Marlon Brando is generally credited with creating the image of a “biker” in the 1953 movie “The Wild One.” In case you’ve never seen the movie, here is the storyline, robbed from Internet Movie Database: “A gang of forty motorcyclists, the Black Rebels Motorcycle Club, gate-crash a legitimate motorcycle race. They are eventually thrown out, but one of the gang steals the second prize trophy and gives it to their leader, Johnny. The gang then ride into Wrightsville, where they race up and down the main street before piling into Bleekers – the local bar. The owner of the bar is happy to let the bikers spend their money, so does not support the sheriff’s attempt to address any disturbances. Stuck in town following an accident to a Black Rebel, Johnny falls for the sheriff’s daughter and tries to impress her with the trophy. When a rival gang, The Beetles, ride into town, trouble is just around the corner.” Brando wore a leather jacket, engineer’s boots, and bluejeans, and rode a Harley. Thus, the “biker” was born.
In 1969, the term “biker” set off a whole different image with the release of Dennis Hopper’s classic “Easy Rider.” Here’s IMDB’s take on that film, which is a much shorter synopsis: “Wyatt and Billy are two motorcycle riders (bikers) on their way to Mardis Gras, and encounter hitchhikers, a drunken lawyer, a jail cell, a whorehouse and the death of a friend.” If you’ve never seen the movie, that’s pretty much it. The biker was now depicted as a long-haired, fringe-vest wearing freak riding a chopper. That image followed most people through the next couple of decades.
If a biker movie were released today, here is probably what the synopsis from Internet Movie Database would say: “Insurance salesman Al and mortgage banker Ted rebelliously leave the office early on a Friday, pick up their jewelry-laden wives and take off up the highway for dinner and a couple of Miller Lites. The patrons of the establishment are taken aback when Bev and Joan go to the ladies room, and Ted flirts with the waitress with charming lines like, “Here’s a tip for ya…don’t bet on the races!”
Or maybe the 2010 synopsis would be more like this: “Justin takes his crotch-rocket out for a spin, telling his girlfriend that he’s just going out for a Starbucks…and ends up getting bugs all over his clean, white Coldplay t-shirt.”
This all came to me today as we were on a family outing. We stopped at a gas station for a fill-up and a bathroom break, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw two Harleys cruising up, all shiny and new and complete with two office-worker type guys in their late 50’s and their wives. Just like Thurston and Lovey were out for a “Sunday drive.” They got off their “hogs”, took off their helmets and went inside for a soda. I knew that more and more Harley-Davidsons were being sold to rich office guys, and I’m sure the main reason is that they’re about the only ones that can afford them. And Harley is not stupid. They know where their bread and butter is. They know they can sell more bikes to these office guys, AND with the excess money they have to throw around, they’ll also buy all the leathers, the do-rags, the paraphanalia…everything that goes into being a “biker.” Just watch the movie “Wild Hogs” and you’ll see what I mean. John Travolta, Tim Allen, William H. Macy, Martin Lawrence…there’s some rebels for you. And in the movie, they come up with a “bad” biker gang, and put Ray Liotta in as the leader. Ray Liotta? Really? That’s as bad-ass as you can get? Sure, he did Goodfellas, but was probably the biggest pussy in the film.
Ask any biker that’s old enough to remember Brando and Hopper, and they don’t even consider a crotch-rocket a motorcycle. It’s more of a scooter for yuppies. They don’t wear leather, they don’t kick-start their bike, and God help them if they ever got into a fight.
I know that I don’t have a lot of room to talk. I rode small motorcycles in junior high, and got thrown off enough to know that I didn’t like it, so I’ve never owned a motorcycle. And I also know that there are still several motorcycle gangs out there that are still pretty bad-ass. But I hope that John Kay doesn’t re-write the lyrics to “Born To Be Wild” anytime soon:
Get your motor runnin’, Head out on that highway
Textin’ on my I-phone, think I’ll have a double latte’.
Marlon Brando, Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda just rolled over in their graves. Peter Fonda isn’t technically dead, but at a party in 1966 he kept telling John Lennon that he knew “what it’s like to be dead.” John then wrote “She Said, She Said” that appeared on Revolver. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.