Monday, December 29, 2008

Riding on the Edge

By John Hall.

“Sure we got into some shootings and serious shit. But most of it was just good, clean fun, like drinking beer all night and standing up on the seat of your motorcycle, drunk and without a helmet, at three o’clock in the morning, while you blew every red light on Hempstead Turnpike.”

I suppose one could debate whether that is an apt description of “good, clean fun”, but what I found quite interesting about this book was that Hall describes a 1960’s outlaw scene that was totally devoid of any criminal activity of a serious nature – no drug dealing, no trafficking, no prostitution – just “good, clean fun”. And so I suspect that there’s either a lot Hall left out of the narrative or there’s quite a bit of revisionist history being presented here.

But while Hall may have been selective in his recollections, Riding on the Edge still opens a window on the outlaw culture at the time and the early days of the Pagans as they began their march to become, according to the book’s jacket, “the most violent criminal organization in America”.

The story line is pretty typical and quite repetitive – getting drunk, taking offense, trashing bars, screwing underaged groupies, internal power struggles, who’s righteous and who isn’t. Reading about all that is good clean fun in its own way but what really differentiates this book from others of the same ilk are Hall’s periodic detours into the history of the Pennsylvania Dutch, the Mennonites and the Brotherhood of Zion, observations on Polish family traditions, and so on. Finding these gems scattered among the wreckage of yet another trashed bar or run-in with the authorities is what makes the book readable and kept me turning the pages (I read it in 2 days). It’s still not great literature, but it’s a decent, entertaining read.

Oh, and one last nit to pick: the inside cover says, “In the 1960s, John Hall, a Harley-riding hell-raiser hooked up with the Pagans...”. According to the book, Hall rode a 1963 Triumph TR-6.

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