BOOK REVIEW: You Gotta Be Dirty: The Outlaws Motorcycle Club In & Around Wisconsin
By Michael Grogan
In this true-crime history, Michael Grogan looks at the criminally inclined motorcycle gangs that were active around the southeastern Wisconsin area. Milwaukee is the hometown of Harley-Davidson, and though most motorcyclists are respectable and law-abiding, Grogan focuses on the motorcycle gangs that were actively involved in illegal activity and notes that their crimes have largely slipped beneath the average citizen’s radar.
The narrative takes place over several decades, from the 1960s to the turn of the century. Multiple gangs are profiled, including the Outlaws Motorcycle Club, the Hell’s Angels, and a few others. Fans of the television series Sons of Anarchy may note how much of real-life motorcycle gang habits, traditions, symbolism, and fund-raising activities were incorporated into the show. A substantial portion of the early chapters in this book is devoted to describing the world of motorcycle gangs, explaining what behaviors or comments might be unacceptable, what patches on motorcycle vests might symbolize, and describing the culture of the gangs, which stresses loyalty and silence and can be next to impossible for undercover police officers to infiltrate.
You Gotta Be Dirty would benefit from a little more careful structuring. It would really help if somehow some figures were more deeply developed and positioned as central characters in order to personalize the narrative more strongly. At several points, it seems is more detail is needed in order to preserve and emphasize the emotional fallout of certain events, like the bombing that killed a young newspaper delivery boy, a crime that remains officially unsolved today. The murders of two other children are also profiled, the disturbing details of which make it clear that Grogan’s sympathies are entirely with the victims of the motorcycle gangs.
While certain aspects of You Gotta Be Dirty require more development, the taut, journalistic style of the narrative does a strong job describing a world that is rough, brutal, and deliberately set apart from the rest of society. It’s an interesting and compelling look at a group and how they have placed themselves apart from society due to their embrace of crime and violence.