Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
George Christie is the kind of man whose life reads more like a novel than an actual autobiography. He quit a job at the U.S. Department of Defense to be a full-fledged member of the Hells Angels, eventually founding the Ventura chapter (one of the most well-known and high-profile ones) and serving as its president for over three decades.
A thinker, he was a far cry from the stereotypical image of a gang biker, being a calculated thinker who counted many artists and celebrities amongst his friends, even carrying the torch for the 1984 Olympic Games. After four decades spent as a Hells Angel, Christie finally decided to retire, and in Exile on Front Street he personally reveals what all those years were actually like.
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George Christie: Outlaw and Cultural Icon
If I was to ask you to describe the first image that comes to your mind when imagining a member of the Hells Angels, you would probably refer to a big, burly, bearded, drunk, leather-clad grunt chugging beers on his motorcycle. While I have no doubt that more than a few of the club’s members did the stereotype justice, the reality is (as is often the case) far more nuanced and complex; the Hells Angels are more than a just your typical gang, and its many of its members were quite different from what you would expect.
More specifically, we’re going to talk about one such person here, and that man is none other than George Christie, the outlaw who managed to elevate himself to the status of a cultural icon, recently penning his autobiography titled Exile on Front Street. To give you a bit of background on who this man is, he used to work for the U.S. Department of Defense until 1975, when he was inducted as a full-fledged member of the Hells Angels. From that point on he never looked back and worked his way up the ladder, eventually becoming the founder of the infamous Ventura chapter.
For the next thirty years he served as its president and took the club to unprecedented heights. Under his rule, the Hells Angels were gaining international notoriety, and his thinker’s mentality helped him build bridges to other icons of his times, including actors, singers, artists and other celebrities.
They soared to such unprecedented heights that George Christie was the Olympic torch bearer for the 1984 games. After giving his life to the club for over four decades he decided it was finally time to retire. He certainly put his newly-found free time to good use, finally writing the autobiography people around the world were waiting for. In Exile on Front Street, he takes us deep behind the scenes of the infamous motorcycle gang and tells us what it all looked like from a leader’s point of view.
Rational, Honest and Calculated
As was mentioned, George Christie was more of a thinker than an impulsive agitator, and that’s something which bled into his writing. He seldom goes into emotional rants or artistic expositions, preferring to deal with cold facts and remaining as objective as possible, to the point where it feels like we’re standing with him and observing it all from the outside. With those things being said, you can imagine that the author withheld certain information from his past to protect himself as well as his former “colleagues”, preferring sins of omission to outright lies.
As a result, the Hells Angels alleged crimes aren’t exactly the focal point; Christie instead aims more to educate us about the inner dynamics of the club, without glamorizing or demonizing them. His candour and intelligence are always apparent, giving his words real weight and meaning.
While it may be a tad disappointing we don’t get to know all that Christie knows, it doesn’t mean that the book is boring or lacking in content. On the contrary, there are layers and layers of complexity in regards to how the club functions, going into the domains of logistics, interpersonal relations, dealings with the law, geography, hierarchy, and more.
In short, the Hells Angels aren’t just a gang, but also a business, one that takes a lot of foresight, intuition and intelligence to run properly. The amount of information we get on this aspect of the club is truly breathtaking, the author arguably revealing more details than anyone has before.
A Wild Ride Through the Decades
Exile on Front Street may be the kind of book we would read to get educated about the Hells Angels, but there is another question we must ask here: is it entertaining? After all, if we don’t get pleasure from reading Christie‘s story, if we don’t feel involved or connected to it in any way, then we might as well be reading a list of facts from an old and boring history book. Even for a book in the realms of non-fiction it’s important to adequately grasp the reader’s attention, to hook them in and give them an incentive to move forward.
In this category, I would argue that the book succeeds quite well, but not as well as it could have had Christie decided to air out more of his dirty laundry, but his decision not to is perfectly understandable… after all, I’m certain none of us would do it in his position.
There is a certain tameness to the story that sort of goes against the truths of the biker gang world even the least-educated amongst us have come to know. With that being said, there is more than enough tension and intrigue to be found in these pages all there is always some sort of dangerous, or even potentially-deadly drama brewing around the life of a hardened outlaw. Seeing George Christie navigate this gauntlet of tricks and trips while simultaneously elevating himself to the status of a celebrity is truly fascinating and shows just what it really takes to make it in that world.
|272||Thomas Dunne Books||Sept. 20 2016||978-1250095688|
The Final Verdict
Though Exile on Front Street may not be the one hundred percent transparent look at the Hells Angels we’ve all been coveting, it nevertheless remains an intelligently-written and extremely educative exploration of how the club is run and the many dynamics at play. It’s an engaging autobiography that details the unforgettable life of a rather special person, someone that went through countless experiences that will never be open to the rest of us.
George Christie provides us with an invaluable revelation as to what being a Hells Angel entails, and I believe it’s currently one of the most insightful and easy-to-read books available on the subject. I can only strongly recommend it to anyone with even a remote interest in the infamous motorcycle gang.
George Christie is a former Marine reservist who once worked as an electrician and communications specialist for the Department of Defense. However, he quit the job when, in 1975, he became a full-patch member of the Hells Angels.
Eventually, he founded the Ventura chapter and served as its president for more than thirty years. After spending nearly four decades in the club he finally retired, in the process becoming an author by writing his own autobiography titled Exile on Front Street: My Life as a Hells Angel… and Beyond.