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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?
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2003 Harry G. Pellegrin
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