Biker books are always written by one of two categories of authors – either the “participant observer” or the “objective journalist.”
The books by objective journalists are usually the worst. Yves Lavigne and Julian Sher epitomize this style; crass and self-righteous. But some of the books by participant observers like Doc Cavazos, William Queen and Jay Dobyns are also flawed, by the dull axes those authors have to grind.
Everybody admires at least a couple of these insider accounts, for the truth they hold, even if they were obviously written to please an academic audience. If you have not already read Daniel R. Wolf’s The Rebels you should get a copy. This week I have been handing out pirated copies of William L. Dulaney’s unpublished doctoral dissertation, Over the Edge and Into the Abyss. If that is ever published you should get that one, too.
As a rule, writers do not have a thing to do except to try to tell the truth. Lavigne, Sher, Cavazos, Queen and Dobyns don’t even bother to try. Wolf and Dulaney try but they are compelled to tell their truths in a really important way to really important people.
Sometimes writers tell the truth well. Hunter Thompson’s Hells Angels – his interesting account of hanging around the Oakland Red and White in the mid-sixties – might be the best biker book ever. It night be the best because it was written by Gonzo Super Freak himself, in a voice and with a narrative power that authors are no longer encouraged to express. About a year ago John Hall published Riding on the Edge which is his memoir of riding with the Pagans during the same era. Hall doesn’t bother to lie because he is writing for an audience that already knows the truth. Maybe that is why he hasn’t sold more books. You have probably already read Sonny Barger’s memoir Hell’s Angel which is wonderful for both its truths and its lies.
The Shedden massacre, the terrible mass murder of eight members of the Toronto chapter of the Bandidos Motorcycle Club, fathered a couple of instant books by men on different sides of the biker author divide.
The Bandido Massacre by Peter Edwards, an objective journalist, was reviewed here a couple of weeks ago. Edwards, who might be the most sensitive newspaper reporter who ever lived – a delicate, little newsroom violet – was vexed by that review and has posted a link on this site to his site (his site is at http://bandidomassacre.com) so readers here can know where to get a more objective view of Edwards by Edwards.
The review here observed that Edwards’ book reads like it was written by a man snowed in by millions of note cards. But the story he tells is interesting even when he is not. Edwards problem is probably as simple as that he was drowning in truth. And Edwards seemed to have been meeting the people he wrote about for the first time after they were dead. He never seemed to realize that many of the men who died were clichés, and the predictability of their characters might have been what damned them most of all.
Let’s Trash Alex Caine
Alex Caine (there is a video interview with Caine at the end of this review) has been a participant observer in the outlaw world for at least a decade. Which immediately raises the question of how he has managed to stay alive for as long as he has. And the obvious answer to that is that Alex Caine is so obviously beneath contempt that nobody would ever bother to waste a bullet on him.
I know for a fact, for example, that Caine hung around the Hells Angels in Southern California in 2001 and 2002. The Angels knew him as “Q-Bob” and he wrote about some of that adventure in his first book, Befriend and Betray: Infiltrating the Hells Angels, Bandidos and Other Criminal Brotherhoods.
“Q-Bob is full of shit” one of Caine’s victims told me after his first book came out. “Some of what he says is true, just enough to have a little credibility but then he spins off and invents things that ruin it. He is a typical informant…He was universally disrespected by the Angels and the cops and they sent him packing. He turned it into a book. Good for him.”
If anything, Caine’s account of the Shedden massacre, The Fat Mexican, falls short of his previous standard. Caine is likable and ingratiating on the printed page. And he has written a much more appealing story than Edwards. But, that is only because Edwards was swamped with information. Caine doesn’t do journalism so he does not care about no stinking facts. Caine is something much worse than just a liar. Caine is a con man who has actually discovered how to write novels.
Popular Novels RIP
A couple of years before he died Norman Mailer described the death of the American novel. “I would never be published now,” Mailer said. “The American novel now is what the Russian novel was in the 1930s. People will still write novels because it is their art, because it is what they do, but the American novel is dead.”
Alex Caine, who actually is Canadian, has found a unique solution to the modern novelist’s dilemma. Caine writes novels and he sells them as journalism. Caine is a “paperback writer,” a trade that was already disappearing by the time the Beatles wrote that song. Novels used to be a way to pass the time on long train trips and writing them used to be an almost respectable way to feed a family. All you had to do was write fast and write well.
Robert Louis Stevenson, for example, wrote most of Treasure Island in 12 days aided by grams and grams of cocaine. Steven Crane wrote at least 600,000 words from the time he started at 19 until he coughed himself to death at 29. But none of the great American hacks ever actually confused fact with fiction. After Crane’s shipwreck he wrote two accounts, one for the newspaper and a fictionalized version he called The Open Boat. And just to state the obvious, this is both the first and last time that the names Robert Louis Stevenson, Steven Crane and Alex Caine will ever appear in the same paragraph.
Caine’s Interesting Life
Alex Caine’s fatal flaw is that he writes well but he lies poorly.
As he tells it, Caine had an unfortunate childhood and he was living with a whore when he was fourteen. He repeatedly identifies himself as a Vietnam Vet. And the way that happened, he has explained, is that he took a bus from Canada to the States, enlisted in the Marines, left Paris Island about two thirds of the way through Boot Camp to join the Army’s Fifth Special Forces, became part of Operation Phoenix and spent some time doing something on Highway 14. While on Highway 14 he seems to have somehow missed the Special Forces Camps at Bu Prang and Duc Lap, Ban Me Thuot, Pleiku and Kontum but he did discover Khe Sanh. After “the Marines” Caine went to prison, got a black belt in Kung Fu and became a secret agent in Hong Kong. Then he “infiltrated” the Bandidos and the Hells Angels. And then he began writing books.
If you believe all of what Caine has to say about his biography you might enjoy his books.
Caine’s stories are action screenplays that careen wildly from the perfectly plausible to the absolutely ridiculous. About once a month someone asks me about Caine’s account of the great Laughlin Biker Brawl of 2002. Caine’s story is that a platoon of ATF Undercover Agents disguised themselves as Mongols, drove to a spot on Highway 95 south of Needles, hid beside the road and ambushed an SUV carrying several Hells Angels and a small pack of bikes. And, this wasn’t something Caine heard about. This was something Caine saw with his own eyes. And that, according to Caine, is why Hells Angels went to Harrah’s that night and why there was a big, famous fight.
Arguing With Uncle Alex
Every time somebody asks me about this I am never sure how to explain the absolute impossibility of this particular yarn. If you have ever ridden a motorcycle on Highway 95 south of Needles you know why this is impossible. If you have any knowledge of either the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department or the California Highway Patrol you know this didn’t happen. If you were in Laughlin that Spring then you know it didn’t happen. If you have ever been in Laughlin for any River Run you know this could not have happened. If you have ever been to at any big biker event and observed the Under Covers in their pasted on facial hair talking to their lapels you also know this didn’t happen.
If you know anything then you know that it was not like Alex Caine said. But if you are unencumbered by any actual knowledge of the world then it might be kind of fun to listen to Alex Caine describe how things work. Caine is a crazy, drunken uncle who was once abducted by mysterious space aliens who took him to a magical portal in Arabia which led to a hidden valley on the dark side of the Moon which is where the idea for the Garden of Eden came from. And only Alex Caine knows this. This secret, hidden knowledge is Alex Caine’s alone. But he will share his secret knowledge with you for a mere $32 Canadian.
Caine Explains Shedden
Caine’s explanation for the Shedden massacre is that the Hells Angels did it and that the six men who were convicted of the crime neglected to raise this defense because they were more terrified of the Angels than they were of a lifetime behind bars. The Canadian government knows the Angels did it, Caine also insists, but the government has kept quiet because they did not want to complicate an open and shut case. Isn’t that almost plausible? Isn’t that even almost flattering to the Angels?
According to Caine, a Bandidos Prospect (who died at the massacre) named Jamie “Goldberg” Flanz, working as a tow truck operator, just happened to tow the wrong car. As Flanz was rifling through that car, looking for something to steal, he pulled out a duffle bag, “looked inside and almost fell on his ass. There looking back at him were bags and bags of white powder. He had seen enough drugs in his days as a bouncer and a biker to know it was cocaine, in a quantity that had to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
This hidden treasure, Caine states, was Hells Angels’ cocaine. The Toronto Bandidos, rather than being the odd collection of misfits that Peter Edwards portrays them to be, were “gangster bikers.” They all hoped to enrich themselves from this discovery and they soon fell to quarreling like the prospectors in Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
The Bandidos Mother Chapter in the United States eventually came to an agreement with some faction or charter of the Hells Angels over this matter of the missing treasure. The Bandidos who found it and held onto it would have to go, Caine blithely explains. And so they died.
Caine’s account is not an awful story even if it is a hackneyed one. It is just obviously not true. You might even enjoy it if you find yourself stuck on a bus or train with a few hours to kill. But this book is just as likely to annoy you as it is to help you kill a boring day.
You can buy The Fat Mexican from Amazon in Canada right now or you can wait until this fall when it will be published in the United States by Random House.