The Sound of a Switchblade and a Motorbike...

 




A Collection of Articles from the Archives of

Harry G. Pellegrin

Novelist and Musician






 

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Music and Motorcycles

A friend of mine once remarked that he would enjoy 'biker' parties and events if the bands or disk jockeys would only play music written and recorded sometime within the past decade.   And although I enjoy hearing the music I listened to when I was in high school (well, maybe college)  I must admit, I saw his point.  Of course just about every real 'biker' event is attended by 'bikers' in possession of THE American motorcycle and this might be why the music is a bit, shall we say, old-fashioned.

Let's face it, every time Born to Be Wild comes on the radio, who doesn't automatically see a red, white and blue panhead chopper?  As much as that old Steppenwolf tune typifies, exemplifies, and deifies Harleys, much of the mid-seventies music just seems to fit a pushrod V-twin.  Allman Brothers -- terrific stuff to listen to while adjusting the valves and topping up the oil in your hog.  That's not any kind of cryptic comment on the mode of death suffered by both Duane Allman and Berry Oakley either.  I know that every time I hear Statesboro Blues I think about bikes.  Why?  I can't figure it.  The tune has absolutely nothing to do about bikes.  For some reason anything by Lynryd Skynyrd is Harley music.  Think about Mr. Breeze -- if that ain't about cruising on some big old extended forked chopper, nothing is.  Free Bird (which, if I hear one more time I'll probably hurl in my Shoei) has been adopted as some sort of anthem by the thirty (ahem, well, forty) something bikers out there.

But age has absolutely nothing to do with it.  Much as high school kids who weren't even born when Buddy Holly died embraced fifties tunes in the mid to late seventies, so our younger generation of 'bikers' has embraced music I'm not really old enough to like.  Why is this?  That's easy.  Young bucks (and their buck-ettes) in the seventies saw Happy Days and American Graffiti and were probably bamboozled by this as well as their older male relatives into thinking that the fifties were some kind of lost Eden.  Today, we see twenty-three year old leather-clad, long-haired bikers getting all misty-eyed when someone drops a quarter on Free Bird.  These young guys just didn't turn into 'bikers' and Skynyrd fans overnight.  They probably had older male relatives who rode or friends whose older brothers or fathers were 'bikers' and have wound up basing their perceived image (or the image they'd like to project for the perception of others) on these figures.

The guy who taught me to ride (on a 250cc Ducati single, what a horrid little beast it was) back in 1972 was the bass player in a local band.  Because of this I still think of bikes when I hear We Gotta Get Outta This Place and Sloop John B.  And I get all sentimental over these tunes that were on the radio when I was in third grade.  See what I mean?

Harley riders aren't by any stretch of the imagination the only riders to listen to music and sometimes other bikes can conceivably illicit marque-explicit play-lists  as well.  We might as well admit it right up front, you don't find many guys on GSX-R750's humming Rockin' Down the Highway in their helmets too often.  Ever.  Nope, you'd hear anything from late B-52's to Melissa Etheridge if you could get your head up inside that helmet as well.  I can imagine that guys with old Triumphs, Nortons and BSA's might have old Animals, Yardbirds and probably Led Zep on continuous tape-loop in their heads.  Must be Kitaro for those riders on VFR's.  Come to think of it, I'd probably have to admit to that one myself, once in a great while, although I prefer metal when I ride.  Don't tell me you've never thrown your bike into a hot corner and not been humming AC/DC's Highway to Hell!   I'd think that Ninja riders would tend to the punk end of the musical spectrum.  We all know the bad-boy image Kawasakis have generated over the decades, if Sid Vicious had ridden a bike, it would have been a big, smelly H-1.

There is quite a strong urge to say that Jim Stanick probably has developed a strong taste for Italian opera since the purchase of his 916.  I'll resist the urge -- I know Jim better than that.  If it were me on that blood-red stallion though, I think I'd find myself favoring Bardolino over Budweiser and saturday afternoons would find me enjoying a plate of calamari at a road-side ristorante.  But that's just me.  I don't particularly care to hear fat women sing -- and beside that, Honda has stolen the opera schtick for their new Valkyrie.  I guess owners of these bikes will listen to a great deal of Wilson-Phillips or maybe just Mama Cass, if they don't lust for Wagner, that is.  I guess at least Honda realizes there's a correlation between motorcycles and music.  But I'd still prefer to sit through German opera whilst perched on an old K-1 -- that at least would make all that yodeling tolerable.  BMW owners should listen to the Skorpions, well, maybe the guys with K bikes.  (Those who buy MuZ Skorpion Replicas should be given the entire Skorpions CD catalog.  It just seems fitting.)  R-bike riders should go for polka albums instead.  That's 2-valve boxers, by the way.  4-valve guys can get away with, uh, maybe some old Kraftwerk albums.

I'll have to ask Norm what he listens to.  I've never before met someone who just doesn't care what drummer others march to the beat of.  He is his own man, and would not let his two Suzukis, Yamaha, and Honda dictate his music.   If his bikes were in my garage, I know the CB360 would be singing Starship's '75 hit Miracles.  Because that was all over the radio the first time I ever rode that bike, that's why.  The little 500 Virago? We'll be singing Born to be Wild -- though in a slight falsetto with a Japanese accent.  The two Suzuki's?  I'd just have to hear what Norm has to say, I can't think of anything -- except maybe a Jenny Craig jingle for the 850!  Sorry, Norm.

Elaine Denise is an anomaly.  I guess she should be on a Sportster more than I.  You see, she sits and polishes her CL360 while listening to Randy Travis!  I think of all the musical genres, only country music comes close to being the official music of Harley after Southern rock and early metal.  And when you think about it, this is probably as it should be because real rock 'n roll, country, and southern rock are truly and uniquely American, much like H-D -- if you don't notice the Keihin carbs, the Showa forks, etc.,etc.  More like Harley David-san these days, if you go by the parts bin rather than by the patriotic hyperbole.  Actually, my Kaw, built in Lincoln, Nebraska, contains almost as many Japanese components as a real American HD.World Music anyone?

 

Harry G. Pellegrin

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LOW END is Published by Bedside Books, an imprint of American Book Publishing.

ISBN 1-58982-074-6

LOW ENDCopyright 2003 Harry G. Pellegrin

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