The Short-Lived Love Affair Between the Hippies and the Bikers

HA & hippies

In the mid-1960s in San Francisco, the hippies had established a strong foothold in the community.  Haight-Ashbury, Golden Gate Park, the Panhandle and other areas had effectively been taken over by the influx of young people who were seeking a new way of life, free from the constraints, rules and norms of the previous generation.

At the same time, bikers like the Hells Angels were also firmly entrenched in the city and had been since 1953 when the San Francisco chapter was established. Taking a house at 719 Ashbury in the late sixties, they were in direct contact with the hippie population, which swarmed the neighborhood streets by this time.  Local musicians, the Grateful Dead, lived in a Victorian right across the street at 710 Ashbury.

Initially, the two groups shared a close bond.  Both considered themselves outside of society, living lives that were out of line with the norm.  Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, independence and a deep mistrust of authority, police and others created a shared understanding.  Several Hells Angels became celebrity figures in the community, including “Chocolate George” Hendricks, “Harry Henry” Kot, and Oakland members John Terence Tracy or “Terry the Tramp” and George “Baby Huey” Wethern, who provided the Haight with LSD.

In 1968, writer Tom Wolfe’s book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, documented the relationship between the hippies and Hells Angels, which began in 1965 when the club was invited to a huge two-day party out at Ken Kesey’s three-acre property in La Honda, up in the Santa Cruz mountains, a private and peaceful (usually) location with boundless beauty and plenty of  mystical and spiritual ambiance.

BB&HC poster2

After introducing the bikers to acid, free love, music, DayGlo paint and other hippie trappings, an alliance was formed.  The partiers included many notable characters from the counter-culture including Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, journalist and writer Hunter S. Thompson, Neal Cassady, Richard Alpert (Baba Ram Dass) and Beat poet Allen Ginsberg.  You’d think that these people would have about as much of a chance at blending together as oil and water, but despite the obvious polarity between the two groups, a bond formed that August that set off a short-lived coexistence.

There are several reasons why these groups came together and then just as quickly (two months later, the Oakland Hells Angels, led by Ralph “Sonny” Barger,  literally attacked the Vietnam Day Committee (VDC) during a large protest of the Vietnam War).  At odds with their anti-authority stance and outlaw lifestyle, the Angels were staunchly patriotic. The club had been formed in 1948, made up largely of returning servicemen from WWII, and thereafter became a sanctuary of sorts for veterans of all subsequent wars who came back from combat and service feeling lost, angry and in dire need of communing with a brotherhood of like-minded men as well as craving that adrenalin that war provided, for better or worse.

One reason that the two groups melded at Kesey’s party was because the counter-culture elite was made up of people who admired authenticity, an outlaw attitude, and disregard for authority and society’s imposed rules.  Kesey saw the Angels as the epitome  of what he preached as “real”; the Angels lived the way they wanted.  They did whatever the hell they wanted and didn’t care who didn’t like it.

Another reason this initial dance went off so splendidly was because the Hells Angels liked to party.  They liked sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll and Kesey and his intellectual friends were offering it up to them  for the taking.  Under the influence of good acid, the two groups intertwined like old friends, reveling in the hedonism that the Angels embodied.

When the Angels agreed to attend the party up in La Honda, they were greeted by a large banner reading: “The Merry Pranksters Welcome the Hells Angels”, in red, white and blue lettering.  Police cars kept vigil outside the gate as the festivities commenced and didn’t interfere much.  If they had, they would have found the Angels (and others) gang-raping a young woman who by most accounts willingly participated in “pulling a train”.  The girlfriend of Neal Cassady at the time, she reportedly had become jealous of his flirting with poet Allen Ginsberg and sought to give him a dose of his own medicine, taking things a bit further for a more dramatic effect.

As the hippie culture began to derail in the late sixties (many were leaving for a communal life outside of the city by then), the relationship between the two subgroups dissipated.  After the incident with the VDC and the Oakland Hells Angels, hippies realized that the Angels, in fact,weren’t  their advocates, allies or even friends.  However, there was a huge difference between the Oakland Angels and the San Francisco Angels, some of whom were genuinely friendly and kind to the hippies.  In fact, member William “Sweet William” Fritsch had been a member of the Diggers with Emmett Grogan, Peter Coyote and Peter Berg, among others before becoming a Hells Angel.

Altamont-Mick, Charlie & Bill Fritsch

Later, in 1969, Fritsch acted as a bodyguard of sorts to the Rolling Stones at Altamont, where the two factions came together and then clashed for a final time.  The Hells Angels had been hired as a security force for the free concert by the Stones, in part because they were known to be friendly with the San Francisco musicians of the day like the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane and others.  Unfortunately, and for too many reasons that I won’t go into here, things didn’t work out as planned and the concert, which ended with a concert-goer being stabbed to death by a prospect of the San Jose chapter right in front of the stage, went down in the eyes of some as the event that put the last nail in the coffin of the 1960s.

In my novel, “Red, White & Blues:  Book One”, bikers and hippies come together and largely remain friendly.  Members of the fictional motorcycle club, the Souls of Liberty (SOL) are a mix of Vietnam veterans, thrill-seekers, lonely and disaffected souls and even a rebellious rich boy.  What keeps some of the members friendly with their hippie counterparts is the fact that their worlds intersected early on through a key member of the SOL before he had joined the club as well as when the group of friends re-locates from San Francisco to Monterey, CA.  A close bond develops between the Vietnam veterans in the club and the vets who are part of the hippie group.  As time goes by, the groups criss-cross one another’s paths constantly via fourth of July parties, weddings, Halloween balls and businesses owned by members of the club and affiliates.  SOL member John Clark’s wife, Edie, owns the small-town cafe where both club members and hippies come to eat; Mike Blackhorse owns an auto repair shop where a member of the SOL works; the club owns a strip club and bar where bikers, Vietnam vets and occasional hippies go for a beer or two.  While there are infrequent clashes between the groups, their shared history and continuous crossing over into one another’s lives keeps the two groups more or less friendly for the rest of their lives (the saga will continue in two upcoming books).

Of course, this is what fiction allows an author to do:  create a world where the unlikely becomes believable (hopefully).

 

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