Archive for April 18th, 2009

Copyright Bill Murcko Three Packs a Day There was an opening last night at the Principle Gallery featuring a group of work from artist Bill Murcko called Brothers of the Road, a collection of paintings featuring bikers in all their regalia.  Chatting with the gallery owner, she commented that she didn’t know if any bikers would be showing up for the show.  That immediately set off a memory from when I was kid.

It was in the mid-60’s and I was no older than eight years old when I accompanied my uncles and father to a hill climb on a steep hillside near Corning.  The whole idea of a hillclimb is to see who could conquer the sharp rise of the hill while staying aboard their motorcycles without flying off and sliding (or rather, tumbling) back to the bottom of the hill.

It was a sunny summer day and the field at the base of the hill was littered with all sorts of bikes, mostly pared down iron monsters from the 50’s.  There were Lincolns, Indians and BSA’s, all having that  the throaty sound like chainsaw noise filtered through a big cardboard tube, making it echo and somewhat rounder in sound.  I don’t know if that description makes sense but the sound was so different that the high squeals of modern bikes racing down the highway.

early-hill-climbOne after another guys in leather pants and armless  denim jackets, most without helmets,  would get a running start at the bottom of the steep decline and fire upward, trying to fine the line that would take them to the top.  Dirt flying, undulating back and forth as their bikes belched fire they climbed higher and higher above the crowd only to come to a even steeper point in the hill.  Gunning it, they dove into the rise.  Many would suddenly flip to one side or another, their bikes stalling out as they dug their legs into the ground trying to not start rolling down the hill.  An unfortunate few didn’t get to do this instead flipping over backwards and tumbling a good portion of the way down the hill.

it was pretty cool for a kid.

But the part that remains with me most were the motorcycle gangs that were in the crowd watching.  I was awestruck watching these people.  They were unlike anything I had seen at this point in my life.  The group next to us was gang out of Detroit, the name of which had evaded my memory over the many years.  Scorpions? I can’t quite remember the image on their jacket backs.  They were bearded and filthy, most dressed in black leather or grimy denim covered with writing and patches.  Some had bike chains worn like military braids.  The thing that caught my eye were the animal paws that hung like medals from their jackets.  Were those dog paws?  One looked like a lion’s paw, for chrissakes!  

This was in the days before pop-tops of any type on beer cans.  To open a can you had to use a can opener that cut a triangular hole on the can top.  They would open a can with can openers that hung from many of their jackets and would drink the beer by holding the can at arms length and let the beer sail through air to their waiting gobs. 

Perhaps the most vivid memory from that day was of a biker lady.  She had hair that was bleached to a pale yellow-white.  I had never seen hair that color before.  She fascinated me as I stood staring at her from about eight feet away.  She was wearing worn leather pants and a black and white polka dot bra.  Nothing else.  It was, again, a new look for me.  She wore dark glasses and held a can of beer  as she looked up at the hill.

There was no trouble that day and I didn’t leave with bad memories of those people, although I was still a little worried about those paws.  Over the years whenever I’d see a biker wearing his colors I flash back to that summer day in ’66 or ’67 and that biker lady in her polka dot bra.

You can see more of Bill Murcko’s work at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA or at his website.

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