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Hell's Angel - a Book Review

The following excerpt is taken from Hell's Angel, a book written by Ralph "Sonny" Barger. This book is available through William Morrow, HarperCollins publishers:

    "According to Vic Bettencourt, the first Hell's Angels motorcycle club was formed around 1948 in Berdoo, an offshoot from a renegade group called the Pissed Off Bastards out of Fontana, California. It was right after the Hollister incident. WWII vets from Berdoo -- who belonged to the Pissed Off Bastards -- used to roar by on their bikes. People would look up and say, "There goes one of those Hell's Angels."

There have been many books and movies about the Hell's Angels Motorcycle Club (HAMC) but no inside definitive source of information about this well known but mysterious club has surfaced until now with the release of Sonny Barger's book.

Sonny was not the founder of the Hell's Angels but was instrumental in providing the leadership that allowed the club to expand to over 100 chapters worldwide with only a third of those in the United States.

Sonny always saw himself as similar to the character Chino, played by Lee Marvin in the movie The Wild One.

This book was written from Sonny's viewpoint and uses his colorful and explicit language to drive home the importance of the brotherhood that he led. In another quote Sonny says:

    "The story of the Hell's Angels Motorcycle Club is the story of a very select brotherhood of man who will fight and die for each other, no matter what the cause."

In the beginning Sonny just wanted to find a group of guys who liked to ride motorcycles who would come together in a club to be like a family to him. Finding men strong enough to become a true brotherhood was a slow process. New recruits had to undergo a period of evaluation to prove they would never let down their brothers and always support the club, no matter what.

Along the way, the club found itself in direct opposition to law enforcement for a variety of infractions. Should any Hell's Angel member have a run-in with the law, all the other Hell's Angels members were expected to support that member even if it meant putting up bail money or hiring a legal team to fight the charges. Sonny's concept of a strong club was not to be found in other organizations where at the first sign of trouble the members abandon each other. His club was more like an angry swarm of bees intent solely on protecting the hive from any external force.

The symbol of the Hell's Angels is an Air Force-like patch containing a skull wearing an aviator's cap set inside a set of wings. This patch is sacred to the Hell's Angels. It can only be worn by a member and the patch itself belongs to the club, not the individual.

Sonny credits the club members for having a heavy influence on the development of Choppers and custom motorcycles.

The most well known incident involving the Hell's Angels was the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont Raceway in November of 1969. The Stones had asked the club to provide security for the event. Through a series of incidents during the concert, a man rushed the stage waving a gun and was killed by a knife after he shot a Hell's Angels member. Sonny does not say who had the knife. He does say that it was lucky that more people including the Stones hadn't been shot by this guy and that he felt the Hell's Angels had done their job.

Over the years Sonny had quite a few run-ins with the law. By his own account he had 21 arrests with few convictions the longest being a stint of 59 months for conspiracy.

He gives stories of the most well known members of the club, how they got their reputations, and how most of them died. Violence and death seem to be part of being a Hell's Angel. Sonny speaks of the long motorcycle corteges that the club participated in to honor fallen brothers. The Police Department used to laugh when they saw a mile-long parade of motorcycles. Sonny says now even the cops do the same thing when a cop dies.

Sonny has been a technical advisor on many motorcycle films depicting the Hell's Angels. He expects to see his new book made into a movie as well.

Sonny has since moved from California to just outside Phoenix, Arizona where he now runs a motorcycle repair shop. He belongs to the Cove Creek chapter of the Hell's Angels.

This book contains 51 black and white pictures depicting Sonny's life over the past 40 years. If you want to learn first-hand just what the Hell's Angels Motorcycle Club stands for you'll want to read this book. I have to warn you that the language is strong and you may be shocked at some of the events described. Viewed from within the club these events were just another day in the life of a Hell's Angel. Only Sonny can assist you to understand why these events occurred and why they often were beyond anyone's control.

There are many motorcycle clubs today but only one Hell's Angels. Read the book to find out why.

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