Thursday, December 27, 2012

Jack Riepe's Conversations With A Motorcycle

I was susrprised and delighted to receive a package from Jack Riepe just before Christmas. I know Jack has been going through the torments of Hell since Hurflooded his publisher's offices and his local Post Office destroying stacks of books and any prospect of producing more quickly or easily. But Jack Riepe doesn't give up easily and the priority mail envelope was proof of that.


Jack Riepe's blog Twisted Roads is  known and widely read and  this book is an extension of that writing style - 186  pages of lyrical descriptions of the rides of his youth, the dark vortex that was Jersey City, a place filled with vivid male characters the author tried to emulate and the women he wanted to "get to know," all brought to life in Riepe's  inimitable style. 

I met Jack Riepe once and stayed with him at his  former home in Pennsylvania and yet after three days in his company it's as though I've known him a lifetime, which isn't far from the truth as Jack has a penchant for living a great deal all at once.  I've read his blog and you might imagine this book is a collection of blog essays; well,  it's not. This book is a coming of age story simply told, with self deprecating humor and penetrating insights into what makes human beings idiots.  

For reasons explained early on, the cover of the book depicts a classic Vincent motorcycle while the star performer in these recorded conversations, foil as it were, is a particularly lethal form of Japanese motorcycle that was produced briefly in the 1970s by Kawasaki  laws of physics and health and safety regulations. The bike was fast and qufriend in Italy who was lucky to walk away from a wreck on two stroke Kawasaki triple not known for cornering abilities. That Jack learned on one these monsters and failed to kill himself on it is not cause for self agrandisement in these pages, but it ought to be. Typical of Riepe he mocks himself for buying the one motorcycle that would reduce his sex appeal in a field of hard core riders, whereas he should be telling us he was a hell of a rider for learning to cope of that Kawasaki.

Conversations With A Motorcycle records young Riepe's life and tells us how his puke green Kawasaki helped mold him and showed him the path to manhood. As odd as the premise sounds it works beautifully, not least because Riepe's facility with women at age 19 was devastatingly absent. He pines for a love he has yet to meet, intwines his hopes and dreams with his bike, and by the end of the story reminds us how foolish we are who seek, find and throw away what we so eagerly sought in the first place. This is a lot more than  your typical Riepe flourish and a few descriptiosn of nubile curves and trombone solos in dark alleys with impossibly beautiful women.


I have never read anything anywhereJack's ability to describe the act of riding a motorcycle, never mind the peculiar joys of terrestrial flight produced by two wheels and an engine. Riders will see the hand of a master at work as they nod knowingly as Jack explains the emotional stupidity of our first motorcycle purchase (mine, in Italy with an MV Agusta 350 was so similar to his it was uncanny to read it), then his words will leap off the page as he the rides of his youth for the reader. the brilliant part of this book is how all this technical derring-do in such a way as to embrace readers who have no idea what a motorcycle is nor why any sane person would ride one. An affinity for motorbikes isn't necessary to appreciate this story, this is pure story telling in an ancient tradition. One can read The Hobbit without knowing anything about Tolkien's imagination. Equally Jack Riepe's imagination, descriptive abilities and narrative pace will carry the reader far beyond the simple world of 1970s motorcycling.

And it was a simple world a weekend ride could be done on less than ten bucks with enough left over to help out a stranded rider.  It was a world that kept at bay an aspiring rider over-educated and excessively sensitive for the Bucket of Blood pub in Jersey City, but it was also a world that we all know wherever we grew up and for a few short hours Jack takes us back there, where life was simpler and more fun and more crowded with existential angst than we care to remember. 

I know Jack Riepe and I like him and that makes me a terrible reviewer of his book, for I was bound to enjoy it. I'd like to think everyone who has read his blog has purchased a copy of his book, but I know that's not the case, and I wonder how that could be. I cannot think of a reason why a rider wouldn't be clamoring to read it, and I hope I have transmitted the idea that non-riders will be doing themselves a disservice by not buying a copy of this first edition piece of literature.