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Monday, October 05, 2009

SONNY'S 71ST

A while back, I got wind that Sonny was a fan of Sons. My initial response was relief. Perhaps the same relief David Chase felt when he got a gift basket instead of a dead fish from his Italian brethren. Sonny is Sonny Barger (it's a hard G). If you don't know who Sonny is, you should. The man is single-handedly responsible for turning a lifestyle into a subculture. Before Sonny, motorcycle clubs were an unorganized pack of riders. For better or worse (depending on what information you choose to believe) Sonny organized and idealized the MC life. A few weeks ago I was made aware of a poker run for Sonny's 71st birthday. It was an open party. Meaning it was open to friends and neighbors who were not part of the club. Sonny does two of these events a year. One for the HA anniversary and one for his birthday. I reached out to Sonny's lawyer, Fritz Clapp to make sure it was cool if I showed up. I then received a few Facebook messages from a family friend of Sonny and Zorana (Zee), his wife, extending the invitation. When I spoke to Zee on the phone she couldn't have been more gracious and welcoming. She then put Sonny on the line and he personally invited Katey and myself to the run. Katey unfortunately is in Hawaii shooting Lost, so I went solo (I invited my cast, but everyone had prior commitments... or so they said... fucking actors). I flew into Phoenix in the morning and was picked up by Kevin, the family friend. I was taken to the third bar of the poker run (a poker run usually consists of hitting 3-5 bars and landing at the last one for the big party). I was greeted by Sonny and Zee and escorted into the bar. I know this is going to sound like naive idol worship, and I know Ralph Sonny Barger is a man who has been accused of some nefarious deeds, but the guy I met was unbelievably kind, gracious and giving. He basically adopted me for the day. Had me at his side and introduced me to everyone he encountered. I felt like the prodigal son. We posed for photos, signed autographs and shook hands for hours. Sonny refused no one. I was exhausted trying to keep up with him. To be clear, this crowd-working only happens on open runs. Private runs or private time, his brothers wouldn't let anyone approach Sonny. You can get a sense from my blog and tweets that I'm a guy who speaks his mind. Usually to me detriment (I'm piling up the hostile work environment claims from Fox employees). And I'm not a guy who is easily impressed, I can smell bullshit a mile away. Trust me, I'm neck fucking deep in it in this town. So, based on my limited resources, I was expecting Sonny to be slick, vague and a bit of a manipulator. I was not expecting to meet a quiet, simple, forthright cat. And he was. Alarmingly so. An interesting mix of charisma and enigma. His feedback was direct, honest and kind. But I found myself more fascinated by what he didn't say. A look or a nod to one of his brothers or his wife spoke volumes. The legendary status made complete sense to me. The man know he's an icon and wears it like a comfortable shirt. He made me feel completely at home. The only tension I experienced was when Sonny asked me if I wanted to ride to the last bar. Sonny Barger was inviting me into his formation, I couldn't refuse. So I rode Zee's Electra Glide, packing her behind me. Now, I've gotten very comfortable riding again. As some of you know I hadn't been on a bike for a dozen years so when we got our free Harley's the deal I made Katey was that I'd bone up and take a few lessons. Which I did. But here I am, riding a bike I've never ridden before, riding in a pack with a hundred bikes, which I've never done before, with the love of Sonny's life packed behind me. My prayer for the few mile ride was "Oh my fucking god, please don't let me lay down the bike, please don't let me lay down the bike...". I didn't. Other than the flop sweat, I actually held my own, got us both there in one piece. After the party, Sonny and Zee invited me back to their home where a few friends and the rest of his Cave Creek charter joined us. I hung out and listened to these guys swap stories and critique the show. My favorite piece of feedback came from a prospect who said that there'd be no fucking way Half-Sack would be drinking and making out with a girl at a run. He'd be washing the fucking bikes. The comment came from a place of experience. I gotta say, the coolest thing to me was how much all these people love the show. I mean they really fucking love it. Every character nuance, every detail is not wasted. They are smart, sophisticated viewers who completely plug in. And they totally get and accept that it's television and that we take deep dramatic license. My favorite quote of the trip came from one of the Cave Creek members, who blurted out this excited revelation, "Sons is fucking soap opera... but it's our fucking soap opera". Yes, brother, it fucking is. I want to thank Sonny and Zee and all the members of Cave Creek for an extraordinary day.

25 comments:

Maria said...

Your prayer cracked me up. Did Zee have anything to say about how the Gemma deal was going down?

KindredRayne said...

How very cool! Thank you for sharing it with us.

East Coast said...

81 made me the man I am today, and Sonny made all of us a bit more responsible towards the Brotherhood.

The show does tend to be a bit "Hollywood" sometimes, but it rocks, and I demand complete silence when it comes on, I dont wanna miss a thing. I'm glad your idea of the show came to life, and honestly, I hope it never goes away.

As for the ride?.... 120mph all the way bro, never a need to pray, its all one, you the bike, the road, all one piece melting into the road and leaving flames ( at least in my case) behind you.

I always sign my comments the same, and so I shall today

Ride Free, Die Hard
Support 81
East Coast Al

Mooona said...

Sounds like a full circle moment for you...thanks for sharing!

Jocelyn said...

That puts the some in AWESOME!

Several years ago in Myrtle Beach I had one of Sonny's books signed by him for my son. My boy turns 18 this December and I can't wait to give it to him. I know what it means to me and I hope it will be special to him as well.

Kimmy said...

I couldn't stop smiling reading about your solo journey this weekend.

I cannot imagine how exhilarating, it was to receive feedback from the charter.

Thanks for the share!

PatD64 said...

Great story,How did it feel running with 100 bikes? The sound had to be fantastic!!

I went on my first "pack run" last month,75 bikes,It was a wonderful experience,I never felt so ALIVE!!

Maybe Sonny could make a cameo apperance next season? would be very cool!

Thanks for sharing your story Kurt,
Cheers bud!

DesertHawk said...

I really enjoyed your post "Sonny's 71st" almost as much as I enjoy SOA. I can only imagine how you felt packing Sonny's Wife and all the rest that you experienced. You definitely have a gift. Almost felt like I was there.

Both SOA and your post bring back so many happy memories of what was a great time in my life, 1969 - 1985. Built my first chopper in 1969. Started working for AEE Choppers 1970 (choppers.lulen.com).

Like "EastCoast" said in his Comment, "I'm glad your idea of the show came to life, and honestly, I hope it never goes away."

Thanks again for a great show, posts and tweets.

The Magic Kitchen said...

Otto is way tougher than those (h)actors!!!!

Texas Cigar said...

Hostile work environment claims from Fox employees? Holy shit... God forbid you speak your mind. You invited the whole cast and had a complete no show? Humm. I thought Henry Rollins would be there in a heart beat.

TheJersey said...

Kurt I love that you got to have that experience and I know that SOA will be better for it

Pointman said...

I'm glad you got the opportunity to spend time with Sonny.
I consider their feedback the most genuine of anyone you ask-
I've read all his books and have the classic pic of him in front of the Oakland clubhouse with his FX complete with fairing!
You've got us all dialed in Kurt- and we're enjoying the ride!
Respects~

Spooky Lil Girl said...

Yes, thanks for sharing this experience. I had the pleasure of sitting at a table with Sonny and friends at a Corbin press Party at Sturgis one year. Well the party was held in Spearfish actually. I got to cover the party for a magazine I worked for at the time. Sonny could not have been nicer.

The Juggernaut said...

Sonny Barger's book, Credos from the Road, was a great read... much good advice for all walks of life. I thank him for sharing the insight.

Kurt, congrats on everything... and thanks for the correct pronunciation of Mr. Barger's name.. .. might have saved me getting my ass whipped!!

azbikerchk said...

I love the blog about spending Sonny Bargers birthday with him and the Cave Creek Crew. You are right, he is a gracious man. I had the opportunity to talk with him briefly on an H.A. poker run when I lived in Phoenix! I hope you enjoyed your day!

Tina said...

Started watching season two because I am a big Rollins fan...real sorry I missed season one, great show!

Is there any chance of getting the manuscript "The Life and Death of Sam crow" printed? The excerpts in the show blow me away. I would buy this in a heartbeat, as I'm sure any fan of the show would.

I especially liked the one from tonight's (Oct 06, 2009) episode about forgiveness. Wow!

tonilost said...

The last episode was great, dark and foreboding, poor Otto, the one eyed man might be king in the land of the blind but the dude doesnt even have one eye left, does he?

I believe you when you say you prayed, lol, lucky you didnt shit your pants,

myusamom said...

Darn it...I just knew missing the party this year was a mistake...I had a medical test I couldn't turn down and so had to be home in Calif..Hope you make it to another party and maybe I will still get a chance to meet you...
I don't watch SOA but have at least a dozen people that tell me what is going on...
Yes my brother is an awesome person not at all what most people expect..
Take care and thanks for the personal view of the party..I loved it...
Shirley (Sonnys sister)

nate said...

you couldn't have written a better blog Kurt. i have to say, reading this almost had me feeling like i was there. the amount of respect you received from these men is amazing. i mean, having Zee on the back of your bike must have been absolute relief that you were safe in harms way. im glad they let you experience this so you could share with all of us. i speak for everyone who doesnt when i say there are a lot of people interested in this lifestyle and thanks to you we now see

Ericka said...

What a great story. I have often wondered how SOA is viewed by those who "live to ride and ride to live." I'm happy to hear that they love it as much as we do. Thank you for sharing that experience.

Outsider said...

What a Trip!

Wildman said...

Great story Kurt. What an experience. Would have enjoyed hearing the feedback and critique you got on the show from those that have actaully "lived" the lifestyle.

mike sieving said...

Kurt, Clay and Piney wea a patch that says "first 9" besides John Teller will we ever know the other six?
Will there be a "Free Big Otto" shirt in the SOA store? Thanks Mike

Carm said...

Hi Kurt,

Thanks so much for shareing this story. In fact my husband is going to be reading it at Church to his members this coming Sunday. Often threw out watching this the two of us have wondered...what does Sonny think. Now we know, and are very glad he's in agreement. It's a fantastic show. I loved the comment the one member made about it being " Our Fuckin Soap Opera!" Who'd have ever thought there would be one for a group of people like us. We sure as hell couldn't relate to any other show thus far.
I wrote an email to Katey ..not sure it will get there but if not ..please be sure to tell her that she's an amazing actress and is doing an outstanding job. Watching her act in this series has me wanting to research what else she is in and how can I go about watching those shows also.

Several years ago down in Sturgis my husband sat outside Deadwood on a bench waiting for me as I shopped my lil heart out.Sonny Barger walked up next to him and sat down ..and said " Tell me a lie" ..my husband said ...Nope ..sorry...can't ...way too fukin much to remember. Sonny laughed and for years my old man thought that was the best Sonny story around...it's safe to say ..YOU'VE TOPPED THAT AND THEN SOME ! lol
Youre doing a great job ..I look forward to watching SOA for a long time and anything else you write.

Take Care
" Those hard ass bikers up in CANADA are watching weekly !"

Anonymous said...

Awesome blog... awesome show with awesome writing and acting. What an incredible cast. The writing and imagery is so full of detail. I was wondering how you know so much about biker life (which is why I googled "Kurt Sutter and Hells Angels" and ended up here.) I used to ride past the HA club house in Oakland and sometimes some club members would be lined up outside and they'd wave. And I remember the big sign on the door that said "Enter at Your Own Risk."