Dachokie's Reviews > Riding on the Edge: A Motorcycle Outlaw's Tale

Riding on the Edge by John Hall
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Jul 29, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: gangs

Outlaws of a Different Era ..., October 22, 2010

There are several books available that detail the more sinister side of outlaw motorcycle clubs, but John Hall's story is not one of them. Rather than portraying a criminal history of the Pagans Motorcycle Club, "Riding on the Edge" reads more like a recollection of a roaming band of gypsies' grand adventure with a Jack Karouac or Charles Bukowski edge. While it does delve into some criminal activity, the tale parallels more with the rebellious nature of youth growing up in the turbulent 1960s than the organized-crime element associated with outlaw motorcycle clubs today.

Hall presents the early days of the Pagan Motorcycle Club in Pennsylvania in somewhat of a romantic and innocent manner: a culturally-mixed band of local misfits hitting the road in search of adventure in the mid-to-late 1960s only to find trouble every stretch of the way. The entire book details a fleeting period of time when "outlaw" behavior consisted more of beer guzzling and barroom brawling with local fledgling outlaw clubs who violate Pagan "turf" ... not the RICO qualifying activities of today's outlaw clubs.

Hall proves himself to be an intelligent and gifted storyteller as he tickles the reader's senses with such vivid detail. One can almost smell the grime on the greasy denim vests, taste the stale Iron City swill and clearly see the beauty and beast nature of the various women encountered along his journey. The experiences are exhilarating, raucous, dangerous and often humorous. With the Vietnam War, hippies and burgeoning drug use as a backdrop, Hall paints a last-gasp scenario of life being lived to the fullest before an anticipated end to all the freedom and fun ... more like sex, booze and brawling. Artistically woven throughout the book is the heavy influence of European culture (mainly Dutch and German) that colors the world of Hall and his fellow Pennsylvania Pagans. The constant reference of Dutch lore and colloquial words/phrases oddly tempers the stereotypical image of outlaw bikers being militant Aryan thugs. While Hall admits many fellow Pagans adorned swastikas, either painted on helmets or, like Hall, inked into his flesh; he admits the purpose is more for outlaw shock value rather than adhering to a radical ideology.

"Riding on the Edge" reads as a lamenting tale of times long gone. The locale of Hall's chapter is depicted more as a Pennsylvania version of Mayberry where the bikers were more or less treated as local nuisances than part of a criminal empire. The looming change in society becomes more evident the later-half of the book as the brawling gets more violent, law enforcement gets more serious and drugs become more prevalent. As the book draws to a close, there is definite sense that the fun is over as many of the colorfully-named characters that factored so heavily into Hall's life back then (SweetWilliam, Davey SuperMouth, Gums, the Mortician et al) drop-out, disappear, are imprisoned or die. With the final chapter Hall graciously treats us to an update on several of the individuals that survived the bulk of his adventure, but I was hoping for more details.

"Riding on the Edge" is old-school outlaw life, not the hyper-violent visage of the modern 1%er. It is a truly unique perspective of life during the infancy phase of arguably one of the more secretive outlaw clubs. The tumultuous and degenerate 1960s fueled the anything-goes lifestyle for John Hall and his fellow Pagans, setting up a myriad of wild adventures that Hall vibrantly recollects in his book
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