The Day The Music Died
To most of us there are definitive moments in our lives when things change. Moments when we realise that things were never going to be as good as they were.
Some of these realisations came to us straight away but many come with the benefit of hindsight. For example, last month I was driving back from the bush listening to late night country radio. After half listening to what seemed an eternity of mindless pop music and rice harvest reports, Bruce Springsteen's 'Thunder Road' suddenly roared from the speakers. While listening to the classic mini opera about street racing and love gone wrong, reality struck home. I dawned on me that Bruce's 1975 'Born to Run' album was the last great rock album. I tried for the next few hours to think of another album released since then that touched me as much as that one had and I came up empty. Even Bruce himself couldn't top it.
And it wasn't only the music. In 1970 I was swept up in the new fad of motocross. Sure, motocross or scrambles had been around since the twenties in one form or another but it took the Yamaha DT1 and a generation of cashed up baby boomers to bring the sport to the point of being a major player on the recreational scene. It seemed like everyone was doing it.
One of the great aspects of the early seventies motocross scene was the diversity of equipment we had at our disposal. Every brand of bike was totally different from each other and none of them were anything near perfect. A brand loyalty emerged from this diversity that bordered on tribalism.
There was a certain pecking order within motocross where Husky and Maico owners were considered trendy elitists and Bultaco and CZ owners' eccentric weirdos. The owners of British bikes were seen as old farts clinging to a faded dream and we all as a group, laid shit on the hapless owners of Japanese machines. It was all in good fun, the discrimination always being lost in the beer cooler ice at the post race piss up.
It was that diversity of the available bikes and the "it's cool" attitude of us riders that made motocross in the seventies so wonderful. Training was something only footballers did on a Thursday night in those days. Most motocrossers did their training on the bike or at the pub. A well-balanced race day meal was a greasy burger and a can of Coke. Bike preparation was usually done on Saturday afternoon with a case of beer and your mates giving you a hand while the football blared from the radio. A rear tyre lasted a whole season, half a season if you were cashed up or one of the fast guys. The front tyre usually stayed on the bike for its entire life. You only changed a piston when the bastard got a hole in it and us poor racers used to clean and reuse our old spark plugs. A new plug was considered a major tune up.
Things started to change in 1975. Along with an increase in suspension travel came a new level of commitment from racers. Without realising, it bikes had been getting steadily better, especially the previously derided Japanese product. Unwittingly, we too were picking up our act to match the new technology. Many of us started to do a little jogging here, a bit of gym work there and stayed off the booze the night before the races. The burger for lunch at the races became a salad sandwich put together by mum/wife/girlfriend. We even started to put new plugs in for every event!
By 1979 the sport we knew had changed radically. Motocross had turned into big business. Whereas previously a bike would last us two or three seasons with minor homemade updates, now new models that had little or no resemblance to the previous years bike were released seemingly every few months.. If you didn't update, you lost. Simple as that.
The eighties saw rapid introduction of new technology such as single shock rear suspension, disc brakes, power valves and all sorts of marketing and performance gizmos that were alien to most of us who had started riding during that initial early seventies boom. Many of us moved on to other pursuits. The party was over. The sport we knew had changed direction while we weren't looking and would never be the same again. So, I guess that 1980 was the year that our loose carefree version of motocross died and the new slick media controlled product emerged.
Like Bruce Springsteen's 'Born to Run' album, I reckon that nothing has come along since to match those naive yet wonderful days. Ask anybody in the pits at any vintage motocross meeting, they'll tell you all about it...