Monday, December 26, 2011

Inside The Chosen Few: A Conversation With Elliot Gold

Interview By Max Gibson
Photography By Elliot Gold
They called him “Cameraman.” Welcomed into The Chosen Few outlaw motorcycle club in 1971, California born photographer, Elliot Gold, followed the biker club as a friend and observer.
Founded by Lionel Ricks, the group originated in Los Angeles and spread across the United States throughout the 70’s. As the first racially integrated outlaw motorcycle club, their legacy was rooted in their ability to exist and grow despite the prevailing prejudices of the day. United under the common bond of brotherhood, The Chosen Few deconstructed social barriers and created a culture of their own.
Accompanying the gang for two years, Gold photographed candid moments amongst the biker club. Following them on runs, outings and other social events, he captured an array of iconic images that revealed the lifestyle and character of The Chosen Few Motorcycle Club.
How did you initially get involved with The Chosen Few?
I got introduced to The Chosen Few through the police. I was involved with the Alta Dena Sheriff’s Department through an outreach program and the police held these community meetings and one in particular I attended. There was something like twelve sheriff deputies sitting in the front row, and there were fewer than twelve of us in the audience.
We were sitting there, and in the distance we could hear this sound, which sounded like a roar. The louder it got, the more it sounded like motorcycles. [The sound] got to the point where the room began to shake.
We turned around to see what the noise was and into the room rode the Pasadena Chapter of The Chosen Few. They had ridden their motorcycles into the school auditorium.
So I said to my friend Lieutenant Elmore, “Hey these guys are cool. Could you introduce me?” He took me to the clubhouse. A policeman, a Sheriff Lieutenant took me to meet The Chosen Few (smiles).
I began to bond with the Pasadena Chapter and I made a deal with them that I would take their photographs and start working on a book.
Were there any stipulations that preceded your involvement with the group?
Yes, I made a deal with them. I said, there are three conditions:
One, you have to give me access to anybody and anywhere I want to go. Two, if you ever put my life in danger, or threaten me, I’m gone, it’s over. Three, if I ever witness something that’s illegal, I’m going to go to the police with it. They agreed.
How was The Chosen Few formed?
The Chosen Few was formed in approximately 1961 by a guy by the name of Lionel, who was the father of the group. He did it in South Central Los Angeles and brought five or six of his buds together. They used to be in school together and then they began to ride bikes. They were very grubby, and they were all black.
Believe it or not, they decided to call themselves The Chosen Few, based on a line from the Bible, “For many are called, but few are chosen.”
Why do you think the club became racially integrated?
The Chosen Few felt that biker clubs were set up for brotherhood, and for the love of biking. The brothers who showed up without pigment just had a love for biking. They shared what the Chosen Few were all about. It had nothing to do with pigment. It preceded racism.
How were The Chosen Few perceived by society?
As The Chosen Few ride down the street, they are perceived as these outlaw motherfuckers. But are they really? Well it turns out that there have been murders committed by members of The Chosen Few, some of them, not far from the clubhouse. There have also been unbelievable drug deals, thefts, and rapes.
At the same time, there are architects, doctors, and engineers in The Chosen Few who would do anything that has to do with the theme of group, and that is to “give none, and take none.” It’s a patch they wear. It means that they don’t go out of their way to give anyone any trouble (give none), but they won’t take anything either.
There’s also a family aspect of The Chosen Few that is not understood by people who don’t know outlaw bikers. I have unlimited stories of [bikers] not only bringing their own kids to outings, but finding kids who needed something, who didn’t have families, and teaching them basketball, or taking them to Mexico or Disneyland.
There was a brother by the name of Apache that took them all over. He raised money for families who didn’t have money, or who were about to lose their houses. He did the most magnificent things with these kids. I have pictures of him coaching these kids at basketball games; his hair is all wrapped out, with his Chosen Few colors on.
And he’s coaching kids…
Yeah, he’s unbelievable. When he first got these kids together, he was literally breaking into sporting goods stores to get baseball bats and stuff because they didn’t have money.
Earlier you spoke about brotherhood being central to the identity of The Chosen Few. How did The Chosen Few define brotherhood?
The Chosen Few defined brotherhood similar to the way college fraternities define it. If you go through a prospect and make it through that, mainly a period where you have to lug things around and clean things up, you are considered a brother, and you are expected to be like a blood brother, and answer any call from any of the other members.
How did they deal with inner conflicts?
Let me tell you a story. I was interviewing one of the brothers, and we were talking about The Chosen Few, when he said, “Cameraman, let me explain something to you…”
Two members of The Chosen Few are sitting in a bar. And one will say something to the other that gets the other one angry. With his right hand, [the angry one] will grab the guy by the shirt, and with his left hand, he will punch him. And as the guy goes down, he will continue to hold on to him as he hits the floor… Then he will pick him up, put him in his bar stool, and order him a drink.
I said, “You’ve gotta be joking!”
With that act of hitting him he gets it all out of his system. He doesn’t hate him, he’s not angry with him anymore, he got back at him, and now they’re brothers again. Bikers get it out of their system instantly.

Did The Chosen Few have any enemies?
No, they’ve actually been very lucky. Some of the other chapters like the Vagos and the Monguls, are now being outlawed by the federal government, and are not only taking their patches but making it illegal to ride with a patch. They went out of their way to have not just rivalries but enemies, and it got pretty bloody.
Did you ever feel intimidated by the group?
I had one guy threaten me with his car when he was drunk. The only other person in the club that scared me was an architect. He was the only one who really scared me. I didn’t want to be around him. And I think he was just trying to gain some clout.
But the real thugs, the ones who had been suspected of murders and rapes, and were doing drug deals… I had no problems with them ever.
Why was it that the architect intimidated you but the known criminals didn’t?
Because the known criminals knew they were criminals and they had nothing to prove because they were already considered outlaws. The business people, who were there sometimes as weekend bikers, wanted to prove that they were outlaws, so they had to do things that in my mind were pretty stupid. I learned that I could trust the thugs more than I could the business people.
Is there anything you would’ve changed looking back on your experience with The Chosen Few?
(Pauses) No, there are probably a couple of brothers who I wished I interviewed when they were still agile. As a journalist and a photographer, there are things you look back on and think, “Gosh, why didn’t I do that?” But you know, you do 99 things, could you really do 110?
Generally speaking, I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done. I do things knowing full well that they can work out or they can’t work out; that I can get injured or not, or I could go broke in the process, but when I walk away from it if it’s been a disaster or a failure I don’t have any regrets. So I can’t think of anything I’ve regretted with The Chosen Few.
Why does The Chosen Few matter to society today?
The Chosen Few didn’t fit in fifty years ago when they formed. They were outlaws to the rest of society. And yet they did what society was not yet ready to do. And that was to put brotherhood ahead of race, ahead of economics, ahead of job title. And today, we live in a society where most people have accepted this, that they see each person that comes to them, regardless of their age, their wealth, or lack of wealth, or their pigment, as their equal.
The Chosen Few, which was an outlaw motorcycle gang I’ll say, was the most unlikely group to do what society needed to do, but they did it and proved it could work.

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