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The Mysterious Culture ....

The Mysterious Process Of Harley-Davidson Culture
Dr. Martin Jack Rosenblum
Historian
Harley-Davidson Motor Company

Harley-Davidson Culture is as important to our identity as is our history. Culture, or the acknowledged pattern of human interaction that includes a way of thinking, speaking and acting, as well as a nearly spiritual regard for artifacts and events that comprise our legacy, is what comes from knowledge and awareness that is historical by nature.

As with any product that does not merely succeed in the marketplace but also becomes symbolic, creating an iconography that is the item as well as its cultural meanings, the Harley-Davidson motorcycle has achieved technical and philosophical status. There is a considerable and expanding rider custom folk art movement, and it is naturally built upon the factory custom fine art motorcycle presentation. Harley-Davidson motorcycles are 'rolling sculptures,' indeed, and these magnificent machines have ghosts in them that haunt the rider's imagination. The bikes take possession of the enthusiast such that he or she then brings personal mythology to bear upon how the bike itself must appear in order to be an expression of individual character.

Harley-Davidsons have souls that encourage their owners to participate in the design process. The owner is inspired to create as a result of what has been obtained ftom the dealer's showroom floor. The bike travels from showroom to street to the owner's mysterious garage, where tribal folk art ritual is performed.

If you have ever entered the sacred territory of the Harley owner's garage, you have entered an environment that can be tastefully compared to a place of worship. The walls are decorated with various aspects of Harley-Davidson arcana, replete with posters, banners, photographs of rides taken, motorcycle parts (those removed and those to be installed), family memorabilia related to experiences within the Harley universe, tables and shelves of drawings, notes and tools. In the midst of this hallowed ground is the Harley-Davidson motorcycle of choice. Usually, the family four-wheeled vehicle sits in the alley, or with the more fortunate homeowners, another comer of the garage.

While the Harley-related books and magazines piled on top of the stool that sits near the motorcycle can be looked at by a sanctioned visitor, service books, parts and owner's manuals cannot and, naturally, the bike can never be touched except by the owner. When it is ridden, let the wind roar and the dirt soar. When the machine is at rest, no fingerprint may be applied. When static, for owner customization ritual, nothing should be contaminated or the mysterious poetic process shall be disturbed. It is this highly personalized treatment that permits the ghost in the machine to haunt. It is the shape and the sound of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle that inspires the rider to let imagination take over for a visionary ride in the privacy of the garage or, if you will, the place of worship. Shapes can be seen, the sound can be heard, and both of these created by the factory are creatively furthered by the rider who, in essence, becomes a folk artist.

The factory machines from Harley-Davidson have always received personalized detailing that issue forth from the life of the rider; the idea is to keep the motorcycle looking, feeling and sounding like a Harley-Davidson, but meeting personal vision schedule at the same time. Factory custom fine art -function with style- transfers to rider custom folk art, which is function retained and styling individualized.

And the rider, too, looks a certain way, carries a specific authenticity. With the Harley-Davidson motorcycle as the central point of departure, journeys of appearance, both in dress clothes and body skin art dressings, and even in ways of perceiving oneself that involve variations upon individual freedom themes, become part of this visionary trip. Diverse backgrounds are retained, as this is no melting pot, and a universal gathering of extreme individuals sharing all that the Harley-Davidson motorcycle means takes on a cultural identity.

If riders could look like their Harleys they would. And, indeed, they do by virtue of living a certain way that includes the bike, and becomes a way of walking, talking, looking, thinking, feeling and, in essence, being.

Harley-Davidson culture is, ultimately, the world's greatest populist endeavor. From the celluloid and print mediums to the blacktop curves, Harley-Davidson motorcycles are taken on journeys both suggestive and literal, and have become the standard for a non-standard approach to life. The brand is an icon for making a difference differently.

Riding a'Harley-Davidson motorcycle (once it has been blessed with the decorative evidence of the personal expedition the rider has gone on because the bike is in his or her garage) is a j oumey not only in ways involving companionship with others of the same ilk, mysterious travels taken on long country roads at daybreak and dusty hauls across new and different lands, but it is also that shamanistic paradigm shift where one becomes possessed with the spirit of communal authenticity and personal truth.

There is a mythopoetic rush of wind as you crack the throttle and ease back in the saddle, adjusting your rear view mirrors and putting your feet up on the hiway pegs; there is a new possibility in the sound of the exhaust note, shaking the ground upon which you ride, ftuther into the fresh morning air and deeper into yourself. It is not merely a magnificent machine. It has made you into more than you ever thought you would become. The Harley-Davidson motorcycle takes you places that you have always wanted to go ....

When you come around a bend in the road on your Harley-Davidson motorcycle at half-throttle, pipes rapping, and downshift into the curve with a slight lean and a change in the wind at you, then throttle-up and straighten with pipes blaring again, the air now back to its rush around you, there is a feeling of splendor and grace that overcomes all maudlin thoughts and petty feelings. Riding a Harley-Davidson can create a sense of wonder within you, and the motorcycle itself changes your way of living.

It is a mysterious process, the manner by which we are forever altered, inside and out, by virtue of riding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. While there are ways to express this alteration beyond physically being on the motorcycle, it is always the ride that captures the spirit best and, of course, transmogrifying the motorcycle according to personal vision, while not a physical ride, is a metaphysical trip. The aesthetic incumbent to all of this has its troubadour style and its campfire philosophy, and its motorcycle folk stylists. The Harley-Davidson rider tribes have ordained mechanics and designers, historians, artists, storytellers and those who are its shamans.

No one will ever understand it. It cannot be explained. But it certainly may be described. It all has to do with the way by which history and culture combine, creating lore within the individual that is both legitimate fact and real legend.

The crossroad where historical and cultural vehicles arrive is the kind of curve that inspires meanings that are as much of the Harley-Davidson brand as are the motorcycles; obviously, it all starts when the engine comes to life beneath you - but the snarl and gallop of it also runs inside of you as well. People ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles for many reasons but yet it is the spirit of these bikes that captures us and creates within us a vision of who we are, or who we might be.

Indeed, within the hard steel and supple leather, the joy of handling and the awesome blast of the exhaust pipes, there are possibilities for more visionary ways to live.

It is out on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle that we go further in.

Copyright 2000 by Dr. Martin Jack Rosenblum, aka 'Holy Ranger'


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