Top Hatters

tophatters

There must be something in the water, or more likely, the beer in Hollister, California. In motorcycle club culture, Hollister is the birthplace of the American biker. The small town in San Benito county has given birth to some of the most famous and infamous biker clubs in America.

The Boozefighters made history there as did the Yellow-Jackets, the Bravo brothers and the Jackpine Gypsies. I think I know what bikers loved about Hollister–its physical beauty. The hills, mountains, lakes and all of that glorious road. . .it wasn’t far from wine country, or the terra firma of John Steinbeck and Cannery Row. Hollister was firmly ensconced in the landscape of the American dream that they’d been told so much about; a place so idyllic, as to be preserved in the reliquary of the post-war mind.

The Bravo brothers, Jess and Joe, founded the Top-Hatters. Though they never sported the “One Percenter” patch, they were their own guys who didn’t fit into the world in a conventional way. Like the outlaw clubs, there was a wide nonconformist stripe in the Tophatters. They were founded in 1947 and are considered one of the pioneer clubs who, again, were largely comprised of WWII combat veterans. To this day, the Tophatters do a lot of charity work with veterans, and are resolutely patriotic. Mostly, they like riding their bikes with their brothers and being left the fuck alone.

Published in: on January 28, 2013 at 10:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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Stoned Riders

stonedriders

Some time around the ’50s, motorcycle clubs, at least the outlaw variety, found marijuana. It was perfectly anti-establishment and pissed off the squares. It also gave birth to motorcycle clubs like the “Stoned Riders” of whom I know absolutely nothing about.

Myself, I haven’t smoked any herb in over 30 years, but I get what people like about it. Lots of my friends use it to sleep.

The Stoned Riders? They were from Santa Maria, California and they rocked my old pal, the Zig-Zag man. If you wanted to piss your teachers off in a huge way, just draw the Zig-Zag man on your folder or your book. It was like waving a red flag at an enraged bull. We had a cement-head assistant principal who would go apoplectic at the sight of our Persian friend. All they knew was the Zig-Zag man meant “pot” and he was everywhere–t-shirts, scrawled on textbooks inside and out. . .every bit of pothead graffiti was either the hemp leaf or Double Z. I got so I could draw the stoner icon without looking. In fact, I recall spray painting a stencil of Zig on the trunk of a teachers car. It was a fucking masterpiece of vandalism–the sharp Persian features. . the big, perfectly-rendered fatty. . .it made me so happy. I almost got caught standing around admiring it. This one is for those unknown pot gypsies, the Stoned Riders of Santa Maria, California.

Published in: on January 25, 2013 at 3:32 am  Comments (3)  
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Yellow jackets

yellowjackets

The Yellow Jackets are probably the first Motorcycle club in America–forming in 1938, which makes it a toss-up between them and Illinois’ own Outlaws MC.

This was the first patch they ever had. They were mostly former military men who were among the most fearless road-bike racers in history. They raced wearing a black and yellow sweater under their colors as well as a bee-striped helmet. They were never an outlaw club and are not to this day, though early on, a great many of them were also members of the Boozefighters, including that club’s founder, Wino Willie Forkner.

The more one reads about motorcycle clubs, the more one comes to the realization of what a small culture it started out as. The Yellow Jackets were initially a car club and a lot of the guys (veterans without a lot of money) could not afford automobiles and were far more excited by the freedom of motorcycles.

Central to all of the MC’s, whether they are the darkest, meth-dealing, cold-blooded killer groups, or a club full of cops and former cops, is the idea of the motorcycle as an instrument of freedom. It is the binding object and metaphor–fast, dangerous, and eternal. Like I said. . .it’s why cowboys got off horses.

Published in: on January 21, 2013 at 12:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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Devil’s Diciples

devilsdiciples

Before anyone jumps my ass about spelling, it should be noted that the Devils Diciples intentionally spell their name this way to disavow any religious affiliation. This is a club formed in 1967 by returning veterans from the Viet Nam War. They started with 12 original members–all vets–and today have chapters throughout Great Britain and Europe. They are very private and do not discuss their club’s business with anyone outside of the club.

It does not surprise me that the membership of this club are Viet Nam vets. A great many vets came home from southeast Asia only to be treated like pariahs. One can only imagine the profound sense of disillusionment this would entail.

Like clubs before them, this one started as a brotherhood of shared experience in the cauldron of warfare. Honor, pride, respect and loyalty were the code of these men as soldiers and after the sorry enterprise of the Viet Nam years, they sought out those who were most like themselves.

Published in: on January 19, 2013 at 12:36 am  Comments (1)  
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Three Aces

threeaces

One of the best things about Three Aces on Taylor Street is the number of bike clubs that visit and co-exist happily. It’s that kind of joint. It’s a bar where even people who can’t drink anymore can find a comfort level.

Half-Fast, the Boozefighters, the Southside clubs and many others stop in from time to time because it’s motorcycle friendly. The truth is, it is everybody-friendly (unless you’re a chooch). . .unless you’re a mental midget who doesn’t act right.

I’m amazed at the variety of people Three Aces attracts, and I know why.

Anthony Potenzo.

There is no better front of the house guy anywhere. This place has always been what he wanted and he relishes it. I never met a guy more happy to go to work. He is the Toots Shor of Taylor street.

In the summer, the patio is wide open and it is a study in urban sociology– aldermen, models, bikers, actors, tattoo artists, tradesmen, gearheads, writers, and people from the neighborhood mingle and laugh and drink, and for a time, the whole hurting world is on the other side of the fence.

I love this place.

 

Published in: on January 15, 2013 at 11:42 pm  Comments (2)  
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Hell’s Angels – Frisco

frisco

“Patches do not belong to members; they belong to the club (now a corporation). We’ve had a lot of problems with that distinction when informants and rats give over their patches to the cops. When informants turn over, we’ll sue to get the patch back. According to our bylaws, a patch remains club property, but we generally don’t get patches back from rats. Our patch is our symbol, which is why our people fight to the death for them. If you lose one, it’s a big-time dishonor, which is why the cops love to grab them.”–Sonny Barger, Hell’s Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell’s Angel’s Motorcycle Club

The flying skull image from the first incarnation of the Hell’s Angels was based on an aviator’s patch from World War II. A lot of the first Hell’s Angels and the Boozefighters were Air Force vets. It is a flying skull with an aviator’s cap and wings. Years later, the bigger design (the ‘Larger Barger’ as it is known) caused no small amount of acrimony between the older San Francisco Angels and the brash new Oakland Angels.

In this culture, the patch and your “colors: are a very serious thing. Your colors are not allowed to touch the ground–ever. The patch is sacrosanct, an article of faith and all that is holy to a Hell’s Angel.

The Angels are not great lovers of rules, but they certainly have them. Anybody jumps an Angel, it is everyone in “One on All and All on One.” Failing to stand up for a brother Angel immediately get you kicked out of the club.

There is also a rule against pulling a patch off of another chapter’s member. “Taking somebody’s patch is a dangerous symbolic gesture. It represents capitulation, defeat. Say somebody in San Jose gets pissed at a Nomad and gets into a fight and beats him up. He can’t take his patch. Any serious offense has to go up to an officer’s meeting and go through the proper channels. Just because a guy can beat me up, doesn’t entitle him to take my patch. If somebody beats me up and takes my patch, I might kill him, even if he’s a member.”

The symbolism of the patch cannot be underestimated. It is the symbol, in their eyes, of being free men and not belonging to the world of wage-slaves and sheep. It was Barger who made the Angels get rid of the swastika and Nazi regalia early on in the seventies. At first the club had Nazi flags just to piss people off–and that it did. Whatever coziness the left worked up for the Hell’s Angels, this kind of imagery dispelled. Barger himself was sensitive to this given his aviator heroes spent no small amount of their tours of duty dropping bombs on Nazis. By the end of the seventies, the Swastikas and double lightning bolts of the Luftwaffe were pretty much gone from the Angel’s vests.

A good deal of the Angels’ appearance is calculated to make one think of pirates, or Vikings or visigoths, meaning they mean to scare you. If they scare you, you’ll leave them the fuck alone. The Hell’s Angels are big fans of being left alone. They are also big fans of the “theater” of the Hell’s Angels. When attending a funeral, they attend en masse. On that day the rest of the world is put on notice. “Don’t fuck around with us today, we’re burying one of ours, and we are not in good humor.”

When other clubs predict that the Angels will not show up at the annual gathering of the tribes which occurs in Sturgis every year? A nation of Hell’s Angels show up from every corner of America; double file, unsmiling and overwhelmingly. . .present.

Barger’s book undoes some of the mythology surrounding Altamont, the disastrous “West Coast Woodstock” that ended in death, disillusionment and signaled the death knell of the love generation of the 1960s. In Barger’s telling, the Rolling Stones themselves were as much responsible for the unrest at the show as the Angels were and his logic makes a lot of sense. The Stones went on several hours late, keeping an already overwhelming, and really drunk and stoned crowd, waiting in the hot sun.

And there were already a lot of shoving and fistfights long before they deigned to come out of their bus and play their show. The crowd was already in a drug induced frenzy and even the most brazen Angels were scared by the size and ferocity of the crowd. This does not forgive the Angels over-reaction and violence, but it adds context to what actually happened.

There are telling spots in the film, Gimme Shelter, where the Stones stop playing and the crowd gets more angry. At one point the camera pans across Mick Jagger’s face and you can tell he is genuinely frightened and, for the first time–perhaps, in his career–he has NO control over his audience and one can’t help but feel that he, at this point, is an unwilling participant in all of this. The truth is Sonny Barger wasn’t in charge at Altamont–the San Francisco Hell’s Angels chapter was.

Even the late Bill Graham, who was NO fan of the Hell’s Angels, put the blame squarely on the Stones for a lot of prima donna behavior; delaying the show, for the unruliness of the crowd.

The more one reads of Sonny Barger’s history, the more one realizes that it is also the codified history of America: drugs, sex, love, hate, shame, fear, and rock and roll whipped into one hellish froth that somehow also reflects a grim prism of the American Experiment.

We would like to think we are better people than the Hell’s Angels. . .sell ourselves the bigger lie that our brutalities and bombings of civilians around the world are somehow a more civilized brand of murder. They are not. At least the Angels do not try to wrap their ugliest deeds in virtue and tell us it is all for the greater good. They know us and they know themselves and, in a large number, thinking as one?

Neither of us is any damn good at all.

Published in: on January 7, 2013 at 5:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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Black Knightz

blackknightz

Early on in Sonny Barger’s raucous autobiography, The Hells Angels leader laments the club’s choice of Harley Davidson motorcycles as their one and only, largely because of their shitty engineering early on. This surprised me to no end, given the reverence outlaw bike clubs, or “1%er’s,” as they were known long before that tag was hung on the greedy rich, have for the Harley Davidson Motorcycle.

He has a theory that I happen to agree with. What bikers love about Harleys is the low-end torque that makes the bike vibrate and rattle; transferring an almost sexual charge through your whole body. Never mind that you have to wrench-up the old bikes about every 200 miles or so, if you’re lucky. That they make your balls vibrate like a tuning fork has not hurt the appeal of the big American bikes.

Barger himself admits as much. He should have known that if they were the choice of the military–that these guys like a deal–the military almost always bought the cheapest shit out there and around the time of WWI and WWII, the cheapest bikes were Harley Davidson. In Barger’s life story, he takes great delight in relating how much he altered, chopped, forked and otherwise remade his Harleys. The bike was a mere template for him and the full-dressers were for squares.

Barger tells a very good story and puts an emphasis on the idea of the motorcycle being the object most central to the Angels forming a fraternity; central to everything bikers are about is the machine. It equals freedom. . .and nobody being able to catch you. It is the closest thing many men have to flying.

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This club is called the Black Knightz, from Pomona California. Their charter reads: “Building Better Men,” and they do a lot of work with young men as well as veterans. If their annual picnic video is indicator, they are also not opposed to meeting girls and drinking beer. They are an African American Club, again, very much structured like a military unit, and I suspect a great many of these guys are veterans. On their website there is a group portrait of the Knightz and they are some serious looking guys. Their president, Big Ques, has a Ving Rhames vibe about him and you don’t want to get on the wrong side of this guy. There are some big guys in this club. There are also all kinds of motorcycles–lots of Kawasakis, Ducatis and other new brands kind of built to look like Harleys, like the Victory bikes. These guys are mostly working class guys with jobs. they’re not an outlaw club–too clean-looking.

This is actually about 90% of bike clubs. Very few of them are outlaw clubs.

It is a worth a visit to the Black Knightz to see the picnic video. Check it out. You’ll thank me.

Published in: on January 5, 2013 at 12:56 am  Leave a Comment  
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