, bankers and attorneys and such, are involved in transactions that are no less illegal. It's been an interesting experience... and, I have to say, if I'm broken down on the side of the road, and someone stops to help, I would rather it be someone on two wheels instead of four.

Thanks for the post, those are great photos...
posted by HuronBob at 7:36 PM on December 22, 2010


In high school I knew a girl who was friends with a biker named "Fig Newton."
I always thought that was a awesome name for a biker.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 7:39 PM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


When I worked in an industrial bakery, I was on the 'Plant Service" (read 'Janitorial') crew for a while who would go around to different stations on the line and ask if they had any refuse to be carted off. One burly, but polite and friendly dude at one of the big mixers, I noticed one day, had a clear HAMC death's head tattoed on his bicep. He was never anything but nice to me, FWIW.
posted by jonmc at 7:40 PM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


#12. That's not a cellphone, right?
posted by mmrtnt at 7:41 PM on December 22, 2010


Once upon a time in America, even bikers were skinny.
posted by bendybendy at 7:45 PM on December 22, 2010 [9 favorites]


mmrtnt... nice catch... looks like there is a wire or chain attached to it... doesn't look like a pocket watch.... a mystery...
posted by HuronBob at 7:47 PM on December 22, 2010


There's nothing rebellious at all about hanging around with a bunch of people who look the same as you, dress the same, ride the same brand of bike, have the same backward attitudes to women, get the same tattoos, socialise in the same clubhouses, and allegedly get their incomes from the same activities.

Are we talking about Hells Angels here, or hipsters?

...basically just a codependent circlejerk of neanderthal losers who can't get by like regular individuals, and instead have to hide within the shelter of a supposedly tough crowd of drones devoid of individual personalities, just so they can feel like they fit in somewhere...

Again, Hells Angels or the GOP?

I'm just kidding! Yeah, they're animals, brutes with nothing at the end of the day but a pitcher of beer, a handful of reds, and maybe the chance to stomp some square down at the Box Shop... but oh, I'm channeling HST!

Forgive me, Hells Angels was the book that turned me on to Hunter way back in Jr. High... And reading it was like following along as he moved through a jungle of depraved monsters... it was my introduction to gonzo journalism and I gotta tell you, it was a helluva powerful thing to read at 15. Yeah, Fear and Loathing might be his masterpiece, but the spot-on journalism of Hells Angels will always hold a special place in my heart.
posted by valkane at 7:48 PM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


"It's a look that's difficult to recreate, I think, and one that, when you look at these pictures, is really of its time. This look says mid-1960s. That's what I see here, without a doubt."
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:49 PM on December 22, 2010


In high school I knew a girl who was friends with a biker named "Fig Newton."

My mom used to bartend in a biker bar and she never got hassled because she made friends with the head dude.

His name was "Springtime".
posted by elsietheeel at 7:55 PM on December 22, 2010


#12. That's not a cellphone, right?

...Cigarette pack.

What's up with the guys french kissing?

Huh?


.
posted by ~Sushma~ at 8:02 PM on December 22, 2010


That's not a cigarette pack.... I was alive in 1965, we didn't carry cigarette packs on our belts...
posted by HuronBob at 8:06 PM on December 22, 2010


I think these pictures are stunning. I really love the one at night, outside the bar. As to the Angels themselves, a group of them saved my life one night decades ago...they didn't know me, I didn't know them, but they stepped in none the less, and delivered me...shaken but unhurt...back to my parents almost 200 miles away. Which was nice.
posted by dejah420 at 8:06 PM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


~Sushma~ Of the kissing, the text says:
"...I think those two kissing there in front of the bikes just decided to shock them. In fact, that might be two guys there, making out. It's hard to say -- some of the Angels' women dressed in biker boots, vests and jean jackets, just like the Angels did. But that's the sort of thing they would do all the time, just to freak people out. As if to say, 'What're you looking at? You got a problem with this?'"
posted by madamjujujive at 8:09 PM on December 22, 2010


dejah420... I would love to hear that story....
posted by HuronBob at 8:10 PM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Just..Tombstone."

Low-level trash. If you're afraid of Johnny Law, you ain't got no biz, bro. Here's a hint - the most effeminate, goofy, flower-child nick? The baddest dude in the room. The toughest-tough-guy nick? Some pantywaist they're stringing along.

(I used to bounce at a biker bar when I was young, stupid, 350lbs-6'3", and in need of cash. No, I'm not gonna tell you what they called me.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:15 PM on December 22, 2010


That's when I fell for...the leader of the pack.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:16 PM on December 22, 2010


What's up with the guys french kissing?

What's really shocking to me is a black state-trooper in 1965!

Parts of the country were still blasting black people with firehoses in 1965 for daring to demand civil rights.
posted by mmrtnt at 8:19 PM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Neat pictures, and the commentary added to them. I found the photos of the "old ladies" (eg) a lot more interesting than the pictures of the bikers themselves.
posted by Forktine at 8:20 PM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's not a cigarette pack.... I was alive in 1965, we didn't carry cigarette packs on our belts...

I dunno Bob,

Did you ride a motorcyle everywhere and sleep in your clothes a lot?

Now, that thing on Bill Ray's belt in the same shot... I'm pretty sure that's a light meter.
posted by mmrtnt at 8:24 PM on December 22, 2010


What's up with the guys french kissing?

Huh?


One of the HS Thompson photos shows the same thing, and I know I've seen plenty of other photos of the same thing before. It made for really effective shock value and photographers loved to capture it; I don't know enough about the Hells Angels to know how often it went beyond kissing.
posted by Forktine at 8:27 PM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Tho, I will say, a proposed fight between Daisy Duck and Science Dude* would not seem, on the face of it, worth shutting down a bar for a day or two. Or quitting to get a job as a projectionist at a dollar theater.

*"I bet you studied science in school real hard."
"No, I studied YOUR MOM! Now, geddout. Alla yas!"
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:28 PM on December 22, 2010


Bikers suck!

There's your old lady. That's who YOU fuck.
Then there's the sheep. That's who everybody fucks.

Nice guys.
posted by pianomover at 8:28 PM on December 22, 2010


Ah, back when dudes who rode Harley's weren't sucking up to the teat of "The Man" and actually were badasses and not pussies who pretended to be tough dudes, who now drive minivans in their suburban neighborhood, trotting out the wheels for a Sunday spin after church with "the ol' lady".

Yeah. Not that I really *like* these HA assholes. But at least their rebellion was authentic, and not ...

Put it this way. These suburban boys wanna be the Dukes of Hazard, but really they're just Roscoe P. Coltrane and Boss Hog.
posted by symbioid at 8:32 PM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was alive in 1965, we didn't carry cigarette packs on our belts...

It might be something on his belt (even just the buckle, if the belt has twisted right around) but to me it looks more like something sticking out of his pocket. Could be the handle of a knife, or a chocolate bar, or anything.

Are we talking about Hells Angels here, or hipsters? / Again, Hells Angels or the GOP?

Yeah, or punks or metalheads or goths or any visibly identifiable subculture, bikies included. You're not a rebel if you have to wear a uniform, and seek shelter in a crowd of people who look & act like & do all the exact same things as you.

You're just another conformist, no matter how anti-whatever you think your mutually enabling support group is. It's all just a big crutch for people too afraid to make their way through life as individuals.

I sure hope there aren't any MetaFilter-reading bikers here in Anchorage or that guy at the pub is really gonna get it.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:37 PM on December 22, 2010


There's nothing rebellious at all about hanging around with a bunch of people who look the same as you

there was back then, when damn few people looked that different

now? - well, with the exception of the patches, which after all do say "hell's angels", my impression of these guys is that they look a lot like the people i work with - utterly normal

hell, if i wore a leather jacket and didn't shave, i'd look like that

how times have changed
posted by pyramid termite at 8:37 PM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Damn are those are some great available-light photos.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:38 PM on December 22, 2010


I spent a summer in Berkeley in the 70s. Once when we were at a large, free outdoor concert - a very hippie-ish, pot-hazed, peace-love groovy affair - a group of about 50 Hell's Angels pulled up and a few made their way through the crowd, which parted like water to give them space. They pulled some skinny hippie kid out of the crowd, it wasn't clear if they wanted him or if it was a random selection, but they beat the ever loving shit out of him, it was terrible to see. The crowd was yelled at them begging them to stop and they pulled a few of the vocal protesters out and beat the shit out of them, too. Then as quick as they arrived, they left. There was a lot of blood and four or five people lost teeth. It was a terrifying event - talk about harshing the mellow.

In that same summer, I was at some roadhouse club dancing with a group of friends one night and about 15 or 20 Angels came in. Other than the music, the place quieted right down. Little by little, all the other people there were slithering out the exits pretending to be casual and trying to leave without attracting attention. The unease was palpable. We started to leave too but one fearsome looking large dude grabbed me and said, "dance with me, darling." After having freshly seen the violence at the concert, I don't know what scared me more - the idea of dancing with him or the idea of saying no. I tried to make light of it and say, "Well I was on my way out, but ya sure, why not?" It seemed like that dance lasted forever and god bless my friends who waited for me. When the song was over, he moved his face right into mine and said "You are terrified of me aren't you?" I said yes. He threw his head back and laughed really loud in a hyena-like way, and yelled to the other bikers "she's terrified of me" which they found hilarious. Then he turned away and lost interest in me and we left.

Those California Angels were very fearsome back in the day.
posted by madamjujujive at 8:48 PM on December 22, 2010 [13 favorites]


there was back then, when damn few people looked that different

As an aside, it's really fun watching the Marlon Brando movie, The Wild One, with today's sensibilities.

Sure, it's Hollywood jumping on some kind of beatnik panic bandwagon with the same kind of awe/fear dyad going on that people have towards bikie gangs, and presumably not very true to life, but damn it's funny to see Brando & his bikie gang looking like a bunch of stereotypical leather queens, "freaking out the squares" by tapping syncopated rhythms on diner tables to accompany a capella bebop.

The old squares are so visibly shaken by their crazy freewheeling antics! Whatever will they do next?
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:52 PM on December 22, 2010


What's up with the guys french kissing?

HST talks about this in the book as just a way to shock the squares, and the Angel's would do it when anyone from the press showed up with a camera... he goes on to describe an uncomfortable situation when an Angel leaps on him and he doesn't return the embrace with the proper passion... bad form, all around.
posted by valkane at 9:02 PM on December 22, 2010


A lot of those pictures were taken outside (and maybe also inside) the Blackboard Cafe in
Bakersfield, California (a favorite hangout for the Angels around that time). Here's an earlier picture of the Blackboard Cafe (from this page) taken when it was one of the main hubs of the Bakersfield sound, which produced such country music artists as Buck Owens and Merle Haggard.

You don't often think of the Hell's Angels hanging out in a country music place, but there you go.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:15 PM on December 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


we envy and covet their freedom

So sick of this romanticized bullshit. It's perceived freedom--freedom as seen by the outgroup--and what's that worth? Not much.

That said, if you liked the pictures you ought to have a look at The Bikeriders, photography by Danny Lyon. A lot less romance in Lyon's commentary.
posted by scratch at 9:49 PM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Forktine: "Neat pictures, and the commentary added to them. I found the photos of the "old ladies" (eg) a lot more interesting than the pictures of the bikers themselves."

Same here. I would love to hear/read their stories.
posted by deborah at 9:49 PM on December 22, 2010


More Hell's Angels photos by Hunter Thompson in his Gonzo gallery (not all photos are SFW)

I think it's safe to say that Sandy's not a natural blonde.
posted by mmrtnt at 9:50 PM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I grew up around these guys. I was born a few months after these photos were taken. My mom owned El Rabo, a "biker bar" in Pacific Beach, San Diego.

One thing about bikers, they treated kids pretty good. Everyone was poor, but we kids were safe. NO ONE messed with us except our siblings.

Had some Outlaw friends in the 90's, older fellas. Sweet as pie, wild as wolves, fun as HELL!

Never knew any that had done extortion or made meth, but there were some tough guys and gals that had done time for things from simple possession to murder.

These groups became "safe" havens for Viet Nam vets that needed the freedom of the road and the brotherhood of fighters to feel normal.

I'm NEVER afraid when I see a group of HA or Outlaws. I treat them straight, don't get all freaked, say hi even. They're nice in small numbers. (I avoid ALL humans in large groups, as ALL humans tend to get stupid when they gather.)
posted by Jinx of the 2nd Law at 10:01 PM on December 22, 2010 [7 favorites]


Yeah, or punks or metalheads or goths or any visibly identifiable subculture, bikies included. You're not a rebel if you have to wear a uniform, and seek shelter in a crowd of people who look & act like & do all the exact same things as you.

You're just another conformist, no matter how anti-whatever you think your mutually enabling support group is. It's all just a big crutch for people too afraid to make their way through life as individuals.


As I said once before, being part of a subculture is not just about "being a rebel", at least not in the facile, reactionary, I'm-too-cool-for-anything-anybody-else-ever-liked way you seem to think it is. Individualism is about more than just worrying over whether someone else wore the same dress to the ball; if you ask me, that kind of behavior is more other-directed than any subculture ever will be.

How exactly do we "make our way through life as individuals", anyway? You're no less "wearing a uniform" in a suit, or jeans and a button-down shirt, or shorts and a tee-shirt, or, frankly, just about anything else you care to wear. Ditto for hobbies, jobs, beliefs, causes, habits, artistic endeavors, and social behaviors. All these things belong to others as much as they belong to us; from others we learn them, to others we pass them on. Precious few of our choices are truly "individual", save possibly for someone hiding alone in their parents' apartment, nesting at the top of Schopenhauer's wind-swept "lofty solitude", or ranting in the psych ward of your local ER -- we are social animals, and social animals run in packs.

That leaves individual combinations of these social and mental building-blocks... and if you really think all the people in a given subculture "look & act like & do all the exact same things as you", you're not looking closely enough at the way people are put together.
posted by vorfeed at 10:47 PM on December 22, 2010 [12 favorites]


Very quaint.
posted by doublesix at 11:00 PM on December 22, 2010


Yeah, I scrolled down to say more or less what vorfeed said. The idea that belonging to a visible subculture is "rebellion" is a nastily dismissive way to approach people; it's nothing more than finding a bullshit reason to look down on people so that you can feel good about yourself- usually because you want to dress differently but don't feel free to. I mean, shit, make fun of people because their dress looks silly, I guess, but the snotty, catty "YOU KNOW YOU'RE NOT REALLY REBELS YOU'RE JUST CONFORMISTS TOO" silliness is more about your own insecurities and self-loathing than it is about the people you're shit-talking.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:27 PM on December 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


Somewhere in my past I've had very pleasant encounters with biker folks. Remote past. But somewhere over the years, things which were rebellious became things that are red-necked. That which stood for freedom became that which stands for conformity.
posted by Goofyy at 11:27 PM on December 22, 2010


I'm shocked by how thin these guys were. The (arguably) unhealthiest people in the u.s. in 1965 look hundreds of times healthier than the average Disneyland crowd today.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:30 PM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


"There's a romance to the idea of the biker on the open road," Bill Ray says. "It's similar to the romance that people attach to cowboys and the West -- which, of course, is totally out of proportion to the reality of riding fences and punching cows"

I met an Israeli biker once.. who punched a cow.

He was on a solo ride around Australia. Heading south out of Kununurra towards Turkey Creek, a brahman scrub bull wandered out onto the road. Just under a tonne of it. He didn't see it in time, took evasive action action late, and ended up slamming his fist and left handlebar into its head. Then dropped hard.

A little while later, a trucker of my acquaintance came upon the scene. Dead bull, motorbike off to the side of the road, seemingly dead biker lying sprawled not too far from the bull. Don managed to stop in time, got out, and said to himself "Fuck me. How the hell am I gonna get dis load of molasses to Halls Creek if some fuckin biker is dead on fuckin road. I gonna be here fuckin hours. Fuck dis biker!" Nevertheless, Don does the right thing and checks for signs of life. Sure enough, the biker's alive, and apart from being unconscious and having some serious road rash, he seems okay. So Don gets on the radio and calls the Turkey Creek nursing post/hospital.

The hospital says "the ambulances and police are all out at Purnululu attending a rollover, so can you bring 'im in?" Don does some more swearing, hoists the guy (who is not small) up into the cab, and drives onwards. When he gets to Turkey Creek, they rip him out of the cab and take him inside. But they ask Don to wait, because there's a likelihood that all the Purnululu crash victims are going to come into Turkey Creek to be stabilized before the Flying Doc comes from Kununurra to pick em up.

An hour or two later, a doc comes out into the waiting room and tells Don that the Israeli biker is now conscious, but has a shattered hand and wrist, and is stoned off his nut on pethidine. And yes, they want Don to transport the biker down to Halls Creek in his sleeper. Don goes ballistic, but is assured that any blood stains or other mess that the biker makes in the sleeper will be cleaned by the nurses at Halls Creek. Don likes the idea of nurses cleaning his truck, and is somewhat placated.

So the biker is loaded into the sleeper, with a self administering painkiller drip. Don gets his road train full of molasses rolling again, and the biker spends the next couple of hours alternately moaning and raving.

"Fuck zis hurts!"

"Shut da fuck up."

"Man, I am zo fucking ztoned.."

"Shut da fuck up"

"Man, zis is ze good shit.."

"Shut da fuck up"

And so it goes. About an hour into the journey, Don gets on the satellite phone to me. I'm on a working holiday guarding the yard and gun shop down in Halls Creek, and I've really only got two instructions. Shoot anyone who comes over the wire (to steal the molasses), and answer the sat phone. Always answer the sat phone. If one of the trucks is in real trouble, that's what they're going to use. I'm almost naked out in the yard, hand pruning wet season weeds (the whipper snipper damages the pelecons of molasses) when I hear the phone. I go running through the workshop, grab the phone, fumble the buttons to get me onto satellite, and hear Don at the other end:

"Ahab! I got me an Israel!"

"What the fuck, Don?"

"I got me dis Israeli biker in my sleeper. What you think I should do with him?

"Righto, Don. Um.. um.. why? Isn't that illegal or something?"

"Nah, Nah, he's stoned, and the nurses are gonna clean my truck!"

"What the fuck, Don?"

"Nah, Nah, is alright Ahab. I gonna take him to hospital, I tell you about it when I get back."

Anyway.. Don gets the biker kind of close to the hospital, the nurses come out and drag him inside, and Don drives down Thomas St to the yard. Where we have a drink, get the forklifts out, unload the molasses, and over another drink I hear the story.

But that's not the end of it. There's still "the romance of the biker on the open road"..

Up at the hospital, they're taking xrays, doing surgery, and setting bones. And coming up with a pretty poor prognosis for the Israeli biker. He's looking at at least three months without the use of his hand or lower arm. The first month or two of that is supposed to involve no movement whatsoever. He's not a serious enough case to be flown out by the Flying Doc and he can't afford to pay for a private medevac flight. Nor can the hospital keep him inside the main building because they're overwhelmed during the wet with a steady flow of vehicle accident, malnutrition, fighting, and tropical disease cases.

So Steve, the head of nursing, decides to put him in the new demountable nurses quarters. Don had broken the last one by trying to pick it up one evening with a forklift. The new ones had just been delivered, and are mostly empty. They're perfect for long term minimal care patients like the biker.

Once he's there, and past the worst of the pain and the morphine, the whole town troops in to meet him. And it turns out that the Israeli biker is smart, articulate, funny, charming, is built like a middleweight boxer but has a face like George Clooney, and claims a background in some kind of IDF commando unit.

The nurses love it. They lap it up. They quiver at the knees. They bring him beer and scones.

Worst of all, they recognize that a man who can't use his hand might need to hold someone else's.

So the rest of us good lookin single gentlemen have a very boring three months indeed.

And that is the romance of the biker on the open road.
posted by Ahab at 12:36 AM on December 23, 2010 [19 favorites]


My neighbour tried to leave the Hells Angels, start his own drug growing operation, and was killed, along with his wife, brother and an innocent victim. True story.

And THAT is the romance of the biker on the open road.
posted by Brodiggitty at 2:05 AM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


i was always the kid in the side-car splashed with bong water trying to keep the whiskey intact supply bitchin for 9 volt money for my Mr. Quarterback
posted by clavdivs at 2:27 AM on December 23, 2010


see, supplies do not stay intact, g'nite madam
posted by clavdivs at 2:29 AM on December 23, 2010


Ok, I'll confirm what others unthread are saying is you can't generalise; some these guys are seriously hurting for fight 24x7 and exude attitude while others are pretty damn nice. But they do live by a code, which is more than you can say for lots of other folks, and if you understand the code then you'll be ok.

In the early 80's I owned a couple of art galleries in New York (LES, naturally) and had a couple of art students working there fronting the place while I was pursing my day job, finance, at Dow Jones. I was dating a girl who lived on third street and fell into hanging out with these guys from time to time in a pub near their clubhouse which was on the same street.

This was their New York headquarters and they'd park their motorcycles outside so pretty much anytime you'd walk past there would be a couple of big bikers hanging around, keeping an eye on the block and especially their bikes. For a biker the single largest investment he will probably ever make is his ride, and none of these guys are particularly rich. Most have large amounts of money and sweat equity tied up in their bikes, so even in the winter at least one biker would be out there on third street, usually burning a fire in a 55 gallon drum nearby.

After New York danced with bankruptcy back in the late 1970s The Angels were a stable force in a sea of chaos. I was attending University upstate and spent as much time as I could in New York during that period (hadn't moved there yet) simply because lots of crazy shit happened in Lower Manhattan back then, it was almost full on anarchy since the city had almost no money to enforce the law.

Third street between 1st and 2nd avenues, however, was an oasis of civility - but on biker terms. They just didn't let weird shit happen on third street and that was ok for many residents as there were far, far worse gangs operating in the Lower East Side / Loisaida at the time. Totally out of control, sadistic bastards, unlike The Angels.

I moved to New York in early 1980's and used to attend an annual fourth of July block party thrown by The Angels outside their headquarters. They'd close third street off to traffic, hire a band and have free food and booze for everyone who showed up. Later on at night they'd blow off some fireworks and everyone would have a real good time.

I remember these parties for several reasons; first, most of the older bikers back then - I mean guys in their 50's or 60's - always had much, much younger girlfriends. Second, the band's playlist apparently had been carefully screened to include lot's of 60's covers, music with guitars. But the third thing I remember about these parties and the reason that I stopped going to them was this: sometimes people got fucked up.

All it took was a flippant comment, a joke interpreted wrong, maybe a little flirting with one of the biker's girlfriends and they'd all be on top of someone. I saw it happen twice and it wasn't pretty.

So after witnessing the second group stomping I stopped going to their parties, 'cause I knew it was only a matter of time before I got the same treatment. A few years later The Angels were blowing up some fireworks and a kid got killed, almost decapitated by some shrapnel from the garbage can they detonated the stuff in. The City came down on them pretty hard and AFAIK they don't have their parties anymore.

Although I had long stopped going to their parties (still hung out with some of them from time to time at locals pubs) I thought that was too damn bad. Like The Bikers, the party itself was a fixture of Lower Manhattan, something that just happened, something we took for granted would always happen. While it was tragic the kid died, that could have happened anywhere on any block or in any backyard. But The City seriously didn't like having The Angels on third street at all, and, no doubt in cooperation with The Feds, was looking for an excuse to mess with them. Also some of the newer local residents who didn't understand The Angels were unnecessarily terrified by their presence and reputation and here is what these folks missed:

You see The Hells Angels have their own ethos and code they hold themselves to. One of my old girlfriends from that time who had previously dated an Angel always referred to them as righteous and I know why.

Another ex-girlfriend's grandmother who lived on their block broken a hip and had trouble walking. The Angels noticed her hobbling past their clubhouse once, and from that point on they would always help her to the grocery store, then carry her bags home for her.

She passed away about a year later and three of them showed up at the funeral home that night.

The Bikers quietly filed into the small room packed with more conventionally dressed mourners. Most of her surviving relatives were from the suburbs, and didn't know what to make of this appearance. Some people fumbled at their wallets and purses, convinced they were going to be robbed.

The Bikers showed their respect to the deceased, and paused long enough to sign the book before silently heading back to their motorcycles parked outside.

But when they left it was in true Hell's Angel's fashion; throttles wide open, making enough noise to wake the dead.
posted by Mutant at 2:34 AM on December 23, 2010 [10 favorites]


I'd rather have a biker behind me than a banker in front of me.
posted by sfts2 at 3:40 AM on December 23, 2010


The idea that belonging to a visible subculture is "rebellion" is a nastily dismissive way to approach people; it's nothing more than finding a bullshit reason to look down on people so that you can feel good about yourself- usually because you want to dress differently but don't feel free to. I mean, shit, make fun of people because their dress looks silly, I guess, but the snotty, catty "YOU KNOW YOU'RE NOT REALLY REBELS YOU'RE JUST CONFORMISTS TOO" silliness is more about your own insecurities and self-loathing than it is about the people you're shit-talking.

That would be a good point if only it wasn't so wildly off the mark.

For a start, I have no idea what insecurities or self-loathing you imagine I have, but it certainly isn't anything to do with wanting to dress differently but not feeling free to. How many guys do you know who'd go to regular redneck bars wearing a dress? Actually, they didn't suit me so well; a nice leather a-line skirt was more my style, eg with tights & big chunky motorcycle boots.

And I made my way happily through the corporate world with dreadlocks for years, until I grudgingly realised that they weren't doing me favours in the dating game, as so many people instantly dismiss people with dreadies as somehow inherently dirty & smelly. Ridiculous, huh? I mean, my fingernails were always perfectly manicured. How can somebody like that be dirty & smelly, I ask you?

And I've got a collection of womens' fur coats that would make Liberace swoon, truly. Most of this is in the past tense because basically you just outgrow that kind of stuff eventually, but it's certainly not out of any kind of fear, more of a "can't be arsed anymore" feeling, which I would broadly lump under the category of "maturing".

As I said once before, being part of a subculture is not just about "being a rebel", at least not in the facile, reactionary, I'm-too-cool-for-anything-anybody-else-ever-liked way you seem to think it is.


That's also a good point, except that in the article the bikies themselves were going to lengths to say how they're "outside of society" and "rebels". That's not my projection, it's their own self-perception. What you go on to say about "individualism" is also true, but it applies more to these self-professed rebels than it does to somebody who shrugs, "well, I'm off to the office, might as well wear a suit instead of fishnets & a corset, because I guess it's less hassle like that" without somehow thinking that the suit-uniform is a sign of anything other than being a uniform.

That's the main gist of my rant; the irony of people claiming to be nonconformist & outside of society, when they're so clearly conformist & so entrenched in their own subculture. And society is not a homogenous bloc - it's made of a fabric of such subcultures, each as different to a perceived "mainstream" as the next. Of course, it's impossible to be a total individual, but there are degrees, and people who roam in packs are further towards the conformist side than people who are content to do their own thing & not particularly give a toss if others are doing it or not. That's all.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:46 AM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


No, I'm not gonna tell you what they called me.

Was it Slap*Happy?
posted by chillmost at 4:27 AM on December 23, 2010


For anyone not up on their Angelology, Sonny Barger, who is shown getting stitches and having a tender moment with a bandage, is arguably the most famous Hell's Angel of all. Sonny Barger appears in Hunter S. Thompson's book, also in Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and was "in charge" during the Altamont mess.

Sonny is 72 now. Some throat cancer and a laryngectomy make him sound funny when he's telling funny jokes. He can still kick your ass.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:35 AM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I worked in a bike shop for five years. Some of our customers were members of the local HA chapter. You absolutely never knew what kind of interaction you'd have when they came in. Depending on what mixture of chemicals they had circulating in their bloodstreams, or what kind of day they'd had up to then, or some other completely occult circumstance, they could be regular guys - even nice guys - or they could be threatening to demolish the shop and everyone in it. Not having that particular uncertainty in my life has been an improvement.

As for their bikes being their biggest investment, two things: As far as I know, none of the local HA ever bought their bikes. They stole them. Some of them then spent amounts of money customizing them. Some didn't. Also, somewhere in the mid-to-late '80s, they mostly stopped riding bikes and wearing colors, except for special occasions. The ride of choice was then a Corvette, also usually stolen.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:09 AM on December 23, 2010


Pointing out that groups of people who don't conform to mainstream / 'acceptable' society have their own internal consistency and thus 'conformity' is not only tired material, it's also missing the point. Uniforms represent solidarity and combined strength; From brutish Hells Angel to snotty Hipster, they're not differentiating themselves from every other human being on the planet, they're differentiating themselves from you.

In a related anecdote of my own, I remember a group of bikers (I don't think they were HA, but some MC) came into the IHOP at which me and my 'goth' pals were hanging out at 2 am. Diner patrons after last call are always a mixed bag, so a group of huge bikers shows up, everyone's a bit nervous. They largely keep to themselves, so everyone sorta forgets they're there.

Eventually some white suburban wannabe guys (I don't know what the American equivalent for 'Chav' would be, and I'm hesitant to use 'Wigger', but fill in the blank) show up and decide that messing with the goth kids needed to happen, so they do, and as most people who are just trying to enjoy a cup of coffee early in the morning will do, we do our best to ignore them. Then something awesome happens; over from one of the several Biker tables comes a hearty "Hey tough guy, you got a problem with guys wearin' make up? How about I put on some lipstick and come over and make you my new girlfriend?" there was some back and forth, but it didn't take long for the offenders to keep to themselves. Afterwards, one of the biker fellows declared "hey man, you fuckers are alright, don't take shit offa nobody, y'hear?"

Bikers as a whole may be an agent of chaos, and an unwelcome one at that, but it was nice that they provided at least one evening of not having to put up with shit for being a 'conformist'
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 5:31 AM on December 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


That's the main gist of my rant; the irony of people claiming to be nonconformist & outside of society, when they're so clearly conformist & so entrenched in their own subculture.

no, the main gist of your rant is that you're judging 1965 by 2010's standards - things were really different back then and failure to conform to society's standards was like putting a target on your back
posted by pyramid termite at 6:09 AM on December 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's two fingers out, a little wag at the ground, as you pass.

My riding buddy is in the enemy camp, the valkyries of the Motorrad, in full hi-viz spacesuit with his boxer jugs hanging out like a pair of dull grey bull balls and ticking along with that indestructible cuckoo clock sound singing out between the ponderous CLONK of gearchanges. The valkyries, I'm assured, do not wave. The task at hand doesn't allow for the frippery of male bonding, especially with the likes of the potato-potato brigade. This is not how serious motorcyclists behave.

I wave anyway.

Keep the rubber side down!

Once in a while, a rider straddling a potato-potato machine will think better of his return wave, getting close enough to see that the glossy black form of my bike is a different kind of throwback, a little two-stroke shopping bike for the women of Italy, swathed in sculptured metal intended to keep your skirt clean. Sometimes, they'll get a hand halfway out, then scowl and snatch it back, as if they've slipped it down the front of a perfectly raunchy miniskirt and found a dick instead of their intended target.

Usually, they just go for it.

The snatchers tend to be of the newer vintage, the dentists, accountants, and lawyers who can afford the current output of York and Milwaukee, all tied up in the beautiful fantasy of being pirates, out on the open seas, galleons gleaming with enough chromium to poison the world. The older, dirtier ones just seem to laugh, because they're in on a very similar joke about what it means to be human.

My riding buddy reads me the riot act at the traffic lights, when he sidles up alongside on his R100. When I'm feeling my oats, I spend the next stretch waving like a little girl in a ballerina costume, with twinkly fingers and a lot of actual arm waving. I'll pull up at the next light, flip up my visor, grin, and mimic the irregular idle of my engine.

"Brm-br-brm-brrm-b-br-brrm-brrm-brrrrrmm!"

He just shakes his head.

By and large, though, I hate riding in groups. I ride with my buddy because my buddy's a great foil, and because my adoration of the absurd loves the picture of a little bitty black scooter chugging along for a hundred miles, pursued by a gleaming monstrous black wundermaschine that's more or less idling the whole time. We're both adventurers in our own way, and we both love a good, loud, restaurant-clearing argument about engines, modernism in the silversmith trade, and the firebombing of Dresden.

In groups, I feel restricted, swathed in personality like a guy in a straitjacket. The scooter groups, for some reason, tend to be the worst. It's been a while, so maybe times have changed, but there was always that grim, lingering pong of ska and the overwrought desire to emulate the worst possible aspects of mid-sixties swing on the other side of the pond. Beside, I don't drink, which pretty much leaves me in the periphery, sipping badly-mixed bar cola until the acidity makes my teeth feel gritty. You think there would be a little more queerness to a group of dudes and tattooed girls sitting pretty on a thrummy little thumper, too, but you'd be wrong.

So I set out on my own missions, and that's where it's best.

There's a hundred and twenty-one miles between where I live and where I go for solace, my little postage stamp plot of nothingness on a West Virginia mountainside, and the route there via scooter is amazingly convoluted, a set of directions that takes five pages to print out if you've never ridden it before. It takes hours, though they're wonderful, relaxing hours, rambling through forgotten little towns and sweeping back roads where the green wraps around the pavement like a tunnel, and I sing a lot of old familiar songs into the damped-out room of my full-face helmet.

I'd pulled off for a gallon of gas on one of these go-rounds, off in a small knot of suburban development off the off-the-main drag I prefer, and when I reconnected with my route, I sat at a stop sign around a little bend, waiting for a cluster of bikers to pass. There are the chrome dentists, and then there are these guys, the real deal, with three piece patches, exposed weathered duct-tape holding their seats together, and more rules of order than a cricket game on Klingon, so I just sat there, puttering, and waited for them to pass.

Moved out, caught my stride, and when I came around the bend, I saw the first group slowing to meet the second group, which had been far enough behind that they'd been on the other side of the bend when I was merging in. In a gentle, sighing series of surges and pauses, the group closed around me, out in the wild woods where the Ridge & Valley Appalachians start to rise from the coastal plain.

I was in my usual gear, a weird mix of novelty leather jacket I bought for a costume years earlier, Carhartts, work boots, and a white full-face helmet, which is a mishmash of gear that marks me as a bit of a hybrid, or just a guy who feels like going ATGATT, but can't quite afford the stuff that matches.

Well, I'm getting my ass beat today.

The guys were all in stickered peanut shells and vests, sun-blotchy bare arms jutting out of worn t-shirt sleeves, with raggedy jeans and old-style zipper boots. I buzzed along, practicing every form of modern meditation at my disposal to keep my composure.

This is the fraternity of men, and I'm at least nominally a man.

Bikes sidled up, grizzling dudes checking my ride, and I forced myself not to be my usual sunshine-friendly self, throwing a great big happy smile.

Eye contact, nod. Eye contact, nod. Lookin' good, nod.

We're all dudes here. It's cool.

We're running at showboat speed, which is actually my favorite range on the speedo, drifting between 35 and 45, and the thunderous sound of two dozen bikes beating out potatoes was oddly satisfying, and made the constrasting ZZZZZZZZZZ from my scoot stand out even more. A bike breaks the formation and pulls alongside.

The guy is searingly attractive, a nice combination of youth fading into middle age, muscle going to seed in the sexiest way, with just enough of a beer gut to trip that no-nonsense bar bouncer look. He sidles up, gives me a thumbs-up, and shouts over the din.

"How fast will that little fucker go?"

Oh shit, is he trying to figure out if I can get away?

"About sixty, with the wind behind," I holler back. It's a lie, of course. Technically, those bikes will do it, but I'm about fifty pounds too heavy for that feat, and my bike's still in its native, untouched form from the factory, without all the de-restricting mods that bring those machines in line with the European brethren, so fifty on the flat's about as good as I'll get.

"That's a kick-ass little ride, dude. Is it all metal?"

I nod and reach back to bang the cowl covers. You can't hear the bong that makes, but it's the gesture that matters. As I straighten up, I get a long, detailed look at the guy from the pegs on up. Big calves, big thighs, planted on that seat with a big meaty ass, and I feel a little giddy, forgetting for a moment that I am a guy with a degree in poetry, sitting in the middle of a thundering herd of one-percenters on a scooty-scoot that's as kitten cute as a vintage sewing machine.

Don't blush, you fag.

Nothing happens. We chug along for miles and miles, and I have a few opportunities to escape, but the formation has taken shape around me like geese inexplicably making a V around some random pigeon, and it's fun, for a moment, play-acting being a badass of that particular variety. I like to think there's some genetic fellow-feeling in there, as riders of atavistic and generally ridiculous machines, but I suspect that it was just a diversion for them, just a lark, but with some butch component, like I'm a mascot of the moment.

A roadhouse up the way turns out to be the destination, and the bikes at the lead start peeling off, lining up in rows in front of the place and dismounting. The hot dude points at the place, tips his head, and I know that the gesture means "you wanna come get a drink with us?" and not "yeah, I'm one of two gay guys in the group predicted by statistics and yes, I do like having my face buried in a pillow, in case you were wondering," so I just shake my head, make a little salute, and watch the group pull off in my mirrors, all heading for whatever nirvana of esprit du corps there is back there.

I don't get it, but that's just me. We all find our own ways.

For some reason, the song that pops into my head is one from my childhood, and I sing it as loud as I can, with the sun shining in patches like little pools where the trees give ground, and the road sweeps on, going up and up and up until I'm barely able to crest the ridges, with my little bike buzzing along like we could ride forever, at least at a certain pace.

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood—yes, a beautiful day for a neighbor.

Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won't you be my neighbor?

posted by sonascope at 6:10 AM on December 23, 2010 [17 favorites]


Here's a hint - the most effeminate, goofy, flower-child nick? The baddest dude in the room.

For proof of this, look no further than Maurice "Mom" Boucher.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 6:30 AM on December 23, 2010


you're judging 1965 by 2010's standards - things were really different back then and failure to conform to society's standards was like putting a target on your back

I'd say much the same thing about bikers from either period. If anything, the 1965 versions look more individualistic & interesting, and less like a dull, unimaginative & groupthinky jail queue on wheels.

Aside from that, I think people seriously overestimate the supposedly stifling social pressure of past eras, especially the 50s & early 60s. Every period has its classes of radicals & bohemians, in every country, and those decades were no different.

Remember also the impact of WWII, only two decades before these photos. Hundreds of thousands of people travelled the world & were exposed to foreign cultures, and lived through some extremely traumatic shit. They're not just going to settle quietly back into Leave it to Beaver land. Some of them would've become bikers, others would've been the fucked-up parents of future bikers, for sure, because if there's one thing that a big cultish in-group provides, it's a sense of family for people who never really had one.

The beatniks made famous by Kerouac also crossed over with these restless, wandering populations of men (as in the Brando movie: beatnik bikers). Picking up from the tradition of depression-era outcasts like boxcar-riding hobos, the freespirited, nomadic ideal personified by people like Neal Cassady was basically exactly what a lot of returned servicemen from WWII did, what with their PTSD, morphine addictions, itchy feet or whatever. Kerouac & the beats certainly didn't start that; they just jumped on a long-existing bandwagon and romanticised it artistically.

But the cliched TV view of the 50s & 60s prevails, a revisionist whitewash of propagandistic nostalgia for an impossibly sterile golden era of picket fences & suburban ennui.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:51 AM on December 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


This is great, thanks.
posted by alms at 8:21 AM on December 23, 2010


I don't have any Hells Angels stories. My brother-in-law, he's a social worker, he rides a Harley. It's loud.
posted by everichon at 8:31 AM on December 23, 2010


Oh, dur: Great post!
posted by everichon at 8:31 AM on December 23, 2010


It's mean to point out something done in earnest, but holy crap, this sums up so much of what's wrong with the modern pirate faux rebellion aesthetic. Yeah, "open the throttle and roll" for your two month "riding season," then put your $25k bike back in the garage and go back to your Lexus and Sansabelt slacks to stew in mediocrity.

Rebels are we, born to be free, just like the fish in the sea!

The biker gang I'd like to join would ride like this.
posted by sonascope at 8:34 AM on December 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


That's also a good point, except that in the article the bikies themselves were going to lengths to say how they're "outside of society" and "rebels". That's not my projection, it's their own self-perception. What you go on to say about "individualism" is also true, but it applies more to these self-professed rebels than it does to somebody who shrugs, "well, I'm off to the office, might as well wear a suit instead of fishnets & a corset, because I guess it's less hassle like that" without somehow thinking that the suit-uniform is a sign of anything other than being a uniform.

So, let me get this straight -- "you're not a rebel if you have to wear a uniform" like a biker getup, and "you're just another conformist"... but "the suit-uniform" isn't "a sign of anything other than being a uniform." Hmm. Convenient.

Of course, it's impossible to be a total individual, but there are degrees, and people who roam in packs are further towards the conformist side than people who are content to do their own thing & not particularly give a toss if others are doing it or not. That's all.

As I pointed out before, someone who thinks "well, I'm off to the office, might as well wear a suit instead of fishnets & a corset, because I guess it's less hassle like that" isn't actually "content to do their own thing & not particularly give a toss if others are doing it or not". The "it's less hassle like that" part is, in fact, the primary way most people "give a toss if others are doing it or not", and the idea that this sort of reflexive conformity is somehow less individual than being in a subculture is ridiculous. "Doing your own thing" in the middle of The Biggest Pack -- one so big it won't even admit that's what it is -- isn't necessarily more individual than "doing your own thing" in the middle of a bunch of punks or bikers.
posted by vorfeed at 9:12 AM on December 23, 2010


I guess some guys just are not cut out for it.
posted by ecorrocio at 9:35 AM on December 23, 2010


Just stuck my head back in to say I'm always surprised by how much Mefites like to argue about bikers. Love 'em or hate 'em, I guess you can't argue their utility as a symbol.
posted by scratch at 9:53 AM on December 23, 2010


Kerouac & the beats certainly didn't start that; they just jumped on a long-existing bandwagon and romanticised it artistically.

kerouac served in the merchant marine during ww2, which was certainly dangerous - so, i don't think you can accuse him of "jumping" on that bandwagon

But the cliched TV view of the 50s & 60s prevails, a revisionist whitewash of propagandistic nostalgia for an impossibly sterile golden era of picket fences & suburban ennui.

i was born in 1957 and grew up in a pretty small midwestern city - i'm not going to say it was completely ozzie and harriet land, but it was a lot closer to that than you realize

i wasn't allowed to wear jeans at school, no one was - hair had to be an inch off the collar - that was the school's rules - girls were not allowed to wear pants - you had to wear dress shoes to school - this was not a private school, but a public one

crap, they still delivered milk to our doorstep back then

yeah, there were radicals and bohemians somewhere, but i didn't see any - hell, my mother wouldn't let me play with certain children because their moms were divorced - seriously - i remember listening to the rascals sing "it's a beautiful morning" on the am radio and having her ask me why i liked "that kind of music"

*switches station back to wbck and nat king cole, frank sinatra and perry como*

and the beatles? - "they're just a fad - they'll never last"

i remember going through grand rapids on sunday and my dad was deeply worried because he was low on gas and he couldn't find an open gas station ANYWHERE

those times were oppressive and stifling to live in and it's impossible to communicate that to people these days - or how much things have changed

there are worse things than romanticizing rebels and non-conformists - like taking them for granted
posted by pyramid termite at 10:57 AM on December 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


vorfeed - I think the crucial difference is that people who wear suits or jeans aren't trying to use their clothing as some kind of statement about their difference from, or opposition to, "mainstream" society (which as I suggested before, is a strawman anyway as there is no such thing).

It's a trivial truth that people have gotta wear something, as clothing is one of our 3 basic economic needs. And most people don't have the skills or the time to make their own innovative fashion (and it's all been done before anyway) so by definition we're all pretty much consigned to wearing something that other people are wearing. It probably all comes from the same sweatshop in China. But to deliberately choose clothing that makes a *statement* is more other-oriented than just wearing something generic to get by because, well, you're not allowed to walk around naked & it's too cold to do so most of the time even if you could.

If the statement is a signifier of belonging to some particular identifiable subculture, then it's hard to argue that it's a sign of autonomy & individualism, as opposed to wanting to belong to a desirable in-group. Having spent years amongst punk/postpunk/new romantic/gothic/industrial/fetish scenes in my youth, I'm not as convinced of their homogeneity as you might think, but I've still gotta think twice if I turn up at a party & I'm the only person in (statement) peppermint green pinstripes, in a sea of black, red & purple, and the only person not talking about Neil Gaiman, gaming or science fiction TV series.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:39 PM on December 23, 2010


pyramid termite - honest question: how much of that do you think was small town mentality? Certainly, things have become MUCH less oppressive (but still not perfect) for people of colour, gays & lesbians, or eccentrics & bohemians, but I suggest that there were always options to escape that, especially in the big cities. Even today, smaller towns will almost always be less cosmopolitan than the big melting pots.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:52 PM on December 23, 2010


vorfeed - I think the crucial difference is that people who wear suits or jeans aren't trying to use their clothing as some kind of statement about their difference from, or opposition to, "mainstream" society (which as I suggested before, is a strawman anyway as there is no such thing).

I disagree. There is such a thing, and "wearing something generic to get by" is a statement of membership therein. Suits and jeans wouldn't be "generic" if they didn't mean something with regards to "generic" society, and subculture clothes wouldn't make a statement if they weren't both different from and opposed to that society.

What you're telling me is that every possible clothing choice tells you volumes about the wearer's desire to fit in... except for the most generic choice one can make, which fits in anywhere, yet isn't about fitting in. And doesn't mean anything. And happens to be the choice you've made. Well, I don't buy it. Why would a self-oriented autonomous individual blah blah etc have this much of a bug up their ass about what other people wear and who they choose to wear it with?

If the statement is a signifier of belonging to some particular identifiable subculture, then it's hard to argue that it's a sign of autonomy & individualism, as opposed to wanting to belong to a desirable in-group.

Again, individualism is about more than being The Only One Doing What You're Doing. If you like wearing red, black, and purple while talking about Neil Gaiman, gaming or science fiction TV series, how autonomous are you if you "think twice" about enjoying a space full of others who like these things, simply because other people like these things?

Not everyone's a self-conscious try-hard.
posted by vorfeed at 4:13 PM on December 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Eh, just pointing out the irony of self-proclaimed "rebels" not actually being very rebellious at all, and instead more insular & groupthinky than the heterogeneous rainbow fabric of people that they're ostensibly rebelling against.

But since this is turning into some kind of slanging match or pissing contest, let's just agree to disagree.

(although I do agree with your point about how a generic look is equally about fitting in, I just don't think it's as big a self-concsious sociopolitical deal when people do that)
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:44 PM on December 23, 2010


Eh, just pointing out the irony of self-proclaimed "rebels" not actually being very rebellious at all, and instead more insular & groupthinky than the heterogeneous rainbow fabric of people that they're ostensibly rebelling against.

Eh, just pointing out that this makes no sense.

But since this is turning into some kind of slanging match or pissing contest, let's just agree to disagree.

"Turning into"? You're the one who started with "Bikie gangs are basically just a codependent circlejerk of neanderthal losers who can't get by like regular individuals, and instead have to hide within the shelter of a supposedly tough crowd of drones devoid of individual personalities, just so they can feel like they fit in somewhere, gain some validation, and not be seen as the deadbeats that they really are," moving on to "punks or metalheads or goths or any visibly identifiable subculture, bikies included. You're not a rebel if you have to wear a uniform, and seek shelter in a crowd of people who look & act like & do all the exact same things as you. You're just another conformist, no matter how anti-whatever you think your mutually enabling support group is. It's all just a big crutch for people too afraid to make their way through life as individuals".

If you can't take it, don't dish it out.
posted by vorfeed at 5:55 PM on December 23, 2010


*deep breath*

OK, now let's "agree to disagree".
posted by vorfeed at 5:57 PM on December 23, 2010


Oh, I can take it all right. I just don't see a whole lot of discussions achieving much when they descend into personal attacks about bugs up asses or people being self-conscious tryhards.

If that tryhard thing was aimed at me, that is. I wasn't sure if you were trying to say that not everybody in a subculture is a tryhard, or that not all of them have the capability of self-reflection, or they might be tryhards without knowing it. To be honest, I haven't even heard the term "tryhard" since highschool, where it referred to "pseudos" trying to buy their way into a perceived cool scene by getting all the right clothes, but not being "the real deal" - as if any teenager actually was truly authentic & not aping overseas fashion trends that were already a few years out of date...

As an aside, I was reflecting over lunch about the time spent in 'drag', where part of the intention was to be provocative - fuelled by too much queer theory, yeh? - and how every night out was an exercise in watching my back for whoever might be about to pick a fight with me. Like so much about dressing provocatively, you start asking yourself "what's the bloody point, in the end?" and is this the hill you really want to die on? Just for external appearances & a desire to rock the boat a bit?

Anyway, there are plenty of young'uns walking across my lawn doing the exact same thing, so the boat continues on its wobbly old course, and I think "bless 'em" and they think, in return, "fucking square, get out of our suburb!" and I think "bless 'em" again, and "I was here before you, anyways."
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:24 PM on December 23, 2010


Great post madamjujujive! I'm actually kinda surprised that so many MeFites have had so many experiences with bikers and thankfully everyone survived.

I used to live in an unincorporated area in east San Diego, a haven for bikers and the H.A.s because there was very limited law enforcement. When my first wife died I got an old basket case Harley to build to keep me occupied and focused. As I was out and about finding parts on the cheap I ran into and was "adopted" by some older fatherly H.A. guys.

Feeling like I had nothing to lose I was running around drunk and fighting and those guys pulled me right back and kept me out of harms way, saving me from myself. I was never asked to be a "hang around" or whatever that first phase of being patched is, but even though I'm now a cager and a family man, I'll always feel a close association.

Good or bad, loved or hated, the Hells Angels are an amazing American phenomenon.

(I could write forever about these guys and their bros, but not today.)
posted by snsranch at 7:12 PM on December 23, 2010


pyramid termite - honest question: how much of that do you think was small town mentality?

some of it - but even in battle creek, things have loosened up considerably from what they used to be

the thing is that these days, just about every subculture you can think of has entrepreneurs who are co-opting and marketing the hell out of that subcultural demographic - nowadays, it seems like people are making a statement more about what they consume than what they are

surely you don't think that someone just SOLD the hell's angels their lifestyle and mythology as a package deal? - no, they CREATED it themselves, without someone telling them, "hey, here's the package, buy all this and you can be one of these people, too"

you had to work to be a nonconformist back then - nowadays, you can just buy all the stuff and "be one" - although if you're talking one percenter motorcycle gangs, you still have to work at it - you can't buy it - no, you have to BE it, even today - and they pay the price in prison time and social disapproval

the thing is, what they're doing is not a shallow thing - it's a lifetime commitment, a total rejection of the society they live in - and you're mistaking mindless marketed conformity in the name of nonconformity for the real thing - and you forget that what they're doing is personally dangerous - they can wipe out, get busted, get stomped and do hard time

they're not goth or emo kids* trying out an identity - this shit is real and it has real consequences

* no offence meant - i know that there are people who embrace various subcultures for real and serious reasons and they are totally commited to creating themselves and their art and their lives within that subculture - the one percenter concept doesn't just apply to motorcyclists


posted by pyramid termite at 9:12 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, true. My brushes get a bit too broad when I'm feeling ranty. Amusing to note that the biker lifestyle *is* indeed marketed, only not to the bikers themselves, but to suburban accountants going through mid life crises. A nice application of the Halo Effect.

Coincidentally, I was just flicking through an article on how to cool-ify your brand, and who else should be specifically picked out as an example of coolness, but Harley-Davidson? I wonder if the company would even have survived up until today without that rebel-chic factor supplied unilaterally by the bikies. You can't buy that kind of advertising, and it's just about impossible to even co-opt it in such a lasting way anymore.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:27 PM on December 23, 2010


i don't think there's any motorcyclists that i work with that don't ride harleys - and it's not just a matter of coolness - we're union factory rats and union factory rats drive american cars and american motorcycles - certainly, there's a bit of cool-ifying to it all, but there are many people in my neck of the woods who would never, ever buy a non-american car - or cycle - so harley-davidson has more going for it than mere rebel-chic
posted by pyramid termite at 9:40 PM on December 23, 2010


I'm actually kinda surprised that so many MeFites have had so many experiences with bikers and thankfully everyone survived.

Well, presumably those that didn't survive aren't posting.
posted by chmmr at 11:50 PM on December 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


« Older Do you like the wholesale destruction of everythin...  |  Halfway through the third book... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments