I used to work at a hardcore Outlaw bikers bar. Not hardcore as in there might be a couple of scruffy guys in leather there, but hardcore as in it was run by some bad, bad dudes.
Real bad dudes.
They are synonymous with everything badass biker. They are the toughest of the tough, the worst of the worst, and the guys you simply do not mess with. Say the wrong thing, and finding yourself a permanent part of a cement garage floor is certainly not out of the realm of possibility.
All I was looking for was a job.
I opened the paper one day and there it was. Disc Jockey needed – twenty bucks an hour. I don’t believe a more perfect ad could have appeared that morning. With years of experience, and a salary rarely seen for a booth man, I hesitated for about one second before hopping in my car and entering what would be the start of something so surreal that even I can’t believe it.
Shortly after hearing, “You can start tomorrow” I would bear witness to things I most likely could never imagine.
To make it extremely clear, this place was a dive. Hole in the wall doesn’t even touch the nastiness that was inside. There were fist marks in the wall, the carpet had to be fifty years old and was plastered so badly with cigarette burns and chewing gum that it almost appeared like an intentional speckling rather than total destruction.
If it featured a girl in a bikini, it was most assuredly on the walls, covering the filth that resided underneath. The bathrooms were nasty, the stalls had no doors, and the hand painted flames shooting out across the bar said everything a person would ever need to know. It was dingy, reeked with the residue of abuse, and screamed… dirty things happen here.
And I was the new DJ.
The first time you see fifty bikers roar up to a bar and walk through the door, you don’t realize the sheer power of their coming. It is tremendously deafening. After the dismount, they walk in and immediately size up the place, careful to leave two sentinels at the door to slow down any rivals that may appear after their entrance. My first night, I was placed directly next to this door, and my first minutes of work consisted of trying to entertain a crowd while two huge biker guys eyed up my every move.
Thank god I was raised in the eighties, because these behemoths were all about metal and hair roll. There would be a steady dose of Autograph, Judas Priest, Motley Crue, and Metallica to follow that first night. Many of them had their wives, (or the b-word as they called them) at their side, and they proceeded to drink and dance the night away.
Luckily, they instantly took a liking to the quiet clean cut kid, and little did I know that in a relatively short amount of time, I would be thrown into the world they lived in. I was assured of my safety by one of the gang members as they informed me I didn’t need to worry because there were plenty of guns to go around.
Now, if you have never been a part of a hardcore biker gang, you may be surprised to know that they are quite organized as a group. They have a strict hierarchy they follow, and members often start out as probates until they are deemed good enough to join the crew. They eventually earn a “patch” which they are then allowed to proudly display on their leather along with other assorted smaller patches whose meaning directly correlates to whatever atrocity it might stand for.
They have a leader, they have vice presidents, and they cover each other’s back no matter what the duty. Most of them are amazingly large, amazingly crude, and amazingly unconcerned with what you think.
It is a lifestyle and they all embrace it.
Unfortunately, the world they live in is plastered with hardcore drugs, domestic abuse, and a complete disregard for humanity. Vile and unsettling, this atmosphere could suck the morality out of even the most careful of souls.
There were many times reality disappeared from that establishment and the first instance I can remember started in the middle of a Peavy pumping moment of Judas Priest’s “Turbo Lover.”
I was standing in the booth when out of nowhere came one of the largest most intimidating men I would ever meet. He was clad in jeans and a leather vest with a patch that loudly proclaimed him a member of the gang. He had to be at least 6’4” and pushing 300 pounds on a light day. In his mid to late thirties he had a scruffy beard and arms that were bigger than most people’s legs.
I had been watching him all evening sit at the bar and consume massive amounts of hard liquor. I also knew that he was the owner of the establishment, who up to this point had not said a single word to me.
I had previously been informed by the other disc jockey, that certain patrons might want to participate in what I consider being the devil of all that is lame, karaoke. The bar had about a thousand karaoke discs, and I had been given a list of numbers and tracks that were favorites of workers and regular bar patrons to use as quick references until I was more familiar with the surroundings.
The steady dose of metal had pumped the crowd into frenzy at this point, and the liquor induced violent side of many a customer has started to rise to the surface. I could feel the anger in the air, and now a monstrous biker, my boss, was headed straight for me.
He made it up to the DJ booth, and proceeded to completely disregard my personal ring of space. He towered over me, and the stench of Captain Morgan and the deodorant of gasoline was overpowering. Staring me right in the eyes he says, “You got my song?” I looked down at my cheat sheet and noticed that there was indeed a disc and song number for the owner, and confidently informed him I was on top of things.
He looks at me again and says, “Good you better $%*&#@ be, I want the echo turned up all the way on my mic too.”
By this time, the Judas Priest song was about two thirds through and I scrambled to grab his song request and get it cued in time, while navigating an unfamiliar board for the echo controls. It was a grab and go moment, but I got the disc, got it in the machine, and got my levels adjusted just as Judas was ending their last riff.
My boss was on stage, dwarfing the mic stand, looking about as angry as one could see a man. I made a brief introduction, and finally took a breath as I hit play on the karaoke machine.
I sat back for a moment to grab a drink from my soda, when all of a sudden I hear the soothing guitar strokes of…
… Prince’s Purple Rain.
I completely froze. No way had I just pushed to button on Prince’s Purple rain, in a hardcore biker bar, for my obviously inebriated boss and gang leader. My first thought was to locate my backpack and make the quickest exit possible. By the time reality hit me, we were at about the eighth bar of song.
I scrambled to get to the machine and right as I was reaching to hit the stop button, I hear, in perhaps the most amazing voice I have ever born witness to, “I never meant 2 cause u any sorrow. I never meant to cause you any pain.”
The entire bar proceeded to go dead silent, as this three hundred pound ogre delivered one of the most beautiful renditions of Purple Rain a man will ever hear.
It was absolutely breathtaking.
During the middle of the song, one of the gang members came up to me and mentioned that this man had turned down a professional singing career in Nashville many years ago. I had no doubts he was telling the truth. Not because of what I was hearing, but by what I saw in this man’s face as he sang.
You could feel the pain as he delivered every word. He sang with so much feeling that you actually could see his lost dreams and past transgressions. This giant face told a harsh story of heartbreak and broken spirit using the narrative and melody of a five foot four man in purple.
It was the most amazing thing I have ever seen.
When he finished, he stumbled off the stage and made his way to his special bar stool in which he spent the majority of his time each day. He polished off another bottle of Morgan, and passed out shortly after closing time.
He remained mostly in-coherent for the next hour, not moving but an inch even as two Harley Davidson’s were fired up and driven smack dab on the middle of the dance floor. As everyone exited, I was left with a disaster area of destruction, complete with skid marks, my colossally large passed out hardcore biker gang boss on the bar, and the acrid heavy cloud of exhaust lingering in the air like someone had hit the fog machine.
I let the man rest at the bar for a bit, weighing my options while reflecting on the reality of it all. He had gone from angry to anguish right in front of my eyes. He was no longer the leader of the pack, my boss, or a man that would tear your face off in an instant. He was a human being. He was a man with emotion, with passion, and a burden of guilt and loss that must have weighed twice as much as his massive frame.
I eventually got him to come around and got his arms around my shoulders. I walked him upstairs to his apartment bedroom as he gushed stories of hopes and dreams, regrets and remorse.
I left kind of shocked that evening. I had been thrust into a tiny part of society that most people don’t get the opporunity to look at. You can learn a lot from hanging out with biker gangs, and this would only be the first of many stories surrounding this tight knit group of souls.
The days that followed allowed me to look further and further into the lives of these people and those that surrounded them. I’d eventually work there for quite some time, and this clean cut white kid got a privilege to glimpse things most people might never see…
…or want to.