About That Time #Hunter S. Thompson Joined Hells Angels, For Journalism
Edgy animation memorializes Studs Terkel’s interview with the great Hunter S. Thompson.
Hunter S. Thompson on Outlaws | Blank on Blank | PBS Digital Studios
Few figures rank above Studs Terkel and Hunter S. Thompson in the pantheon of American journalism greats. So what, exactly, could be better than Terkel interviewing Thompson? Oh, that’s right: Terkel interviewing Thompson about his time studying the Hells Angels.
Not to mention a wry cartoon animation of the interview from the PBS web series “Blank on Blank,” which debuted Tuesday. The old-school illustrations capture Thompson’s self-deprecating yet hardbitten tone, as he reveals details about his time with the Hells Angels, and lessons he learned from getting repeatedly “stomped.”
Terkel conducted a radio interview with Thompson in 1967, as Thompson was poised to take off as a superstar of gonzo journalism. He had just written Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga, a book that stemmed from a breakout article he’d contributed to The Nation magazine.
“Hunter Thompson, our guest, is a new kind of journalist,” Terkel said upon introducing him. “The journalist who is not detached […] in fact he was almost an honorary member, or a dishonored member of the the Oakland Hells Angels.”
Thompson speaks sympathetically about the Hells Angels, without whitewashing their violent predilections. “I think the Angels came out of World War Two,” he posits to Terkel. “This whole kind of alienated, violent, subculture of people wandering around looking for either an opportunity, or if not an opportunity then vengeance for not getting an opportunity.”
Though he ruefully recalls falling victim to “bylaw number 10 or 11 […] ‘When an Angel punches a non-Angel all other Angels will participate'” — apparently he once made the fatal mistake of giving a member a hard time for beating his wife — Thompson even sees himself in the frustrated bikers. He confesses to a tendency toward throwing “beer bottles into bar mirrors” and admits enjoying the visceral rush he found in speeding down the highway on a powerful motorcycle.
Thompson only sped down the open road with the Hells Angels for around a year, but he told Terkel he learned about broader society during that time. “I wouldn’t just call Hells Angels in Oakland the only violent part of our society,” he said. “The Angels reflect not only the lower segments of the society but the higher, where violence takes a much more sophisticated and respectable form.”
He wasn’t just referring to easy marks, like political wheeler and dealer Lyndon B. Johnson, whom he named as having great Hells Angel potential. “I learned a lot about myself just writing about the Angels,” he admitted. “I was seeing a very ugly side of myself a lot of times.”
In the mid-Sixties, gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson spent about a year with the world’s most notorious biker gang to write the book Hell’s Angels, which came out in 1967. He spoke with radio broadcaster Studs Terkel that year for an interview that PBS has now animated whimsically for its Blank on Blank series.
“The Angels claim that they don’t look for trouble,” Thompson said in the interview. “They just try to live peaceful lives and be left alone, but on the other hand they go out and put themselves into situations deliberately and constantly that are either going to humiliate somebody else or cause them to avoid humiliation by fighting.”
But he went on to question their desire for peace, explaining that one of the gang’s bylaws stipulated that “when an Angel punches a non-Angel, all other Angels will participate.” He also said that he was on the receiving end of their wrath. “All during this stomping, I could see the guy who had originally teed off on me that just out of nowhere, with no warning, circling around with a rock [that] must have weighed about 20 pounds,” the journalist said. “I tried to keep my eyes on him because I didn’t want to have my skull fractured.”
Later in the interview, Thompson confided that, like the Angels’ claims, he was then trying to keep a peaceful existence – for his own safety. “I keep my mouth shut now,” he said. “I’ve turned into a professional coward.”
The year Hell’s Angels hit bookstore shelves, the first issue of Rolling Stone also came out. Thompson would go on to become one of the magazine’s most venerated contributors, penning “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” and covering everything from the Nixon-McGovern presidential campaigns in 1972 to Bill Clinton 20 years later for the magazine. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 2005. An online archive of his Rolling Stone writing is available here.
Blank on Blank animates archival interviews with musicians, actors and other notable people. Recent installments have included Joni Mitchell, Michael Jackson, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Tupac Shakur and Jim Morrison.
Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/see-hunter-s-thompson-talk-hells-angels-in-newly-animated-interview-20150728#ixzz3hPHTeXzX
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