Lieback’s Lounge: Motorcycle Commentary

May was a month of suffering. First, my hero John McGuinness mangled his leg, along with some vertebrae and ribs, during a crash while qualifying May 11 for the North West 200.

This Northern Ireland race is considered the fastest in international road racing, with speeds reaching over 200 mph and an average of 120 mph on a course only 8.9-miles long. Brave souls race it, and brave souls sacrifice some breakage for it—or their lives. I have a huge appreciation for these racer types.

Lieback's Lounge | Ron Lieback Motorcycle ColumnSadly, McGuinness’s injuries means no Isle of Man TT for the Morecambe Missile, who has 23 TT wins—three shy of another moto hero, the late Joey Dunlop.

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A week later, the sole American in World Superbike, Nicky Hayden, collided with a car while bicycle training. The 35-year-old Hayden, who famously beat Valentino Rossi by a mere five points to the 2006 MotoGP title, fought hard for his life, succumbed to injury on Monday, May 22, in an Italian hospital nearly 5000 miles away from his hometown of Owensboro, Ky.

A day after Nicky’s incident, one of the singers that defined my 1990s upbringing was found dead in, of all places, Detroit. Chris Cornell, whose album Euphoria Morning helped me through some literally maddening times, was found dead in the bathroom of a hotel. The reason? Suicide.

Cornell, known for his four-octave voice, didn’t die of a drug overdose as did Layne Staley of Alice in Chains and Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots, two of my other favorite influences of the ’90s who were taken by the needle. It was something as potent—suicide due to depression, like Kurt Cobain, another contemporary.

The tragic month continued when Greg Allman, a founding member of The Allman Brothers Band who overcame drug addiction and health issues, died of liver cancer on May 27.

These three deaths—Hayden, Cornell, and Allman—psychologically harmed me and loads of others. I only met Hayden a few times, but never met Cornell or Allman, though I saw both play at shows various times.

Regardless, their deaths affected more than most because of the influences they had on me. I never quite understood the widespread social depression that came from losing public figures such as Pope John Paul II, Michael Jackson, or Ronald Reagan. I guess these ones didn’t touch my soul as deeply, and I was able to just continue without any suffering.

But Hayden, Cornell and Allman did much more for me. Hayden was obviously one of my American racing heroes because he was from my generation. I’m two years older than Hayden, but had a respect for him like a brother who is 10 years my elder—kind of like what he thought of his older brother Tommy.

Cornell and Allman had a significant impact on me; that’s the beauty about musicians and artists. When they create something and we enjoy it, emotional attachment to that piece of music or writing or whatever follows. I’ve had the Allman Brothers’ and Cornell’s music in my playlists for three decades. I likely heard something by each of them, at minimum, 20 times a week. Some songs have created psychological anchors to specific emotions, and will provide a lifetime of happiness.

When creators die, so does a minuscule part of our soul, regardless if we personally knew them or not. Every happy moment coexists somehow with a miserable counterpart, and nothing symbolizes this more than beautiful music created and the death of its creator.

The only death I enjoyed was the end of May. Go screw yourself, May 2017. I’m glad you’re gone.

Story from our latest issue, available for free at the Ultimate Motorcycling app.