by Randal Beeman
Exile on Front Street: My Life As A Hells Angel by George Christie
After World War II California became the wealthiest and most populated state in the nation, soaked with Cold War defense money, endowed with a world class educational system, and celebrated as a place where “the new, new thing” seemed to always be happening. Youth enjoyed enviable status and freedom, but they began to reject the conformity of the Eisenhower era by forming a variety of counter-cultures including beatniks, hippies, dopers, surfers, and bikers.
While a few good books have emerged from that period, such as actor Peter Coyote’s Sleeping Where I Fall: A Chronicle of the Counter-Culture, no definitive history of the California counter-culture has appeared to date, we only have some outstanding topical treatments and memoirs. A welcome addition to the genre of postwar California rebellion is Ventura native George Christie’s Exile on Front Street: My LIfe as a Hells Angel.
Christie was in many respects a typical California kid in the 1950s, enjoying family life, cars, and girls growing up in his working class household in Ventura’s Greek community. A shy youth, Christie ended up in the embrace of the Cold War military-industrial complex as both a Marine and an employee of the Defense Department in a period when Ventura was growing from a sleepy beach town to a thriving community with a strong US Navy presence nearby.
As a kid Christie was enamored with the sight and sound of a Harley Davidson one day in the Los Angeles area. He began to learn how to work on bikes and eventually build his own. Christie first began running with “outlaw” motorcycle clubs in LA, but eventually became part of the most notorious one of all – the Hells Angels. In the 1980s the Ventura Chapter of Hells Angels became very visible in town, with Christie even running a leg of the Olympic Torch procession in 1984.
Exile on Front Street details the author’s life as a leader in the Hells Angels up to his problems with the group and his falling out with longtime leader Ralph “Sonny” Barger. Even if you don’t approve of his lifestyle choices, the book is full of interesting, funny, and sometimes sad and cautionary stories. Christie is generally not a fan of law enforcement, but he did enjoy some levity and mutual respect with certain cops, our present Police Chief not included.
Ventura is a fairly tame city today, described in the national press as “quaint,” “sleepy,” and the “off ramp to paradise.” Historically the town was fairly working class in nature and perhaps more reflective of the Wild Wild West than it is today. George Christie, whether you like him or not, is an outstanding storyteller and he has some very interesting stories to tell. A fascinating read.
Thomas Dunne Books 272 pages.