Lieback’s Lounge: August 2019
My obsession with motorcycles began when I was around eight or nine years old. Evenings before bed, I’d sit by the windowsill facing the main street in my hometown of Avoca, Pa., the wood’s white paint chipped from elbow abuse, listening and watching motorcycles go by.
Every Saturday during family get-togethers, I’d hear my dad and uncles talk about their motorcycle adventures from the 1960s and 1970s—all the stories revolving around the Harley-Davidson name.
The stories were abundant with details, especially technical/historical facts about the Harley brand, from the “horrible” AMF years through what models celebrities were riding in their personal lives and within the movies.
And one movie constantly surfaced—Easy Rider. They’d discuss the choppers built on Hydra-Glides that were used in the movie—four of them, built on 1949, 1950 and 1952 ex-police bikes by Cliff Vaughs and Ben Hardy. One was burned during the final scene of Easy Rider when Wyatt, played by Peter Fonda, is shot and crashes his American-flagged chopper on US Route 105 that runs along the Atchafalaya River about 30 miles west of Baton Rouge.
I’ve personally watched the movie at least 20 times (and all 20 times that ending in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 freaked me out). The motorcycles obviously helped fuel my moto passion, and the soundtrack helped shape my music taste. Easy Rider exposed me to “If 6 Was 9” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience; Hendrix is a musician I modeled and continue to model as a guitar player. And how can one not wrench on a motorcycle without listening to Steppenwolf?
I never thought I’d see it on the big screen, but that changed in July when Fathom Events and Sony Pictures Entertainment brought Easy Rider back to more than 400 theaters across America.
One of those shows occurred in Bloomsburg, a town only about 30 miles from my homestead in Mountain Top, Pa. There are multiple backroads to get there, though nothing like the desert scenes that Wyatt and Billy (Dennis Hopper) travel through from LA to Mardi Gras, but surely some of the finest here in the Northeast.
Once I found out and wrote a story for our website (Easy Rider Returns to Theaters for 50th Anniversary), I sent my dad the link. He immediately texted me back, and the day was booked. I have a collection of bikes, but not one Harley. The closest thing I have to a cruiser is a Ducati Monster 900 S i.e. I built.
That week, the timing couldn’t be more perfect for what I was testing—a Ducati Diavel 1260. I took that, and my dad his built Heritage Softail, and we went for a relaxing ride, Easy Rider style (though maybe a few burnouts—can’t let 152 horsepower go to waste).
The movie—originally shot on 16mm and 35mm film—was redone in 4K, and super crisp. From the opening scene, when Wyatt and Billy were buying their cocaine wholesale in Mexico, I could sense and witness the nostalgia moving through my father, also named Ron. When Wyatt throws his watch to the side, I know he felt the goosebumps as I did. That image has stickiness factor like no other, and is always in mind before any longer trip.
Though the leading counterculture film of the 1960s, Easy Rider was purely about the motorcycles for my father. He was never into the counterculture. He may have been a few years too young for the peak of that – he was only in ninth grade when Easy Rider hit the big screen.
My father tells me the story of how he drove his Honda 305 Dream to see the flick at a local drive-in theater. He knew the girl working there, and told her he was in the movie and got in for free. That 305 was much different from a Hydra-Glide, but for many outside our moto world, a motorcycle is just a motorcycle.
Watching an iconic motorcycling movie is one thing, but seeing it return to the big screen is quite another—especially with it was redone in 4K. Combine that with seeing it with my father, who helped shape my love of motorcycling, and the emotions compound.
Weirdly, only two other people were in the movie theater. The same thing happened when my wife and I saw the 75th-anniversary screening of Rebel Without a Cause, featuring James Dean, who also impacted my youth and helped grow another addiction—car racing.
And yes, the final scene of taking acid in the cemetery still freaked me out—even more so because of the theater experience.
Great work, Fathom Events, on helping a younger generation experience such iconic films in a theater setting. Please take note that On Any Sunday celebrates its 50th Anniversary in 2021.