What was really behind the Hells Angels/Hippies alliance?

During the 60s, supposedly the Hells Angels and the left-wing radicals and hippies were allied in the common cause of the pursuit of drugs and sex. Allen Ginsburg and Ken Kesey were said to have become friendly with the leader of the Angels, Sonny Barger, and his closest associates. They would have giant parties and consume massive amounts of drugs.

Later, the Hells Angels would become symbolic of the end of the 60s with their killing of Meredith Hunter at the Altamont concert (a lot of people probably don’t realize that Hunter was brandishing a gun and threatening the Angels - their stabbing of him was actually in self-defense. But that’s another topic.) This killing became emblematic of the end of the “peaceful” times of the 60s hippie culture and the triumph of brutality, or something like that.

But up until that point, what was the relationship between the Hells Angels and the hippies and left-wingers really like? On the one hand you have a biker gang with a penchant for violence, strong anti-Communism, and a rabid distrust of outsiders - on the other, a loose coalition of left-wingers, beatniks, political activists and other radical types. Did these two groups truly form an intellectual bond (perhaps a love for shaking up the public and rattling people’s sensibilities) or did they just happen to sometimes hang out together because there were free drugs around?

I never knew that. Seems they’ve failed to mention that little tidbit in any of the 800,000 clip shows where the incident pops up.

Meredith Hunter

Also, I’d definitely recommend Hell’s Angel by Sonny Barger. The book was ghostwritten, but done well. It gives a very good inside look at what that gang was like during the sixties and seventies.

One should also read about Hunter Thompson’s sojourns with the Angels for another perspective.
Hunter S. Thompson and The Hell’s Angels

Yeah that is also a great book. It ends with Thompson being beaten up - in Barger’s account, he was attacked after telling one of the Angels named “Junkie George” that “only pussies hit women and dogs” after said Angel had hit his dog and then hit his wife, during a fit of rage. I can’t remember exactly what Thompson claimed on the matter, but if I recall correctly he says that the violence erupted after the bikers demanded a cut of the profits from the article and Thompson refused.

Barger described Thompson in his book as a “chickenshit” who hid in his car while the Angels and another gang brawled instead of joining in. I can’t say I blame him - he was just a journalist, not a member of the gang.

It really goes back before there even really were Hippies to the time when members of the Beat Generation and the Hell Angels were connected. Drugs (marijuana, amphetamines) played a part (a big part), but really they were just two counter-culture movements that had a lot in common. As the Beats evolved and changed into the Hippie movement things soured between the groups.

That’s they way Barger related it, and the reason he felt that way was because people who liked to “hang” with outlaws like the Angels and Bandidos didn’t understand the ways of outlaws. Hanger’s-on were expected to participate in whatever partying was happening.
I used to have Bandido friends who would tell me which event to “attend”, and which ones to avoid! The worst thing I could have done was to wimp out at a party, whether it involved drinking, drugs, or violence. They knew how far I would go and were friends enough to keep me away from the really bad shit.

Who doesn’t like partying with drugged out hippie chicks?

I remember real hippies from my youth. Some were cool, some weren’t. Some were actually the dirty drugged out zombies that our parents accused them of being. Some where beautiful people.

I’ve read the books mentioned. My impression is that the Hell’s Angels didn’t really care who was handing out the drugs and throwing the parties. It just happened to be hippies. I doubt the Angels were sympathetic to whatever the hippies cause was. If they displayed any camaraderie it was probably just to keep the drugs coming.

As far as the hippies. They weren’t just any hippies. They were like the hippie elite. Celebrity hippies. They needed to impress other hippies with their hipness. The Angels were just trained apes, performing for handouts. It was cool to have a Hell’s Angel at your party.

While we’re on the topic, maybe someone could provide clarification:

Some accounts say that the choice of the Angelas to provide crowd control at Altamont was from Jerry Garcia’s suggestion, since the Dead had a long history of playing gigs at Angels’ parties.

Others say the choice was made after the London chapter of the Hells Angels had guarded the stage for the Stones’ memorial concert for Brian Jones, in the spirit of Mod/Rocker reconcilliation, so then the Stones naively assumed that the Oakland Angels were pretty much the same type of people.

I’ll second the recomendation for Barger’s book. Its a wonderful read, and very informative. One thing to remember is that the Hells Angels were a fundamentaly diffrent animal than the hippies. Many of the bikers (including Barger) were veterans from blue collar backgrounds. Barger even wrote a letter offering to supply a group of bikers as behind the line commandos in Vietnam. The offer was rejected. This is in stark contrast to most hippies who actively opposed the war.

Hunter S. Thompson argued that the alliance never really whent anywhere becuase they were fundamentaly groups of people that never realy understood eachother.

This version of events appears in several Rolling Stones biographies, none of which dwell on the subject to any great degree.

Philip Norman in The Stones (Elm Tree Books, 1984) differs with most:

*Exactly who first had the idea of hiring Hell’s Angels as a security force, no-one can remember now *(no surprise there then). *Some say it was Rock Scully, the Grateful Dead manager; others remember Emmett Grogan of the Diggers proposing that the Stones be escorted to the stage by a ceremonial guard of ‘a hundred Angels on hogs…that way, no-one will dare to go near them’.

…Previous rock concerts in the San Francisco area had found it better to invite the Angels than to risk their arrival, unbidden, in a spirit of antagonism. Giving them spurious official status had proved an even better emollient.*

In truth, I guess we’ll never know.

For all the notoriety that incident has garnered, I’d say the Angles actually did a pretty good job as security. I mean, for God’s sake, a tweaked out meth-head was running around firing a pistol - what were they supposed to do, turn the other cheek? Every single report I’ve read of that incident besides the one in Barger’s book makes it out to me some kind of malicious murder. In point of fact, if Alan Pasarro had not stabbed Hunter, there’s a good chance he could have fired off more shots and killed others in the audience.

I agree with this. I’ve seen footage of the concert and the Hells Angels seem remarkably restrained to me. People are repeatedly trying to shove their way onto the stage and the Angels are just pushing them off. To the best of my knowledge none of these people were injured.

I would never try to force my way onto a concert stage and certainly wouldn’t if there was security their to prevent it. Who in their right mind would try to win a shoving match with bikers?

Considering the circumstances I’m shocked only one person died during the whole thing.

Back to the OP. What the Angels have become was not so in the 60s. And as for the hippies having any sort of organization or agenda at all…it just wasn’t there. Having been there, your final comment pretty much hit the nail on the head (pun intended).