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Headline: Sonny Barger tells it like it is
Thursday - 08/18/2005

Ralph Sonny Barger is one of the best-known survivors of the 60s. Whether hanging out with his good friend Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, allegedly holding Rolling Stone Keith Richards at gunpoint at Altamont, or taking on the anti-Vietnam war movement in Oakland, Barger and the Angels are witnesses to the counter-history of counterculture.

Barger's free-wheeling, tough-talking memoir Freedom: Credos from the Road (William Morrow) was published in July.

You're a survivor?

I'm 66-years-old and I'm still alive. I've had cancer, I've had a heart attack and I've had accidents, you know, I'm still here so something must be going right.

In the 1960s you fought the anti-Vietnam war movement. Now the US is fighting another war in Iraq. What do you think about the "War on Terror?"

We said, our president said, we needed to go in there to get rid of Saddam. I agree 100 percent. We went in there; we've done the thing; when we got him we should have come home. Those people over there don't want us; I don't care what he says; now it's time to come home.

Your book is about freedom. What's the threat to freedom in America today?

The Patriot Act, the police are using that against people like myself, they're not using it just against terrorists. What they're trying to do is call us domestic terrorists. I fly a lot of places. I don't have time to ride the motorcycle because I have to be on one coast one weekend and the other one the next. Whenever I have to book a flight on United Airlines I get special screening. It's a total joke.

Did you know that the Altamont case had been reopened? [The Altamont Raceway in California was the site of a 1969 concert that was billed as the West Coast Woodstock. Hell's Angel's members including Sonny Barger had been hired to provide security by the concert promoters.]

They never reopened it because it was never closed, but after 35 years they finally did close it. The prosecutor ruled that Alan [Hells Angel Alan Passaro] who was charged with the case [stabbing a concert-goer] originally and was found not guilty was the lone assailant. Rumors that there was another assailant were false and it was a justifiable homicide. The guy that got killed [Meredith Hunter] had a gun and was pointing it at the crowd. We've always said he shot it. The police don't want to say that and they still haven't admitted that he shot it. However, he did have it.

[Ed. Note: A California sheriff said in May that investigators prompted by the victim's family used slowed down film of the incident that showed Hunter brandishing a gun as the Rolling Stones were playing, before Passaro jumped in and stabbed him to death. Police said they saw no other assailants and closed the case in June. Passaro died in 1985.]

What did you think of Hunter S. Thompson?

He was probably the greatest writer in the world. But, when he was with us on a run, we were going to fight the cops one day and he locked himself in the trunk of his car. That guy ain't my friend. He's going to run and leave me there when he's supposed to help us.

What about the late Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia?

Jerry Garcia was a very good friend of mine. Jerry and I got along well, Jerry and the club got along well. I love Jerry's 60s music; I didn't like Jerry's 90s music. I would go to a concert and he would get the band to play a song just for me and I'd say, "Jerry it stinks, you got to go back," and he would get so mad.

Does that have something to do with what you say in Freedom about having no reverse gear?

Motorcycles don't have a reverse gear. Some people don't look back to the past as much as they look ahead to the future.Maybe I made that a little too strong about no reverse gear. If you have a motorcycle with a sidecar you could have a reverse gear, but of course I've never had one.

What do you want people to take away from the book?

I hope people buy it and enjoy reading it. People ask why did you write that book. I wrote that book to make money. I wrote that book so I don't have to go to the motorcycle shop everyday and get my hands greasy anymore.

Volume 18, Issue 33


2005 New York Press

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