“In my own country I am in a far-off land
I am strong but have no force or power
I win all yet remain a loser
At break of day I say goodnight
When I lie down I have a great fear
(Translation of François Villon‘s 15th-century poem Ballade du concours de Blois)
Epigraph of Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, by Hunter S. Thompson (1966)
When Irving Penn photographed a bunch of Hells Angels for Look Magazine in 1968 all the classic Penn elements were there – there was the stark backdrop; the steely monochrome and the naturalism of the sitter’s attitude and expression. Whether or not Penn’s subjects were the rich and the famous or a bunch of hairy bikers he always managed to capture something lasting and resonant about the individuals involved.
The Hells Angels were originally started by American war immigrants, the Bishop family in Fontana, California followed by an amalgamation of former members from different motorcycle clubs. The name “Hell’s Angels” was inspired by the typical naming of American squadrons, or other fighting groups, with a fierce, death-defying title in both World War I and World War II, e.g., the Flying Tigers (American Volunteer Group) in Burma and China fielded three squadrons of P-40s and the third Squadron was called “Hell’s Angels”. In 1930, the Howard Hughes film Hell’s Angels displayed extraordinary and dangerous feats of aviation, and it is believed that the World War II groups who used that name based it on the film.
The name of the Hells Angels motorcycle club has no apostrophe, but in the title and in the text of Thompson’s book a possessive apostrophe was added to the name, rendering it as Hell’s Angels.