The Bikeriders exist thanks to an old Lucero song

The Bikeriders exist thanks to an old Lucero song

The official version of the genesis of “The Bikeriders” tells how Jeff Nichols’ film is directly inspired by a famous 1967 photography book by Danny Lyon. The photographer also appears in the film, played by actor Mike Faist.

According to this version, Nichols would have brought the photographer’s shots, which he lived in close contact with, to the big screen the members of the Outlaws MC, embroidering around us a narrative fiction centered on a triangle: the one between the founder of the club Johnny (Tom Hardy), the charismatic handsome and damned Benny (Austin Butler) and his partner Kathy (Jodie Comer). It’s her frank voice cloaked in a superb Midwestern accent that guides us through the last years of glory of the Vandals, fictitious group of riders who ride the streets of Chicago, before the club turns into a gang, scoring the end of innocence on the American roadfrom the golden age of two wheels, one route and lots of freedom.

The official story of how The Bikeriders was conceived and created up to this point is true but incomplete. An important piece of the puzzle is missing, incidentally also the most interesting. The historical background reconstructed with great precision is the one documented in the 1960s by Lyon, but the genesis of the film dates back to 2005, when Lucero releases the album “Nobody’s Darlings”. The third track of the EP by the American band which combines alternative rock, country and soul sounds is entitled “The Bikeriders”.

The piece was written by Ben, singer and guitarist of the band, fascinated by Lyon’s photographic book. He fished it out of the photography section of a small bookstore in Little Rock, Arkansas. He likes to go browsing there, because he often draws inspiration from the photographs to write his music. The rebellious boys immortalized by Lyon immediately reminded him of it certain punk friends with whom he spent his adolescence.

Ben buys the book and takes it home. He devours the interviews that correlate the photos, he thinks all that material has great rock potential. Starting from the shots and stories of the motorcyclists interviewed by Lyon, the Lucero vocalist writes a piece that tells the tormented love story between Kathy and Benny, with a gang of scary motorcyclists in the background. He wants a slightly tormented song, which aims for a tragic ending. Leave aside the classic verse-chorus structure, opt for 5 minutes that tell the love story of a lifetime without interruptions.

The song opens in a seedy bar, the Stop Light, where Kathy comes in to help a friend. The atmosphere is such that the girl is quite intimidated, she thinks that she won’t get out of there in one piece. There are those who stretch out their hands and Grease smears the back of the pristine white Levi’s jeans she’s wearing.

Fellas didn’t know her and they scared her half to death Hand prints on her jeans,
she would have just got up and left

It is the opening scene of “The Bikeriders”, the film. Same story, same place, same bar. On the other hand, “The Bikeriders” plays over the end credits of the film, when we know exactly what will happen to the three protagonists: Kathy who marries Benny 5 weeks after that fateful meeting, Johnny who hopes that the boy will succeed him as leader at the helm of the club while the magnet attracts the two protagonists of the film, who they repel each other and fight among themselves, wanting to have Benny all to themselves.

So far, however, I have played dirty, because I have omitted a revealing detail, which perhaps some Lucero fans will have already noticed: Ben, the band’s vocalist, whose surname is Nichols. He is the brother of Jeff, director and screenwriter of the film. Not only that: some cinephiles will also remember that Lucero wrote the music for “Shotgun Stories” (2007) and a song for “Take Shelter” (2011). Jeff discovered the universe of motorcyclists photographed by Lyon because of the prison photo book it sat on display on the coffee table in his brother’s living room when he visited him at his home in Memphis twenty years ago.

After looking through it and hearing Ben’s song, .Jeff was in turn infected by the obsession with the desire for freedom and the love pains of these young punks on two wheels.

That of Ben and Jeff Nichols is the story of a family where art is breathed and everyone pursues their creative dream since they were young. Their father consistently takes them to the cinema together when they are kids. Jeff immediately decides to become a director, Ben pursues the dream of music: both, a few decades later, have managed to transform their aspiration into a profession, they are established names in their respective sectors. They have in common a love for telling stories, each in its own medium of reference.

“The Bikeriders” is a wireless telephone that starts from Lyon, himself a very young ambitious photographer who in his early twenties traveled for four years together with motorcyclists outside the rules and the law. He became a member of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club for a year, traveled with them often wearing the jacket with their emblem and almost never the protective helmet which a colleague had advised him to always carry with him.

Years later, the fruit of that rigorous and participatory work arrives in the lives of two brothers who grew up in the shadow of an America that in the meantime seems to have lost itself, that dream of freedom and that naivety that are also fragmented in Jeff’s film. Perhaps it is only by knowing this story that one understands how “The Bikeriders” manages to be a film from times gone by, without however being short-sighted or old-fashioned in its nostalgia.