he rolling thunder of the 105th Anniversary
parade is proceeding outside my window. The bikes are moving down Wisconsin Avenue from their starting point at Miller Park toward their destination at the Summerfest grounds down by the Lake. There's a crowd of a few hundreds at the intersection of 16th and Wisconsin, mostly in the shade of the south side of the street, cheering the riders on, and with a colour guard of what I presume to be ROTC students standing at the NE corner by the bus stop. It's considerably less than the crowd of thousands I seem to remember from the 100th anniversary, in my early days at Marquette, but just as zesty for this distinctly Milwaukee piece of Americana.
I see that Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are playing tonight, which I hadn't heard at all, since I've been more staying out of the way of the festivities than diving into them. I'd have sought out tickets to that, though, had I been more aware of what was planned, instead of being content to continue my dissertation work and more interesting in gathering with friends away from the crowds of visitors to the city. Springsteen is the hands-down perfect
choice to climax the weekend's musical line-up: a far cry from the disaster at the 100th anniversary's epic crowds of bikers who discovered that the closely-guarded secret of the "mystery headliner" turned out to be... Elton John. I don't think you could have asked for more cognitive dissonance than for all the Harley riders in 2003, even be they doctors and lawyers in "real life," than to give them Elton John, who was probably the greatest rock musician in the world who nevertheless managed to seem to be diametrically opposed with the self-created imagery and mythology of the bikers. The rumours then had been that the "mystery band" would turn out to be The Rolling Stones or perhaps U2, whose drummer, Larry Mullen, is an avid Harley rider himself. People just started walking away as soon as John was introduced and started playing, or within the first few songs, and Elton (a friend of a friend of a friend of mine here in town) was apparently rather devastated by his reception. Myself, I cannot imagine what the fool who arranged that concert was thinking. I thought the people who afterward cried "homophobia!" were wrong and overstating (and that term itself, so easily ascribing mental disorder to anyone who even disagrees on a thought, has always been too Soviet for my comfort), and that it couldn't have been that hard to figure out that what was called for was a particular image
: a band or musician of the classic, hard-rocking, leather-wearing, "rebel" imagery of the biker mythos. So summoning Springsteen is perfect for today, but certainly ought to have been more obvious five years ago as well. (Even the side-stage bands are classic: today's line-up includes Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Blue Oyster Cult, and Peter Frampton! Heh.) Presuming the tickets are all gone, and even though I kind of hate going to a concert by myself, I'm tempted to drift down near the Summerfest grounds around 8pm when The Boss takes the stage and see if I can just find some spot to hear the music decently enough. Actually, had I known, this would have been a great show to invite me dear Mum to: she's a huge Springsteen fan, and would enjoy going to see him even more than she would have enjoyed The Saw Doctors the other week at IrishFest.
So now, forty minutes after I started writing this, which was ten minutes, maybe, since the first wave rolled through behind police sirens, the bikes still file past: less whooping and cheering from the folks on the street now, as more of them are sitting on the curbs, but they are still coming, with occasional explosions of drilled-muffler roars. The colour guard has retired, but Old Glory is still represented on bikes whose riders wield full-sized flags like lances. When the engines rev, the crowds still manage more cries. I was first hit over the head with the way bikers had evolved from "social menace" to pure Americana when Kevin and I ended up in the 60th anniversary Sturgis Rally
on the famed Road Trip
. This still has that same spirit, and it's a fun one: the same spirit which inspired me during the noise at 3am five years ago to write my only pure "classic rock" song, "Made In The U.S.A.," which is something of an uncharacteristic (for me) anthem for biker chicks, or the inner/wannabe biker chick then on display in the Marquette undergraduate women. This year's gathering may be smaller than the unfathomably huge crowds of bikers that made up the 100th anniversary – or maybe not that much smaller at all, for all I know – but it's distinctly Milwaukee, and one of the many things I've come to love about this town.