Riding On The Edge

October 22, 2008

All Posts, Features, Reviews

Now it is all just echoes:  The echo of the motorcycle club; the echo of the working class hero; the echo of America; the echo of when we never had a doubt; the echo of when we never lost a war, we were always right and we could do anything we could imagine.  No wonder Harley-Davidson got rich selling nostalgia.

Once, we could even tell our boss to go to hell and walk down the street and get another job.  Once, no one asked you why you wanted some particular, crappy job:

“So what makes you want to pursue a career in telemarketing?”

“Well, you know, I’m broke.  And, your ad was at the top of the page.”

Once, nobody asked you why you owned a motorcycle.  Once it was natural to ride with a club.  Once, they never actually came out and asked you, “Are you ready to die for this club?”

Pagans Version 1.0

Riding on the Edge, a new book by John Hall, is an unusually engaging piece of work about once upon a time in the Pagans Motorcycle Club.  Like most engaging writing, what Hall has to say may or may not be all literally true.  The important thing is that most of it sounds true.  Parts of it are too good not to be true.

Hall rode with the Pagans in 1967 and 1968, just when the club was patching over a dozen or so other clubs.  The book is about the historical moment when the super-power motorcycle clubs like the Pagans were born.  During that moment Hall was a chapter president with the club on Long Island.

Most of all, Hall has written a book about how hard it was to get arrested in the late 1960s.  He recalls a time when it was almost normal for young, working class men to work with their hands all week and then get sloppy drunk, fight, flaunt the law, offend convention, test their mortality and have meaningless, anonymous sex every weekend.  It could never happen now.  Which is only one of the reasons why it still sounds like fun.

Come On People Let’s Love One Another

The summer of 1967 is generally remembered, when it is remembered, as “The Summer of Love,” the golden age of hippies.  Hall’s book is about the golden age of outlaw bikers.  Neither golden age lasted much longer than a minute.

And even in that haloed moment, Hall writes, there were outlaws who had begun to think farther ahead than next Friday night.  Men at the far end of their twenties or even their early thirties who:

“…believed that the club could endure and evolve into a brotherhood of middle-aged men united around a common set of interests that included motorcycles.  Men who could have wives and kids and camps and boats, and not throw it all away for the sake of wrecking some bar.  Of course, some of the guys…thought that we could just as well rip off our one-percent patches and join an AMA club….”

And, of course that is exactly what happened.  And, the once merely trivial act of wrecking a bar is exactly what landed Hall in prison.


After prison, Hall never returned to the club but he did lead an interesting life and he obviously developed an admiration for books.  Riding on the edge is liberally spiced with quotations from literary sources that range from Herman Hesse, Jack London and Joseph Goebbels to The Norse Edda.

So, it is not farfetched to guess that Hall was trying to write the Beowulf of outlaw bikers.  Apparently, he worked on Riding on the Edge for about ten years.  He had thirty years to consider his youth before that.  By his own account he is an autodidact, a self-educated man, and so it is also not far-fetched to imagine that this is not the Beowulf of outlaws only because Beowulf was the one great book on the great, big list of great books that Hall happened to miss.


Beowulf begins, in loose but not inaccurate translation:

Sit down and shut up! You should know what knife fighters like us did once!

You should know who led us and how bold we were!

You should remember who led us!  Like Shoot Shaving,

the packs he led and the taverns he wrecked!

Even people all the way over in Sweden were afraid of him!

Hall’s Shoot Shaving, or Scyld Scefing as the big brains like to spell it, is an outlaw named Sweet William Parker who was a close friend of Hall’s and a leader of the Pagans during their late 60s expansion.  It probably will not spoil the book for you to learn that Parker does not make it to the final page.  Because it is in Parker’s memory that Hall has imagined his book.

In his summing up Hall writes:

“I wondered how many of those jailed Pagans who were drinking beer…even knew who Sweet William Parker was….  All the newspaper articles mentioned was that Long Island was Pagan country, but none of them explained why.  The answer was buried in a grave in Pinelawn National Cemetery With Sweet William Parker, who, along with other now-dead brothers, created an American folk legend that will endure forever.”

Then And Now

One of the wonders of our day, Hall notices, is that middle-aged men no longer want to go to country-clubs “dressed like Johnny Carson.”  Now they want to ride custom choppers dressed like 1960s outlaws.  Maybe they miss what they once had.  Maybe they miss what they missed.

It does not matter either way.  It is still all gone.  We are no longer what we were.  None of us, individually or collectively.  The best we can hope for is what we might yet be.

All that has ever been left of the past is echoes.  But, that does not make the echo John Hall sings any less startling and clear.

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16 Responses to “Riding On The Edge”

  1. One "Selfish" Bitch Says:

    I really enjoyed reading this…this part got to me –

    “I wondered how many of those jailed Pagans who were drinking beer…even knew who Sweet William Parker was…. All the newspaper articles mentioned was that Long Island was Pagan country, but none of them explained why. The answer was buried in a grave in Pinelawn National Cemetery With Sweet William Parker, who, along with other now-dead brothers, created an American folk legend that will endure forever.”

    There’s so much I want to say but hold back because I keep thinking people out there just don’t care and just don’t know fucking understanding of a biker let alone someone from a club –

    I’m going to check this book out –

  2. DocB Says:

    Dear OSB
    Riding on the edge is available
    hardcover only
    new from $15.67
    used from $14.99


  3. One "Selfish" Bitch Says:

    Thanks DocB..I’m heading over to the book store today and gonna check it out.

  4. Bill Says:

    I do ride but have no interest in joining any MC club but I really enjoyed this book and now reading it for the second time, thank you for writing it Mr Hall.

  5. Karen.... Says:

    I am the “Karen” that was standing outside the cemetary watching my love get buried. He was on his way to a bar in Brooklyn when he smashed head first into a tree. He was on his way to see me. He is tatted on my heart “In memory of Sweet Willie” We will meet again. “Stretch” is fine.

  6. AVAGOVFFV Says:


    Good girl you are for being there till the end.

    May god easy your pain and let you find peace in knowing that your love is riding hard once again in the heavens.

    Take care

  7. BigV Says:

    Karen: John was challenged by a snitch piece of shit named Ronnie Howerton, and at one point he even said Sweet William was still alive.

    Thanks for confirming John’s story. I don’t agree with tell-all 1% books by ex-members, but I felt Mr. Hall’s was the best.

  8. bob Says:

    BigV@ When this book came out,in all the e-reviews,a certain “Pagan Ronnie” was bashing the book and its author.How very ironic that it would have been Howerton,who at that time was cooperating.

  9. K. Dillingham Says:

    I appreciate the book Mr. Hall wrote. My father was mentioned a bit in it, Bobo Dillingham, whom I did not have the benefit of knowing due to his untimely passing when I was only a toddler. I am thankful to read even a few words carefully chosen to describe him, so that I may gain a better picture of him. Thank you Mr. Hall…from what others have said and the words that have been used to describe him, you hit the nail on the head. In terms of the book, this leads me to believe that not much was exaggerated, as has been insinuated. And I am sorry to have to point this out to the author of this article, but these outlaws lasted a sight longer than the golden age of love.

  10. Rebel Says:

    Dear K. Dillingham,

    I am the author of the article. I recommened Hall’s book to a guy just the other day.


  11. Breich Says:

    K.Dillingham,i don’t know ya but ive heard your fathers name mentioned a thousand times by my parents & I can tell ya they have only spoke highly of him!! My father was good friends with Bobo and he still mentions his names till this day.He was also friends with a guy named Dominick(dirty bird) who was also in the club with your dad.im too young to remember them but all I’ve ever heard was good things about these guys.take care and enjoy your day! Bobby

  12. lia Says:

    Who is JohnHall

  13. Ken The Citizen Says:

    I remember those days and how it was to live free and real.
    Today’s posers are odd to say the least.
    It’s cool to look back.

  14. FF Says:




  15. TejasPete Says:

    Incredible book, easy to read and funny. Hall has no agenda either – just telling the story of the heyday of his outlaw motorcycle career.

  16. Christopher Dillingham Says:

    K. Dillingham: I’m your brother. Call me at 321-397-9794. I’m a lawyer in Florida.

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