Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Sonny Checks In - A Preliminary Retrospective

Sonny Checks In - A Preliminary Retrospective  

To Waiting on the Angels - The Long Cool Summer of '65 Revisited 

Ralph Sonny Barger sat back in the bar booth, an empty shot glass in front of him on the table, a cigarette in one hand and a bottle of beer not far from the other. He was sitting alone on one side of the booth across from three others – Conway Twitty, Billy the undercover biker from Somers Point and the undercover Ohio cop who had infiltrated the Ohio Hell’s Angels and first warned the Ocean City PD that the Hell’s Angels were going to return and retaliate in full force on Labor Day.

Twitty knew Barger, a fan, and was trying to mediate a non-violent solution to the situation when Billy asked Barger why he did what he did and why he had to make an even bigger issue of it.

Barger took a drag from his cigarette, exhailed a big cloud of smoke, took a swig of beer and said, “You have to know me and who I am to understand what this is all about.”

Barger went quiet for a moment and then began again: “I was nine years old when the original 1947 Hollister motorcycle fracas went down. What started out as a sanctioned American Motorcycle Association racing competition quickly got out of hand when riders from early outlaw clubs like the Pissed Off Bastards and the BoozeFighters got drunk and rowdy, racing through towns streets, running traffic lights. This was supposed to be your typical annual AMA national gathering, just like the dozens they’d staged before. But it all went wrong as hell. Raucous biker riders were getting busted for lewd behavior, public drunkenness, and indecent exposure. To hear some of my older friends, you’d think the Hollister incident was America’s first taste of hell on wheels. Looking back, it probably was.”

“The Wild One, starring Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin, hit the screen in ’54, while I was in high school. The movie was a big hit, based on what took place in Hollister, California, July 4, 1947. An article written by Frank Rooney in Harper’s Magazine in 1951 inspired it. The impact the movie made was apparently strong, the BoozeFighters disbanded after it became a hit, claiming that, thanks to the movie, bike riders now had irreparably bad reputations.”

“When I saw The Wild One, Lee Marvin instantly became my hero. Lee’s character, Chino, was my man. Marlon Brando as Johnny was the bully. His boys rode Triumphs and BSAs and wore uniforms. Lee’s attitude was ‘If you fuck with me, I’ll hit back.’ Lee and his boys were riding fucked-up Harleys and Indians. I certainly saw more of Chino in me than Johnny. I still do.”

“After the Hollister incident cut deep into the AMA’s creed, they labeled rowdy, outlaw motorcyclists the ‘one-percenters.’ According to AMA propaganda, one percent of motorcycle riders were the outlaw clubs giving bike riding a bad name while the other ninety-nine percent were good old-fashioned, ass-kissing, law-abiding citizens. Since then we proudly adopted the name that the AMA shoved on us, the One-Percenters.”

“I get asked a lot about initiations, and there sure have been some wild speculations in this area. I’ll give you one example: to become a Hell’s Angel you have to kill someone. To become a Hell’s Angel, there never has been any initiation rite outside of serving as a prospect. As a prospect, you ‘re basically a gopher for the club, you’re there before meetings to make sure the clubhouse is set up with the tables and chairs, make sure there’s coffee and food at the Oms. When events are over, you clean up the clubhouse, a role that continues until you are no longer the newest member. But prospects can also be the rowdiest of the bunch, with the most to prove. They also seem to have the most fun.”

“The Hell’s Angels is a club that tries to exist with as few rules as possible, including there are meetings once a week at a predetermined time and place, there will be a two dollar fine for missing a meeting without a valid reason, girls will not sit in on meetings unless it is a special occasion, there will be no fighting among club members, a fine of five dollars will result for each party involved, no using dope during a meeting, no drug burns,no spiking the club’s booze, no throwing live ammo into bon fires, no messing with another member’s wife, no stealing among members, prospects must be brought up for a vote by a member, there will be a fifteen dollar initiation fee for all new members. Club will furnish patch, which remains club property. New members must be voted in. Two ‘no’ votes equal a rejection. One ‘no’ vote must be explained. Anyone kicked out of the club cannot get back in.” 

“The Hell’s Angels are an apolitical organization. But when the peace marchers started in the sixties, there were club members who didn’t like the upper-class antiwar radicals’ attitude toward vets like us, so we decided to express our opinions and take a stand against these left-wing peace creeps and went down and fucked with them.”

“Eight of us moved toward the crowd. We fanned out and made our way forward through the protesters who were milling around and carrying signs. At first, the crowd cheered us. They thought we were there to support them. I felt a rage come over me. I was a vet and I loved my country. I was also pissed at the government that wasn’t going to let us win this stupid war. All of the chanting, signs, and speeches weren’t going to do shit for the troops overseas. What good was this gathering? Something inside me snapped, and I responded the only way I knew how, violently. I grabbed a few college kids at random and roughed them up good.”

“We didn’t hit any women or kids, there were more than enough guys in love beads and madras shirts to push around. Some of the protesters scattered while others fought back. There was no heated discussion or emotional political arguments. Our fists and the end of our boots did our talking. We made it clear to the peaceniks, the cops, and the rest of the country where we stood on the war. We dug it. As a vet, I felt we ought to stick up for America. As long as there’s at least two people on earth, there’s going to be a war. If you can’t settle something peacefully, then fight it out. If you don’t want to participate in the war, fine, but don’t yell chickenshit names and throw blood on the guys forced to go.”

“That got me to thinking, so I sent a telegram to the White House for LBJ, offering the services of the Hell’s Angels to fight in Vietnam.”

“Dear Mr. President.

Oh behalf of myself and my associates, I volunteer a group of loyal Americans for behind-the-lines duty in Vietnam. We feel that a crack group of trained guerrillas could demoralize the Viet Cong and advance the cause of Freedom. We are available for training and duty immediately.

Ralph Barger,
Oakland, California
President of the Hell’s Angels

“After that the left wanted to have a sit-down. Ken Kesey, the counterculture writer who wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest called me. We arranged a meeting at my house, with Kesey, Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady. When the group showed up at my house, before the sit-down, Ginsberg took out his Tibetan silver prayer bells and began to chant a Buddhist prayer in an Eastern lotus position. I knew about Ginsberg and his flakey poetry, but it was still a bit weird seeing a robbed and bearded Jewish man meditating and chanting in MY living room. The first thing on the agenda they wanted to know why we beat their people up. We wanted to know why they wouldn’t let our American military fight the war and protect themselves. The meeting must have worked. They didn’t get beat up at any more demonstrations. That first fistfight proved our point anyway. The beer and drugs then came out and we listened to Bob Dylan’s ‘Gates of Eden’ and ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,’ which was okay even though the guy can’t sing. But I dug that skinny little Joan Baez and I even like her music.”

“In 1965 not only did the Hell’s Angels shake up the left with the VDC demonstrations, but we also rattled the cages of the right-wingers too…California Attorney General Thomas C. Lynch, responding to pressure from other politicians, released a report denouncing the Hell’s Angels, claiming we were a menace to society. The sixteen-page report called us ‘disreputable’ and even said you could tell a Hell’s Angel by his patch and his odor. ‘Probably their most universal common denominator,’ said the report, ‘is their generally filthy condition.’”

“Hunter S. Thompson wrote an article in the May 17, 1965 issue of The Nation, about the Hell’s Angels and called it ‘The Motorcycle Gangs, Losers and Outsiders.’ I actually liked the way it was written, even though some of the facts were exaggerated. After the article received a good reaction, Thompson came back to Oakland and hung around the club’s favorite biker bar hangouts until he and I finally met face-to-face. He told me he wanted to ride with the club and me and write a book about us. Since I liked the way he wrote, the Oakland and Frisco chapters let Hunter hang out with the club for a price, two kegs of beer. But as time went by, Hunter turned out to be a real weenie and stone fucking coward. You read about how he walks around his house with his pistols, shooting them out his windows to impress writers who show up to interview him. He’s all show and no go. When he tried to act tough with us, no matter what happened, Hunter Thompson got scared, I ended up not liking him at all, a tall, skinny, typical hillbilly from Kentucky. He was a total fake. When his time came, he got it. He was beaten up by the Hell’s angels so he could say, “I met them. I rode with them, and I was almost killed by the Hell’s Angels.’ He got into some really stupid shit to get beat up.”

“We held a Memorial Day run to hook up with Ken Keseyand his Merry Pranksters again. The Sixties were the best thing that ever happened to the Hell’s Angels. We actually had a lot in common with the hippies.”
“In the beginning days of the Hell’s Angels, we really didn’t travel any great distances. We rarely rode outside of the state of California.”

Newsweek (March 29, 1965): “A roaring swarm of 200 black-jacketed motorcyclists converged on the small, sleepy Southern California town of Porterville. They rampaged through local bars, shouting obscenities. They halted cars, opening their doors, trying to paw female passengers. Some of their booted girlfriends lay down in the middle of the streets and undulated suggestively.”

“As the evening wore on, everybody was partying furiously and having a great time. Motorcyles raced up and down the main street. There were wet T-shirt contests happening on top of the bars in the saloons, and the booze (and drugs) flowed like ice cream and cake at a kiddies’ birthday party. It was fucking heaven. The Hell’s Angels along with the locals and other bikers, were having a wild time.”

“The Porterville chief of police panicked. He felt he and his men were outnumbered, so out went a three-county mutual aid call. In less than an hour, over 250 cops, firemen, highway patrolman (there probably were even some curious forest rangers) swarmed into Porterville. Fire trucks hosed down the main streets and lathered the roads down with soap, making it impossible to race up and down the street anymore. 

Motorcycle riders who tired were then shot off their bikes with powerful water streams. After the first trucks showed up, kids got up on top of the buildings and threw bricks down. We stayed at ground zero. That’s where the real action was.”

“The cops lined up their vehicles and the first trucks and instructed all motorcyclists to leave town in one direction. There were two choices: leave town or get your bike washed over…The Hell’s Angels all met up a couple miles out of town. Pissed off, we pulled our bikes over to assess the whole situation. What the fuck, all we had really done was have a little…fun. Some of the other clubs had decided they had had enough. The party was over…We turned our bikes around and headed back toward Porterville with revenge on our minds. The cops had the main bridge blocked off and we couldn’t get past. So we blocked the OTHER side of the bridge, meaning if the cops wouldn’t let anybody into town, then we sure as fuck weren’t going to let anybody out. The cops threatened to arrest us, and we were ready to fuck ‘em up and fight back. Back and forth, hurling threats, sneer and spit, a true Mexican standoff.”

“Then an officer from the highway patrol came over to talk to us. He had stars on his collar and to this day I’ve never seen so many stars on a CHIP uniform. He came over and wanted to speak to me, Sonny Barger. Was I the man? I was pissed off but calm. I told him the Porterville police still had a few of our guys. All we wanted was to get them back. My deal was this: I’d post twenty-five dollars bail, forfeit it, and then get the hell out of Dodge.”

“We passed the hat, bailed the four guys out, and then all headed back out of town toward the group still waiting for us. We were pretty satisfied with what had gone down. It was getting pretty close to a Sunday sunrise, so everybody started heading out. With 250 cops in the area, they decided to do only what they know how to do and that’s play cop.”

“I got up and stood on the seat of my bike and announced out intention to everyone within ear shot.”

“The Oakland Hell’s Angels are going. Anybody who wants to go with us can go, but when we leave here we’re leaving and not fucking stopping for another fucking ticket. If they stop us, we fight! Anybody who doesn’t want to fight, stay here.”

“We took off as a group slow and easy, but loud, gunning our engines all the way home. It was deafening. If they wanted to stop us then they’d have to catch us, roadblock us, and knock us off our bikes first. Looking back, when I stood on my bike, it was at that moment that the Oakland Hell’s Angels became a force to be reckoned with. We weren’t about to get fucked over. The Oakland chapter assumed a special leadership position within the entire Hell’s Angels club. I learned that when you take a stand against the cops, they know better than to fuck with you.”

“A motorcycle run is a get-together, a moving party. It’s a real show of power and solidarity when you’re a Hell’s Angel. It’s being free and getting away from all the bullshit. Angels don’t go on runs looking for trouble; we go to ride our bikes and to have a good time together. We are a club.”

“Most Hell’s Angels are great riders. A group of Hell’s Angels cruising down the road, riding next to each other and traveling at a speed of over eighty miles an hour is a real sight. It’s something else, a whole other thing, when you’re in the pack riding. It’s fast and dangerous and by God you better be paying attention. Whatever happens to the guy in front of you is going to happen to you….”

“When Hell’s Angels chapters started getting chartered outside the state of California in the sixties, that’s when we first started our cross-country rides like the USA and World Runs. We’d meet up with the new clubs along the way, and they’d join the run. Man, we used to ride from Oakland to New York on those early rigid-frame bikes, and they bounced around so much that if you drove sixty miles an hour you were making great time. The vibration left you tingling and numb for about an hour after you go off your bike. If you covered three or four hundred miles a day you were hauling ass. The other big problem then was we’d have to find gas stations every forty miles or so, since those old-style bikes with small tanks couldn’t make it past sixty miles.”

“The big difference between the Hell’s Angels and the rest of the motorcycle world are our bikes and the way we ride. This is serious business to us. Our bikes are us. We know that. The cops know that, and everybody else should know that too. The law and the road are one. Even today, if the cops know a large group of Hell’s Angels is headed somewhere, they’ll show up in force, alerting neighboring police forces along the way. This mutual assistance pact they set up had been used against us for as long as I can remember…We keep going and they keep coming around with all their surveillance methods and radio equipment watching us and keeping tabs. We don’t look for trouble or have intentions of starting any, but by God, it always seems to be around.”

“The Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club has four or five mandatory runs per year and probably fifteen or twenty parties and smaller runs….Each member is responsible for his own machine. He has to make sure his bike is in good enough condition to make it there and back on a long run…I’m kind of hyper on preparation, so I’ll go around checking bikes a little before we leave. Sort of like an inspection during my Army days. A lot of guys would get kinda pissed off at me for it, but fuck it, that’s what I liked to do.”

“There’s no serendipity when it comes to the way we ride. You can’t believe the rush you feel in your gut when everybody is kick starting their bikes and we’re ready to go. We have a strict formation in the front of the pack. I always ride front left, and the rest of the officers ride in the front of the pack. Usually the vice president rides front right, because he’s the most ‘legal’ person of our group. He carries the bail money. From that point back, it’s a motherfucking free-for-all drag race, jockeying for position.”

“There’s an art to leading a motorcycle pack because you have to be able to anticipate things like lane changes in traffic, shithead drivers, gas stops, and stopovers on the open road. The Oakland club has a long-ass pack that maybe goes on for half a mile. I can’t just think about whether I can make a lane change myself; I’m responsible for the safety of the rest of the riders. Speed limit is a big thing too. We know we can do eighty-five to ninety on an open freeway, but in some regions if you don’t stay closer to the speed limit you’re gonna really get jacked. Finally, you need to know exactly where you’re going and how many miles you can go, knowing what kind of gas takes the others have. After going about a hundred miles, it’s up to me to decide when everyone can gas up. Before we leave a gas station, one guy is in charge of counting up all the bikes. We don’t want anybody left behind or stranded.”

“When the West Coast members go east, we meet a couple hundred more along the way, which gives us a total of about four hundred ready-to-go Hell’s Angels. Man, this is a fucking army now, and together we are going to ride as one gigantic Hell’s Angels pack. We’re gonna be together on the road, brothers, ‘till the wind stops blowing, the grass stops growin’ and the river stops flowin’.”

“I was riding at the front of the entire pack and felt as if no power could stop us. It was like I became Crazy Horse leading the charge with hundreds and hundreds of motorcycles, all going eighty miles an hour. People in the towns heard the roar of our bikes way before they even see us. The local police just look the other way…mothers grab their babies from their yards and run into their houses. Cars swerve over to the side of the road. But others, like the farmers, take their caps off and put them into their hearts and chests, and the local fire departments salute us.”

“We might die if trouble erupts, but at least we will do it with style and dignity, because we believe in our brotherhood and the backs of our jackets. Why is a run important and significant to me? Because it proves that I belong right where I am, with my club. I don’t have millions of dollars and I’m not on the cover of Time magazine either, but what I have is respect. Respect from those who count on me. After all I am Sonny Barger, a Hell’s Angel.”

From: Hell’s Angel – The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club (Harper-Morrow, 2001) By Ralph “Sonny” Barger with Keith and Kent Zimmerman (also authors of Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs with Sex Pistol’s Johnny Rotten). Ralph Gleason Music Book Award

Friday, September 25, 2015

Down at the Crossroads with Dylan, Robert Johnson and the Devil

  Down @ the Crossroads with Dylan, Robert Johnson and the Devil

The day Bob Dylan signed his first recording contract with Columbia Records in John Hammond, Sr.’s office, Hammond gave Dylan a couple of albums of other Columbia artists including Robert Johnson’s “The King of the Delta Blues,”  who Dylan never heard of but blew him away.

The Mississippi Delta is the home and cradle of the blues as much as New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz, and in academic circles blues is considered a branch of jazz, and in fact followed the jazz trail when the musicians and prostitutes were kicked out of New Orleans in the closure of Storyville. The once-legal red light neighborhood was closed by the U.S. Army and Navy, though the righteous citizens of the city protested - “You can make it illegal but you can’t make it unpopular,” the New Orleans mayor said. 

But just as Katrina did a century later, the civic crackdown on Storyville – in November 1917, spread the musicians and the music beyond the city limits, and most of the suddenly out-of-work musicians followed the riverboats upriver to St. Louis, Memphis and Chicago, letting off the bluesmen in the delta where they took root.

Their contemporary offshoots include the likes of Sonny Boy Williamson, James Cotton, B.B. King, Levon Helm and Robert Johnson – the “King of the Delta Blues,” who died broke and friendless at 27 years, said to be poisoned by a jealous husband or lover, leaving behind only 20 some recorded songs and two photographs.

When John Hammond, Sr. and Allan Lomax tried to find him to record him he was already dead, but not forgotten.

Legend has it that Robert Johnson couldn’t play a lick when he first picked up a guitar as a young boy, and was the subject of jokes among the real musicians, until he left town for awhile and came back with a style that shocked and amazed everyone, sparking the myth that he made a deal with the devil, selling his soul in exchange for the musical talent.

“Sweet Home Chicago” was one of the songs Johnson recorded in two sessions at Texas hotels, and his other songs were covered by many artists over the years, but his most famous song is “Crossroads Blues” that Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix and dozens of others have covered and made famous.

According to Dylan, Robert Johnson hit him like a “tranquilizer bullet.” 

Dylan later wrote in his autobiographical Chronicles, Volume 1: “I listened to it repeatedly, cut after cut, one song after another, sitting staring at the record player. Whenever I did, it felt like a ghost had come into the room; a fearsome apparition…masked the presence of more than twenty men….Johnson’s words made my nerves quiver like piano wires. They were so elemental in meaning and feeling and gave you so much of the inside picture…..There’s no guarantee that any of his lines either happened, were said, or even imagined…I copied Johnson’s words down on scraps of paper so I could more closely examine the lyrics and patterns and free associations that he used, the sparkling allegories, big-ass truths wrapped in the hard shell of nonsensical abstraction – themes that flew through the air with the greatest of ease. I didn’t have any of these dreams or thoughts but I was going to acquire them. I thought about Robert Johnson a lot, wondered who his audience could have been. It’s hard to imagine sharecroppers or plantation field hands at hop joints, relating songs like these. You have to wonder if Johnson was playing for an audience that only he could see, one off in the future.”

Dylan discounts “the fast moving story going around that he had sold his sold to the devil at a four way crossroads at midnight and that’s how he got to be so good. Well, I don’t know about that. The ones who  knew him told a different tale and that was that he had hung around some older blues players in rural parts of Mississippi, played harmonica, was rejected as a bothersome kid, that he went off and learned how to play guitar from a farmhand named Ike Zinnerman, a mysterious character not in any of the history books.”

“This makes more sense,” says Dylan, as “John Hammond had told me that he thought Johnson had read Walt Whitman. Maybe he did, but it doesn’t clear up everything…..I would see Johnson for myself in eight seconds worth of 8-millimeter film shot in Ruleville, Mississippi, on a brightly lit afternoon street by some Germans in the late 1930s, but slowing the eight seconds, you can see that it really is Robert Johnson, has to be – couldn’t be anyone else.”

“I wasn’t the only one who learned a thing or two from Robert Johnson’s compositions,” Dylan wrote, “Johnny Winter, the flamboyant Texas guitar player born a couple of years after me, rewrote Johnson’s song about the phonograph, turning it into a song about a television set. Robert Johnson would have loved that. Johnny by the way recorded a song of mine, ‘Highway 61 Revisited,’ which itself was influenced by Johnson’s writing. It’s a strange the way circles hook up with themselves. Robert Johnson’s code of language was nothing I’d heard before or since. To go with that, someplace along the line Suzie (Rotolo) had also introduced me to the poetry of French symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud. That was a big deal too. I came across one of his letters called ‘Je est un autre,’ which translates into ‘I is someone else.’ When I read those words bells went off. It made perfect sense….I went right along with Johnson’s dark night of the soul…Everything was in transition and I was standing in the gateway. Soon I’d step in heavy loaded, fully alive and revved up. Not quite yet though.”

And so it was when Hollywood came calling for the movie rights to the P. F. Kluge novel “Eddie & the Cruisers,” and the producers and script writers would eliminate a chapter, the one where the Cruisers drive their ’57 Chevy to Camden to visit Walt Whitman’s house, and in its place Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass”  and “singing the body electric” is replaced by Arthur Rimbaud, who reportedly faked his own death  in order to live out his life anonymously, much like Eddie Wilson does in the follow up film.

Is Dylan pulling our leg with the Ike Zinnerman story, a farmhand teaching Robert Johnson how to play guitar instead of making a deal with the devil at the crossroads? After all, Dylan’s real name is Robert Zimmerman.
Supporting Dylan’s version, over the popular myths and legends, is the fact that the devil isn’t mentioned in the lyrics of Robert Johnson’s song “Crossroads Blues,” that makes no reference to a deal with the devil.

Cross Road Blues

I went to the crossroad
fell down on my knees
I went to the crossroad
fell down on my knees
Asked the Lord above "Have mercy, now
save poor Bob, if you please

Mmmmm, standing' at the crossroad
I tried to flag a ride
Standin' at the crossroad
I tried to flag a ride
Didn't nobody seem to know me
everybody pass me by

Mmm, the sun goin' down, boy
dark gon' catch me here
oooo ooee eeee
boy, dark gon' catch me here
I haven't got no lovin' sweet woman that
love and feel my care

You can run, you can run
tell my friend-boy Willie Brown
You can run, you can run
tell my friend-boy Willie Brown
Lord, that I'm standin' at the crossroad, babe
I believe I'm sinkin' down

According to the popular legend: “A crossroads or an intersection of rural roads is one of the few landmarks in the Mississippi Delta, a flat featureless plain between the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers. It is part of the local iconography. A crossroads is also where cars are more likely to slow down or stop, thus presenting the best opportunity for a hitchhiker. In the simplest reading, Johnson describes his grief at being unable to catch a ride at an intersection before the sun sets. However, many see different levels of meaning and some have attached a supernatural significance to the song.”

Crossroads are also points where people, families, towns, cities and sometimes whole societies reach a point in time where life changing decisions must be made, directions are changed and new destinations are set.
And so it came to pass in the summer of 1965 when America’s national psych came to a crossroads that was a circle – the Somers Point, New Jersey circle that led to many directions, five different roads, each with its hazards and rewards.

Some people want to know why the summer of ’65 was the best tourist season the Jersey Shore has ever seen before or since. Families came, college kids made it cool, hippies thought it was hip, bikers put in an appearance, but as everyone who was there remembers, it was The Place to be at that time. Some say it was the weather, others say the economy was good while still others say it was written in the stars, and it was just the right alignment of people and planets to create the special things that occurred.

And so the summer of 1965 began down at the crossroads, down the shore, the South Jersey Shore, where the crossroads was a circle, the Somers Point Circle, and very close to where all the action would take place and from where, as the sun set on Labor Day, everyone would leave to go in their own way, for better or for worse, to reward or tragedy, their destiny was determined - a fait accompli – but it still had to play out, as it does in Waiting for the Angels - the Long Cool Summer of '65 Revisited. 

Image result for Somers Point Circle

Friday, September 11, 2015

Act I Episode 1 The Hell's Angels Come to America's Greatest Family Resort


A novel by Bill Kelly []

ACT I EPISODE 1 – The Hell's Angels Come to America's Greatest Family Resort

At the Bay's shores just off the Somers Point, N.J. Circle at the base of the 9th Street Bridge causeway.

The summer of '65 began inauspiciously enough with the soft sounds of shore birds chirping and the waves of boat wakes lapping at the bay shores and the strong smell of the salt ocean air brought in by soft bay winds. The natural sounds of spring were slowly over ridden by what began as a soft humm that seemed to get steadily louder. The animals sensed it first, darting their heads as the birds went silent and the squirrels and rabbits scattered away as the humm steadily increased in volume until it was a constant vibration almost running ripples counter to the lapless tide, crescendoing into a thunderous roar of motorcycles that flew by in a blur and a cloud of dust and slowly faded away to a quiet hum and after a few moments the lapping of the tide could be heard again. 

Ocean City police patrolman William Warren was sitting in his patrol car in the parking lot of the Circle Liquor Store, which overlooks the bay and the bridge and was where patrolman Warren was eating his lunch when the swarm of motorcycles sped past him. While he was technically in Somers Point, Ocean City police patrols the causeway and strictly enforces speeding laws. Warren put down his sandwich, reached for the patrol car radio and called it in, and then began pursuit.

As those of you who were there will recall, the summer of '65 began normally enough, hell we didn't even know the Hell's Angels came to town. That was a city and state secret and we only found out about it later because Tom Waldmam the mayor of Ocean City New Jersey was in the thick of it all.

And while we didn't know it at the time, and as we later discovered, the summer of '65 really began when those Hell's Angels came to town.

“There were two entirely different and unrelated incidents,” the mayor later explained. “The Hell's Angels did come to town before Memorial Day, but that and the Labor Day events were two different incidents and were not really connected, and that’s a different story.”

As the mayor explained, “There weren't that many of them. Less than a dozen bikers - Hell's Angels. 
What happened was a black police officer ordered them to pull over and they ignored him. He was probably the first black police officer on the Ocean City, New Jersey police force.”

When the bikers ignored him and refused to pull over on the causeway he radioed ahead so as they cruised in town down 9th Street they were met by a police car roadblock at West Avenue where they were corralled into a vacant lot at the end of the railroad line and what is now McDonald’s.

There, they were just as belligerent.

“They would only talk to the mayor,” said Waldman, who was summoned out of his 8th street travel agency office, picked up in a squad car and taken over to talk with their leader, as legend would have it, was Ralph “Sonny” Barger, the badest Hell’s Angel.

According to Hunter S. Thompson, “Barger’s word goes unquestioned." The father of gonzo journalism called him “The Maximum Leader,” and described him as “a 6-foot, 170 pound warehouseman from East Oakland, the coolest head in the lot, and a tough, quick-thinking dealer when any action starts. By turn he is a fanatic, a philosopher, a brawler, a shrewd compromiser and final arbitrator.”  

The leader of the Hells Angels met Mayor Waldman, the suit and tie travel agent and “maximum leader” of Ocean City.

The mayor said, “Whenever you have a large transient population like we do, you will have exposure to all types, including these violent motorcycle gangs. But you can’t condone it, and you can’t ignore it.”

“We talked, and I introduced them to the black officer,” he remembered, “but they were very racist and weren’t going to take any orders from him."

"I told them he was only doing his job and trying to earn a living for his family. They were very polite, and eventually we all shook hands in the end. But we didn’t go out and have cocktails together.”

Mayor Waldman had Patrolman Warren give a single ticket for speeding to their leader - Ralph S. Barger, Golf Lane, Oakland, California, and the mayor told him if he didn’t accept it they were all going to be issued tickets and their background checked and they would be arrested if there were any outstanding warrants anywhere in the country.

Waldman the Mayor of America’s Greatest Family Resort and Sonny Barger the leader of the Hell's Angels went eyeball to eyeball and the leader of the pack blinked, took the speeding ticket and without saying another word they all got on their bikes and left the way they came..

And there it should have ended. But it didn't. It just set the tone and style for the rest of the summer, which was one that anyone who was there will never forget.

Act I Episode 2 Prologue The Murder of Harry Anglemeyer

Act I Episode 2 - Prologue - The Murder of Harry Anglemeyer 
Image result for National Archives DC The Past is Prologue

There's a statue just outside the front door of the National Archives building in Washington DC called “Justice” and inscribed with the words “What is Past is Prologue.”

It's often said to mean that we are doomed to repeat history if we fail to learn it's lessons, or as Peter Pan said, “This has all happened before and it will happen again."

But actually it comes from William Shakespeare's “Tempest.,” a play about a shipwreck, said to be based on the true life adventures of Captain Somers, whose ship ran aground in Bermuda in a storm.

Captain Somers, the admiral of the Jamestown Colony fleet, is said to be related to Quaker John Somers, who came from White Ladies, England and founded Somers Point, the quaint fishing and boating community across the bay from Ocean City. In fact, Ocean City was once John Somers' cow pen and was called Cowpen Island, a name now given to the patch of sand on the causeway where the visitor’s Information station is located.

“The past is prologue” line from the “Tempest” comes at a time in the play where they are discussing a murder, and actually refers to how the past gives reason, meaning and motive to what is about to happen.
Antonio says: “We all were sea-swallow'd, though some cast again, and by that destiny to perform an act whereof what's past is prologue, what to come in your and my discharge.”

Antonio is rationalizing that the murder they are about to commit is an act of fate because of all that led up to that moment, so the past has set the stage for the next act – murder.

And so it was the murder of Harry Anglemeyer served as the Prologue to the Summer of '65, as it occurred on the previous Labor Day, 1964, the final day of the summer when the tourists and shoebees had one last fling before packing it in to go back to school or work and the real world. That was Harry' Anglemeyer's last day on this earth as he made his rendezvous with destiny at the Dunes.

Harry was a young and successful boardwalk merchant who owned a chain of Copper Kettle fudge shops on the Ocean City, Sea Isle City, Wildwood and Atlantic City boardwalks. A suit and tie member of most of the local civic organizations, Harry made waves for his opposition to Ocean City's strict blue laws that prevented many businesses from opening on Sundays.

While the ban on the sale of liquor was a key element in keeping Ocean City “America's Greatest Family Resort,” Anglemeyer thought that the ban on retail business on Sundays was bad for the local economy, and there was mounting support for Antlemeyer's campaign to do away with the Sunday blue laws.

Although he had a girlfriend, Harry flouted some homosexual tendencies, which annoyed some of his more reserved and conservative civic club associates, so after a few anonymous complaints, on a day when the Mayor was out of town, the head of Public Safety – D. Allen Stretch ordered a loyal policeman “to get the goods on Anglemeyer,” which resulted in morals charges.

But the plan backfired when the Cape May County prosecutor indicted the cop too, since he admitted that he was party to the immoral act that was alleged to have been performed at Anglemeyer’s swank apartment above his fudge shop on the Ocean City Boardwalk.

Anglemeyer was acquitted at the first of two trials, and he insisted the second trail proceed although they offered to drop the charges, he wanted to vindicate himself.

And so it was on Labor Day 1964 when Harry did what he did almost every night – he went bar hopping in Somers Point, joining the line of cars as they trickled over the causeway, occasionally stopping for awhile as the two bridges opened for boats.

Harry's first stop in Somers Point was just off the circle at Steels Ship Bar on Bay Avenue where the patrons were an older, quieter crowd than the young college kids who flocked to the rock and roll bars – Tony Marts next door and Bay Shores across the street.

Harry bought drinks for a couple of young girls he knew who used to work for him and told them he was bar hopping around the Point and asked them to join him, but they declined as he also mentioned he had to meet someone at the Dunes later on, and didn't seem too enthusiastic about that meeting.

From Steels Harry then went up the street to Gregory's where he told the bartender Charles Carney to give him a short one – placing his thumb and forefinger a half inch apart as a sign to let up on the liquor in his drink. Harry had one short one at each of the places he stopped, which also included the Bali Hi - a Polynesian joint at Stinky Harbor, what is now Caroline's, where Harry arranged for a post season party for his employees. Then he went across the bridge to O'Byrnes, which was then a shot and beer and pool bar that later became Mothers, an after hours joint. Harry then went a few miles down the road to the Dunes, which was so crowded the parking lot was full and cars were parked along both sides of the road.

Because the music in Somers Point bars ended at two in the morning, places like O'Byrnes and the Dunes on Longport Boulevard, were popular after hour joints. Other places that were in Egg Harbor Township and open all night were Jack's Grove, which became the Attic and Boatyard, and is now the Elks, and Brownies in Bargaintown. Egg Harbor Township didn't yet have a police department so there was little fear of the law at these places. 

The Dunes was eventually purchased by the N. J. Dept. of Fish, Game and Wildlife and is now a nature preserve - from one wildlife to another, but in 1965 it was the place to go after midnight and was usually packed until the early morning hours and had the nickname “Dunes ‘til Dawn.” 

The Dunes was owned by John McLain, who also owned the historic General Wayne Tavern outside Philly, and John McCann, a prohibition era beer Barron from North Philly. They also jointly owned Bay Shores and built the Dunes because Bay Shores had to shut down at 2am and they needed a place for their customers who wanted to keep the party going.

The Dunes was open all night and most of the day, but the bands didn't begin until midnight, and played until the late hours of the morning, so it was night time when you went in, and since there were no windows, it was quite a jolt to walk out into the glare of the sun.

Their T-shirts read “Bay Shores” on the front and rising sun on the back with the inscription: “Dunes 'Till Dawn.”

Sitting on a bar stool at the front door of the Dunes, young John McCann, Jr., the son of one of the owners, took a $2 cover from everybody going in, and had a wad of cash in one hand as he shook Harry's hand with the other and let him in without paying the cover.

McCann, Jr. would later be elected to city council and serve as a Republican mayor of Somers Point and like his father the bootlegger, young McCann would be arrested for importing tons of cocaine and die in prison. But in the summer of '65 he was the kid who took the money at the door of the Dunes.

Harry and McCann exchanged a few words about the success of the summer season, and once inside Harry walked past the bars and the band on the stage and went up a flight of stairs to the private Sand Piper Club, which was for members only.

While they often hung from the rafters and danced on the bar downstairs, you could barely hear and feel the hum and vibes of the music as the Sand Piper Club was pretty quiet, and good for conversation. But when Harry arrived there were only a few patrons at the small bar and sitting around the tables. Harry had his usual, a short one, and then sat there and waited. He told the bartender he was waiting for someone, but didn't say who, and after awhile, before the sun came up, Harry left the Sand Piper Club to meet his rendezvous with destiny alone.

From there we know from a teenage couple who were making out in a parked car that Harry had an argument with another man in a black suit and tie, and the other guy punched Harry once and he went down, hitting his head hard on a concrete abundment. The other guy then just walked off.

According to the young couple, three young men, one in a red and white Ocean City high school football jersey, picked up Harry and dragged him a few feet and put him in the driver's seat of a parked car. They then walked away while the young couple went back to making out.

Harry was still alive at that point, and if the three “Good Samaritans” as they were later called, or the young couple had called an ambulance or drove him to the hospital, Harry would have lived and maybe would still be alive today.

So it doesn't appear that the guy who hit Harry actually wanted to kill him, but that was the result, and it was still murder.

By the time the sun came up, Harry was dead and someone had killed him, a murder – some would say a political assassination that would remain unsolved, as justice would never be served, and as those who figured it out, for good reasons.

Harry died before the bikers came to town, so he wasn't around the following summer when things got crazy, but his murder would hang like a dark cloud over the island community of Ocean City, “America’s Greatest Family Resort,” especially during the Summer of '65, when Harry's spirit could be felt during the on-going proceedings – and in some quarters, Harry's ghost still lingers today.

Harry Anglemeyer's murder served as a prologue to the Summer of '65, giving it meaning, and provides a motive for the powers that be to continue their treachery and reactionary policies that would result in the man-made catastrophe that was now coming, a train wreck that couldn't be stopped.

As a Shakespearean play, if it wasn't so tragic it would be considered a comedy, and though in the end, Harry was the only mortal fatality, for the survivors it became a comic farce.