Christie Chronicles: from Outlaw to a One-Man Play
The saga of George Christie, Jr., from a Hell’s Angel head man to star of a one-man play based on his own life would be something almost beyond belief if it weren’t actually true. Christie, who was born in 1947 in Ventura and returned more than three decades later to found the Ventura chapter of the notorious motorcycle club – which he would lead for more than 30 years – has spent the half-dozen years since he resigned from the club writing, speaking, promoting concerts, and consulting for defense attorneys, minus the year he served in a Texas federal prison after a plea bargain.
Beyond that Lone Star State stint, Christie was jailed two other times for a total of more than three years, plus two more under house arrest. But behind all the motorcycle mayhem and madness, Christie also led loftier pursuits, such as carrying the Olympic torch in the prelude to the 1984 Los Angeles Games and spending countless hours at the famed Self-Realization Center in Los Angeles, where he studied under the influential master Pramahansa Yogananda.
Now, he’s the star and subject of Outlaw, the one-man play adapted from his recent autobiography that traces his history, from when he first fell in love with motorcycles and the outlaw life during a chance childhood encounter in the San Fernando Valley when he was 8 years old to his excommunication from the Angels in the 2010s. The production had its world premiere at the Rubicon Theatre in his hometown on April 11-12 and heads to Center Stage Theater in Santa Barbara on Wednesday and Thursday, May 2-3.
Earlier this week, Christie talked about his life, career – including the time when Hell’s Angels’ Ventura was listed in the phone book (“We’d get calls for anything from wanting someone exterminated to asking if we did appearances at parties,” he recalled. “The answer to both was a resounding ‘No.’”) – and the upcoming play, in a far-ranging interview over the telephone from his home near downtown Ojai. Here are excerpts:
Q. Why were you drawn to the outlaw life and the Hell’s Angels?
A. The biggest problem in society back then and today is that they confuse outlaw and criminal. The outlaw lives by his own set of rules, a vision of how he wants to live his life and pursues it. But he’s not a criminal by trade. He might do things that are inappropriate, but that can also be true of doctors, police officers, and lawyers. You need to create your own compass and stay on true North. You have to stick by your own standards that you set for yourself. When I was first indoctrinated into that outlaw bike culture, it was a live-and-let-live world. We accepted everybody on their own terms. Ultimately, I walked away form it because we had become the people we rebelled against.
When you first created the Ventura chapter, things went smoothly for a while. What happened?
When I came back up here in 1978, initially the police somewhat embraced us because the town was a bit unruly, with seven or eight competing bike clubs. We ran everybody out, like the hired guns of the Old West. But in the mid-1990s, the community was developing, trying to become a tourist town more like Santa Barbara, widening the sidewalks, putting in outdoor cafes. They started thinking maybe there’s not a place in modern Ventura for the Hell’s Angels.
Long before then, though, Hell’s Angels had a shady reputation. Was it fair?
I think the record speaks for itself. I remember we were surrounded by the police one time, and I was doing the negotiating with the chief, saying this isn’t necessary. You don’t need to waste the manpower, it might set something off. He said, “Well, you guys have a bad reputation.” And one of my guys responded, “That’s right. We earned it.” You can’t really argue that. We worked hard for it. When I was a member, that was true. Some if it was warranted, some was through rumors and myths. You’re a writer – you know how that works.
Did you do a lot of things that you now regret?
Anytime I did something that I reflected back on later and decided that I had failed myself, I tried not to do that action again. You have to follow the moral compass you set for yourself. For example, I did a lot of drugs in my day, but I also became a real advocate for people not using narcotics in a way that would get them addicted. There was a faction in Hell’s Angels that were largely responsible for introducing some really bad drugs across the country. I wasn’t into that.
Is Hell’s Angels a criminal organization? No. But it has a lot of criminals in it. Being a Hell’s Angel is like having carte blanche in the underworld. It gives you a lot of sway and influence. It’s like being a made mafia guy.
So, what made you ultimately leave the club?
If you are going to be effective as a leader, you have to have a vision that the people who follow you share. I’d been on this policy of all the bike clubs putting differences behind them and moving forward together. But with the newer members who joined when I was gone to prison the first time, the wars flared up again. The problem is that when you’re a fighter and you run out of enemies to fight, you turn inward. I didn’t want to be there for that. I didn’t want to become the people we rebelled against. I’d given it 40 years. When I left, one of the leaders I’d had run-ins with turned on me, called me a coward and a quitter. He had the club turn to shaming me on social media, which I thought was ironic. We’re supposed to be a secretive outlaw motorcycle club, and now we’re sharing our dirty laundry on all these social media platforms. They were rewriting history incorrectly.
The book and the play (and an earlier TV series on the History Channel) came about because I didn’t want anybody else to say what my history was.
Now you’re an actor. How’s that going?
Yeah. On the (documentary series) you have the luxury of re-takes and editing. A live stage performance, there’s no net. You just get up there and you have to perform. It’s exhilarating, like being back in the action, but on the stage instead of a Harley on the streets…. The only people I have to worry about killing me is the critics.
Any of your former biker buddies show up at Rubicon?
No. I am on that official “Out bad, no contact” list. But I’m completely satisfied with where I am in my life. I don’t want to go back, but I don’t regret what I did and I wouldn’t change it. My journey has been a long trip with twists and turns, but the last few years have given me the opportunity to reflect on myself and my life. There are personal things in the show that go very deep. I used to talk with Jerry Garcia and Ken Kesey about philosophy and the human psyche, about how there’s so many things that are primal and subconscious in what we do, and that’s what appealed to me with the Hell’s Angels. I was always against the grain. Now I’m going to be 71… and I’m amazed I’m even still here. I’m still an outlaw, but I’ve found some peace.
Going Underground in Montecito
Lisa Citore, a longtime Santa Barbara-based performance artist, writer, sex educator, teacher, and self-described “pleasure activist”, conceived of Anima: Theater of the Feminine Underground, well before the #MeToo movement took root in America. The ritual theater project had its focus on “the liberation of the feminine aspect from patriarchal conditioning,” as Citore says, before Harvey Weinstein’s reign of sexual harassment and worse entered the country’s consciousness, the first episode of the series running early last fall at Center Stage Theater, the intimate black-box space that hosted another installment in late February. That one featured several returning performers, as well as new female artists wanting to “share the vulnerable treasures of their deep psyche” on stage through dance, song, spoken word, performance art, and other genres, giving expression to the feminine unconscious for the purpose of individual and collective transformation and bringing socio-political balance to the world.
Now, Anima is on the move, venturing into a new perhaps more appropriate venue for its 7 to 9 pm offering on Saturday, April 28: the Ladera Lane campus of Pacifica Graduate Institute, the four-decades-old Montecito-Carpinteria facility whose students delve into depth psychology and the mythos, integrating intuition and intellect, exploring the mind’s myriad pathways in the Jungian/Joseph Campbell school of thought.
There are just seven women on the program, at least according to the website, but they’re all powerhouses of both professional endeavors and performance art. Among them are Melissa Lowenstein, the dancer/choreographer who is also a writer, nonprofit professional, youth program facilitator (AHA!), psychology geek, yoga student, amateur psychological astrologer, and lover of bodies, movement, and artistic endeavors that involve all of that; Elaine Gale, the relatively recent Santa Barbara resident who is a writer, performer, storyteller, humorist, college professor (SBCC, Antioch, and CSU Sacramento), journalist, fourth-generation educator, and sixth-generation Nebraskan, whose own one-woman show, One Good Egg, premiered in Santa Barbara and is on its way to a national tour; Yemaya Renuka Duby, a new Santa Barbara “nester” who blends Earth-based traditions, Eastern devotional practices, and European wisdom who has developed the Somatic Therapy practice ”Bones of Wisdom”; and Cybil Gilbertson, the UCSB dance alumni who served as a pro with SB Dance Theatre and several other companies before launching NECTAR Healing Arts, which tackles social themes through the arts back in 2009.
Hannah Ruth Brothers and Samantha Bonavia are also on the bill, along with a new work from Citore. “Whether you are a lover of dreams or a fan of the dark feminine, we hope to poke at your ownPi imagination in a way that feeds something lost and vital in you,” Citore says on the website. Tickets cost $26 general, $22 seniors and Pacifica alumni, $17 students in advance, or $22/$26/$30 at the door. Call 969-3626 or visit http://bit.ly/2u8wYGJ.