The Bikeriders Paperback – Aug 1 2003
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About the Author
Danny Lyon is a writer and photographer whose photos of prison life, the Southern civil rights movement, and American Indian nations are legendary. He lives in the Hudson Valley.
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Throughout history, there have always been people who felt that they had nothing left to lose. People who had come to the conclusion that polite society was just a whitewash over something that was rotten to the core. Often, they decided this during very hard childhoods, as they found themselves betrayed by parents who were themselves just too screwed up to love their children.
Arriving at 18, mad at the world, a fast bike and a wide-open horizon look pretty good to these people; and if you don't care whether you live or die, you ride that bike fast and crazy and you grab whatever goodies life has to offer, legal or not.
I was deeply saddened and powerfully moved by the images in this book. Again and again I got the impression that these are people who are riding away from something as fast as they can, in the ultimately futile hope of outrunning whatever it is. I'd be willing to bet that the pirates of 300 years ago had a similar look in their eyes; a look of sadness and desperation, mixed with the ferocity of an incurable anger.
The photographs are works of high art, and from the perspective of a lifelong motorcyclist, it is wonderful to see choppers that were actually built by their owners rather than bought out of a catalog by people who are "squares" 5 days a week. These images remind us of why we motorcyclists got the reputation we're trying to live down; and despite my sadness for the messed up lives I see here, like everyone else I have to look at this book. Nothing is quite as fascinating as the freedom, the tragedy, the passion and the sadness that comes from having nothing to lose in a society that judged mercilessly without wanting to know what they were judging.
Give a copy of this book to your white-collar buddy with the store-bought $35,000 bar bike; it might give him a little more understanding of who he thinks he's trying to be.
Not only are the photos provocative and fascinating, but Lyon writes with a grace and brevity that remind me of Ernest Hermingway (another Chicagoan). Here is one sample:
"Back then in Chicago, they had a lot of names for things, names that were of the Midwest and of that city, words belonging to that place and to the people who lived there. One of those words was bikeriders..."
One will see in the images that the photographer carries his 1960s intelligence and mind into the people's lives. This is not a book about biker fashions and being cool. It is a chronicle of how some rejected the standard ways in society and set up their own rules of how to live. In their freedom and wandering, the bikeriders exemplify the lost Americans who are forever in search of sensation and meaning.
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