Thursday, February 6, 2020

Easyriders: Best Biker Fiction 1 (aka Best Biker Fiction 3)

Easyriders: Best Biker Fiction 1
No month stated, 1984  Star Books
(originally published in the US as Best Biker Fiction 3, Dell Books, 1983)

Over the years Zwolf has mentioned the short stories that ran in vintage issues of Easyriders, and that three anthologies had been published of these stories in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. I decided to pick up at least one of them, only to find that all three were ridiculously overpriced on the used books market. Then I came across this ’84 British paperback and assumed it must’ve been a retitled reprint of Best Biker Fiction 1 (Dell, 1977) for the UK market. Imagine my surprise when I read this on the copyright page: “Originally published in the United States as Best Biker Fiction 3!” 

Yes my friends, as confusing as can be, Easyriders: Best Biker Fiction 1 is actually Best Biker Fiction 3. I was bummed about this – I’d read online that Best Biker Fiction 1 had a lot of cool stories in it – but whatever; all three anthologies are pretty scarce, and this UK reprint itself wasn’t cheap or too easy to find. It runs to a little over 160 pages of smallish print, and Star Books has just used the original typeset, as no words have been “British-ized” and we get double quotation marks for dialog. I think that Star has actually split the original Dell edition in two; Best Biker Fiction 3 boasts “39 Great Tales!” on the cover, but this Star book only features 20 tales. My assumption is that Star’s Easyriders: Best Biker Fiction 2 features the remaining 19 stories from Best Biker Fiction 3. Also worth noting is that, despite a different by-line for each of these stories, the majority of them seem to have been written by the same person, a skilled writer with a very dark sense of humor.

In my research I discovered that an author named JJ Solari was pretty much synonymous with the fiction published in Easyriders; in particular he penned a darkly comic tale titled “No Class Chick” which has become legendary in its own way. This is the story I most wanted to read, however it was compiled in Best Biker Fiction 1. You can actually read it at the link above, but do not look at the image at the top of the blog. You have been warned! Reading “No Class Chick” after Best Biker Fiction 3 has me convinced that JJ Solari is indeed the skilled author who wrote the majority of the tales in Best Biker Fiction 3, as the writing style is similar – as is the darkly comic vibe. I’d say Joe Lansdale was a fan of Solari’s…I’d also say it’s possible Lansdale himself might’ve written some of the stories collected in this book.

Another thing I found interesting is that, for the most part, biker world stuff isn’t that central to these stories, by which I mean there isn’t a lot of detail about various types of choppers and etc. The motorcycles are basically a representation of the outlaw lifestyles these characters live, and for the most part we just get the random mentions of choppers and knuckleheads or the occasional Harley. Actually, “scooter” is the word most often used for the bikes. Otherwise it’s the dark comedy and wacky situations which take most focus, as well as the weird turns of phrase. Also all the stories are definitely R-rated, at least so far as the language goes, and we also get a few somewhat-explicit sex scenes.

“Night Rider” by Grumpy Joe (any relation to Sleepy?) opens the collection; like the others to follow, it’s fairly short, amounting to a handful of pages, and borderline horror mixed with dark comedy. We meet bikers Crabs and Turks while they’re drinking at a bar (95% of the stories take place in dingy bars, by the way, with the other 5% taking place in jails), then they split up and each head their separate ways home. But Crabs suddenly finds the highway he’s riding on to be empty, and it’s pitch dark to boot; another bike comes out of nowhere and closes in on him. The mysterious rider has a gory, ruined face and Crabs flashes back to that day two years ago when he stole some dude’s bike and the dude accidentally blew his own face off with a shotgun. Well now the corpse has come back for revenge; Crabs crashes and dies.

“Down The Road” by Billy Shore follows suit: a biker named Kirk wakes up one afternoon and hops on his knucklehead, content with the aimless life of a biker. As he’s choppering along “down the road” he crests a hill, only to see a jacknifed trailer in the road. He closes his eyes, sure he’s a goner, but when he opens them later he’s still choppering along and the trailer is behind him. Somehow he missed it. He comes across a sexy blonde hitchhiker (“her ass was a buttman’s wet dream come true”) and picks her up. She just keeps telling him to drive “down the road,” and on and on they go, the gas tank never emptying and the girl’s destination never showing up. Eventually Kirk realizes that he is of course dead, wiped out by that trailer, and now he’s driving into eternity with this strange woman at his back.

“Southern Hospitality” is by Tink and is more of a “slice of sleazy biker life” sort of tale, told in first-person. A group of bikers, Porky, Jerry, and Animal among them, have a party with copious drugs and babes, but it all turns sour when someone rips off Animal’s chopper. They give chase, only to come across the crashed bike; some woman at the party who wanted a ride ripped it off and suffered the consequences.

“T’anks A Lot, Muthatrucker!” is by Weird Willie and is along the same lines, and also in first-person; two bikers run into a trucker at some greasy dive and the trio get in an argument with a random motorist. Later they get back on the road and the motorist tries to exact revenge on the bikers, attempting to run them down, only for the trucker to come to the rescue with his semi.

“The Silent Treatment” is by Dan Irons and is another first-person yarn. The narrator claims to be a folk singing biker, but inexplicably this tidbit isn’t much elaborated on. He’s choppering through Virginia when the tale begins, and comes across a mega-babe hitchhiker. He gives her a lift but starts to go batty when the girl won’t say a word – even when they’re having some off-page sex. He initiates a series of “pranks” to get her to talk, like putting a snake in her sleeping bag and even ultimately beating her up. Finally he drops her off in some town, screaming that he can’t take it anymore – to which she responds, “You’re cute,” the first words she’s ever spoken to him. So he punches her in the face, and a cop sees it. Now he’s in jail hoping to plead self-defense.

“Whatta Surprise” by Johnny Ray Cole is a definite highlight of the collection and no doubt another JJ Solaris piece. The narrator, Frank, choppers through downtown Dallas, checking out the latest new town. Frank ends up in a bar and starts checking out this hotstuff redhead. The redhead invites Frank back to her place and lights a joint, then turns off the lights when the sex begins happening. The redhead asks Frank to “cornhole” her, but Frank begins feeling her up anyway – and discovers the redhead is a man. At this point Frank reveals that “he” is a “bull-dyke!”

“The Tale Of Grumble Rumble” is by Arco Mole and concerns a big scary biker named Grumble Rumble whose name is derived from how he “rumbles” his chopper up beside another biker and then “grumbles” something unintelligible under the racket. Usually the other bikers shit their pants in fear, but along comes Notorious Norton, who is fond of tossing his boogers in the faces of the bikers he races. He and GR get in a race, one that Grumble Rumble doesn’t survive.

“Through The Years With A Hog” is by Timothy Kost and is probably the only “serious” piece in the collection. It’s also the first that might possibly be by a different author. This one concerns a guy who bought his first Harley in 1920 and drove a succession of them around America as the twentieth century went on. But now it’s 1980, the guy is 78, Harley-Davidson’s gone out of business and Japanese crap clutters the street. The guy dies and enters some sort of biker valhalla.

“Ladies Love Outlaws” is by La Bete and tells us of Fish Hook, a scar-faced enforcer for the Mad Dogs M.C. This one’s almost a novella compared to the other shorts. The narrator is best buds with Fish Hook, and tells us how he falls in love with an innocent young woman named Mary. This newfound love causes Fish Hook to lose some of his murderous tendencies, to the point that he merely pulverizes a rival biker named Frog instead of outright wasting him. Then one night Frog breaks in on the narrator, forces him at gunpoint to call Fish Hook, and plots to blow him and Mary away. Only Mary’s got a derringer hidden in her blouse.

“Gonna Have A Party” is by Ed Rules and definitely seems to be courtesy a different author; at points I got a Michael Newton vibe from the narrative style. More importantly, this story seems to have gone through an editorial wringer, as it starts out about one thing and changes course midway through. Anyway, it’s another novella-length piece, but this one’s in third person and features Jason Black, a ‘Nam vet turned freelance author who recently gave up the straight life and bought a chopper. We meet him as he enters a bar and runs afoul of a big biker there; Black smashes his face with a bottle and impresses the biker boss, Big Red. The boss announces a feast that night and invites Black, but first they need to steal a pig to roast. Here the editorial trickery occurs, as Black disappears from the narrative and we get this overlong sequence of Big Red and others enduring hell to steal the pig. Then it’s to the party, where the bikers run a gang on some young girl who shows up. Finally Jason Black returns long enough to have sex with some babe who was giving him the eye earlier, and that’s that – he choppers off to another adventure.

“Sympathy For The Devil” is by M. Skuorov and returns to the dark horror vibe of the first two stories. A biker named Crazy Chester runs into a big biker dressed all in black one night along a dark road; the biker announces that he’s Satan and will give Chester three wishes in return for his soul. Chester’s three wishes are for new lights for his bike, to become a superstud – and to have sex with Mrs. Satan. After ranting and raving a bit on that last wish, the devil gives in, but unfortunately the story ends here, with Chester happily driving back into civilization. We never even get to meet the devil’s wife.

“Kept Promises” is by Dink Ferrell and is a short piece about the narrator, a biker who is now ending his one-year “experiment” in living the straight life. He says so long to the crying girl he was living with, saying he’s back to the biker world and the “strange pussy” he’ll encounter on the road. And that’s that.

“The Mouse” is by John Watson and concerns a little joker named Mouse who acts as the prankster for his club. He decides to gain a little more respect by robbing a bank. This he does, only to get his brains blown out by the cops. The runtime of this one though is more concerned with Mouse’s previous pranks.

“The Payback” is by Alonzo Reed and it’s a belabored story that also seems to have had some editorial changes. A biker named Travis drives through Texas, stops at a bar for several beers and some ‘ludes, and ends up crashing his bike. He wakes in jail to find his bunkmate a fellow biker, this one named Snake, who not only has a coke spoon but also some coke. The spoon is crafted to look like a cobra, and Snake says it was a present from his now-dead girlfriend. He tells the story of how she was killed by another biker, and Snake’s sworn to get revenge. Travis wakes up next day to find Snake gone, and I thought this was going to be another supernatural thing, but instead Travis gets out of jail and passes by a club where Snake’s standing outside, surrounded by cops. Turns out Snake was let out before Travis woke up, went to a bar, found the man who killed his girl, and wasted him. The end.

“A Mama In A Million” is by JJ Solari, here posing under his own name. It takes the misogyny of “The Silent Treatment” and basically turns the dial to 11. The narrator has put an ad in the paper looking for a new mama, otherwise he’s going to be kicked out of his club. A young girl named Jessica shows up, pleading for the job – she shows up outside his door while it’s pouring out, saying that she’s been in the rain for hours to walk here and is at the end of her rope, financially and emotionally. The narrator leaves her outside, eating a large meal with his dog, and then finally talks to her. The “humor” of this one is all around how the narrator confuses Jessica’s dying of pneumonia with laziness. He mistreats her relentlessly while she passes out on the floor, then takes her to a party and chains her to his bike. The punchline finale has it that the bike was stolen anyway – along with the foot it was chained to. So the narrator sends her off, telling her it’s not going to work out, and he buys a monkey to be his new mama.

“A Good Woman” is by Wayne C. Ulsh and it’s about a biker named Lou Hubbard who gets in a roadside brawl with some motorists and two other bikers. Hubbard’s the only one caught and is sent to jail. Five months later he’s able to break free, and heads for the home of his old girlfriend, Molly. After they get friendly a bit they find that cops have surrounded the place. Molly offers to pose as Hubbard’s hostage, but a sadistic cop won’t play along, and Hubbard goes out saving Molly from a shotgun death.

“Dead-End Alley” is by Pockets and is a humorous yarn in which a small biker named Rodent heads to a chopshop in a litter-strewn alley, stops to take a piss, and nearly pisses on a hulking biker named Gronk who is hiding in the trash. Gronk’s staking the place out; he claims that the chopshop owner, Snake, stole his bike. He forces Rodent to assist him, and when they see that Snake does indeed have Gronk’s chopper, the huge biker jumps to action, bashing out brains and killing Snake and his colleagues.

“Rangatang’s Rule Book” is by Rangatang and is a humorous short piece in first-person in which Rangatang advises one of the rules from his book – if the cops ever get you, make ‘em wish they didn’t. He puts this rule to work when he finds himself in jail; first he pisses on a guard, then he shits up his meal and tosses it at the guards(!), then he manages to blow up a toilet, and finally he melts a candy bar, strips down, and licks it off the floor so that the disgusted cops think he’s eating his own shit. Finally the sheriff decides to let him go!

“Death Run” is by Tex Campbell and it’s novella length, probably the longest story in the book. A biker named Rick stops at a dive in Arizona and is hassled by a cop, who gives Rick “directions” which turn out to be bullshit. Rick finds himself deep in the desert, lost, and then his bike breaks down. He patches it up in the heat and then discovers an abandoned house nearby. Planning to sleep there for the night, he goes in the house and finds a pair of murdered corpses. The killers show up, a pair of hoodlums named George and Rooster. They hold Rick at gunpoint and take his money and his coke; he goes off in pursuit and crashes them with a cinder block. This one features the most WTF? downer ending ever: Rick gets his money back from the crashed car and is bitten by a poisonous snake! His bike dies again, the car is destroyed, and Rick dies.

“One On The Way” is by Ron Grate and is the shortest piece in the collection; it’s a biker version of a heartwarming tale, as the narrator befriends a twelve year-old hellion who comes by while the narrator is fixing up his bike. They discuss women and the world over a couple beers, and the narrator promises to let the kid ride his bike one day.

And that’s it for Easyriders: Best Biker Fiction 1 aka Best Biker Fiction 3. The stories were for the most part entertaining, filled with dark comedy and unique turns of phrase, but so far as biker pulp goes I still much preferred The Blood Circus.


Jerry House said...

JJ, a former Mouseketeer (season 2), managed to throw off the shackles of Uncle Walt to become one of the most talented and original writers of bikerfic. His work deserves a major revival.

Zwolf said...

I started reviewing the real Easyriders Best Biker Fiction No. 1 but, as I always do, got sidetracked. One of these days... Some of the stories in these things are LONG, and they can be fairly plotless. (Hey, they can't all be as kick-ass as my own "Gone Shootin'" Easyrider-fiction-tribute-attempt on the blog - shameless self-plug! ;P ) But a few good writers have actually written Easyriders stories. I was talking to the late Mississippi writer Larry Brown once at a book-signing and he said he got his first stuff published in Easyriders. And he went on to be purty respectable. His novel _Joe_ is a redneck-fic classic. No bikes, but it's still kinda Easyrider-ish, with all the beer, coffee, cigarettes, and shotgun pellets.

I have all three of the volumes (I got lucky and found the first two on a "all these books are a quarter" table at used bookstores way back in the day, before they were rare). The one you've got I found in a grocery store! I was super-glad to find it at the time 'cuz I had a biker girlfriend, and thought she'd be pleased I was reading it... but, she dismissed Easyriders as "mostly a dumb titty mag." Can't please everybody! She later really hated it when it turned into a "motorcycle enthusiast" (said with great contempt) magazine instead of an outlaw biker mag.

Anyhow, I think you actually got the most memorable book with the best stuff. It's the only one I actually remember stories from. "Down The Road"'s twist ending seemed almost O. Henry-esque at the time. And I seldom pass a semi without thinking of "T'anks a Lot Muthatrucker." And I still remember Rangatang's instructions on how to blow up a toilet. I think there was another (maybe cut out of the UK version) where a guy fools an enemy into thinking he's hiding in a box that he has delivered to his house, so the enemy - thinking he's foiling an ambush -- shoots it full of holes... then opens it and finds his ol' lady was in there. Another twist that stuck with me.

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the comments, guys! Zwolf that's great you were able to pick these up for cheap. You are correct, the story you mention about the dude hiding in a box is not in this Star Book, but I'm betting it's in their second anthology. Thanks also for the note on the Joe novel. Loved the story about your old biker girlfriend!

Griff said...

Boy, "Whatta Surprise" is timely.

Unknown said...

Where can I download the fi tio Al stories from the old easyriders mags