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.