In the mid-1950s, George Christie, born in Ventura, California, to Greek immigrants, was in Los Angeles with his father when a pivotal moment of inspiration roared up on a chopped Harley. “I don’t know how old I was,” recalled Christie, “Seven to 10 years old at the most — this guy made such an impression on me!” Christie, intelligent and tenacious but never one to adhere to the straight and narrow, grew up to run with a wild crowd. He joined the U.S. Marines at 17 and came home to a life in the motorcycle clubs. “Some people join the circus,” said Christie. “I joined the Hells Angels.”
So begins Christie’s solo show, Outlaw, a rebel’s story of dancing with the rough crowd. Christie, an eloquent and intense storyteller, brings a half century of experiences to the stage. This biker has been all over the world as a leader, a peacemaker, a media spokesperson, a prisoner, a writer, a speaker, and now, a dramatic performer. Outlaw runs at Center Stage Theater Wednesday-Thursday, May 2-3, and offers audiences a brief history of motorcycle-club culture in America, starting in the late ’40s, when World War II vets came home from war looking for a proxy for the unique fellowship they’d experienced with their platoon mates. “These guys came home and were displaced and didn’t know what to do,” said Christie. “They were used to the camaraderie, the excitement, the brotherhood.” Bike clubs started popping up all over the country, among them the Outlaws, the 13 Rebels, the Mongols, the Bandidos, and the most infamous motorcycle club of all: the Hells Angels.
Christie rose through the ranks within the Hells Angels and became a prominent leader within the group. Christie identified with the club’s “live and let live” credo and said that despite the fight-club atmosphere (he admits the guys enjoyed a good, testosterone-fueled brawl with the sailors at the Seabee base or members of rival motorcycle clubs), the violence didn’t translate into crime in the community. “No one ever went home after a fight and got a gun,” Christie said. “The losers would buy breakfast.”
Shortly after Christie joined the club, the Angels’ culture changed. A rivalry with the Mongols turned into a raging war, leading to violence of a more personal and vindictive nature, and even to murder. Christie, who by this point had become the media spokesperson for the Hells Angels, traveled the world on a peace mission to clear the air between all the various motorcycle clubs. But his place of prominence made him a target for rival clubs and the feds; Christie has been accused of several crimes and has done time in prison. “There’s a point in federal court when they announce the case,” Christie recalled, “and they say: ‘The United States of America versus George Gus Christie Jr.’ That’s when you realize that the most powerful country in the world has a problem with you.” Christie did his time and came out of prison knowing the Hells Angels lifestyle — at least, what it had become — no longer aligned with his personal views. “They’d become the people we’d rebelled against,” he said.
His story caught the interest of the History Channel, which made a series about his life called Outlaw Chronicles: Hells Angels. The series led to a book deal, speaking engagements, and most recently, the creation of Outlaw, the stage show based on Christie’s memoir, Exile on Front Street. The show is written and produced by playwright Richard La Plante, and it comes to Santa Barbara after two sold-out shows at Ventura’s Rubicon Theater. This one-man show takes audiences on a full-throttle tour of Christie’s life between outlaw and mainstream culture. Outlaw promises laughs and catharsis in this unique insider’s view of life within the Hells Angels, an American institution on the fine line between rebellion and anarchy.
Outlaw will be performed at Center Stage Theater (751 Paseo Nuevo) Wednesday-Thursday, May 2-3, 7:30 p.m. Call 963-0408 or see centerstagetheater.org.