Local Current Blog

Motorcycles and music: How my dad taught me to roll with rock

The kind of music I listen to depends on my mood. Some days the sky is green-grey from an oncoming storm and I feel like listening to Lana Del Ray’s smooth, eerie vocals while I sip hot tea on the couch with my two cats. Other days I’ll blast some King Princess or Lizzo while I drive because I’m feeling great in my favorite pair of jeans.

When I hop on a motorcycle, like for a lot of riders, it tends to be classic rock for me. I might not be riding across the country with the profits from a cocaine deal like freewheeling motorcyclists Wyatt and Billy in the 1969 road drama Easy Rider, but cruising down I-94 on my dad’s Indian Roadmaster is close enough.

Since I was 11 years old, Van Halen and Led Zeppelin were the artists of choice playing in my head when hopping on the back of my dad’s 2008 Victory Vision Tour motorcycle. Now as I ride the 2019 Indian Chieftain Dark Horse, that playlist hasn’t changed.

My dad, Mike Song, has been Polaris Industry’s lead industrial designer for over 20 years in their Victory Motorcycle division. That’s us above…when I was a little younger.

Ever since I was able to hold a pencil (the right way), my dad introduced me to my favorite hobby, drawing. He taught me to draw things other than stick people with triangle dresses and Christmas trees with branches that looked like teeth. In fact, I have him to thank for my recently developed graphic design skills.

It’s how we bonded. While sketching together at the kitchen table after dinner, he would tell me about the latest motorcycle design he was working on. I vividly remember wandering around our old townhouse in Maple Grove looking for my dad, only to find that he’d been in the garage working on his 1990s style custom bobber motorcycle for hours while listening to his favorite classic rock station on the radio.

That’s just the music that matches the image of a classic motorcycle and the intensity of a bike engine’s thunder — and my dad’s taste in music. That’s definitely the predominant sound at the biggest motorcycle gathering in the world: the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

Hosted in Sturgis, South Dakota, a town of almost 7,000 people, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally brings in over half a million visitors and exhibitors for 10 days of riding, food, drinks, and music during the first week of August. Motorcycle enthusiasts from around the country make the ride to Main Street where a variety of leatherworks shops, tattoo parlors, saloons, and motorcycle accessory vendors line the road.

This year, for the 79th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, almost 250 concerts are happening within the 10 days. Artists include Cheap Trick, Styx, Zakk Sabbath — headed by Zach Wyld, best known for his time as the lead guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne — and the rockabilly trio Reverend Horton Heat, who are no strangers to Minneapolis venues like First Ave.

Listening to these rockers who frequently land on biker playlists, like my dad’s, made me wonder if any of them actually rode motorcycles. Dave Grohl, frontman of the Foo Fighters and former drummer for Nirvana, owns two Harley bikes: a Deuce and a Road Glide. David Lee Roth of Van Halen also owns a 1972 Harley Low Rider. Minnesota’s own Bob Dylan was riding his Triumph T100 when it crashed in 1966, precipitating a major career transition.

It’s not only classic rockers, of course, who are fascinated by motorbikes. Soul man Sly Stone used to cruise around L.A. on a flamboyant yellow three-wheel chopper. In 1990 Daniel Johnston, the cult favorite singer-songwriter, collaborated with Yo La Tengo on “Speeding Motorcycle”; and British folk-rock hero Richard Thompson released the poignant “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” in 1991. DMX and his crew rolled through the late ’90s hip-hop scene in force, as seen in the video for “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem.”

People can listen to these motorcycle anthems while riding since most touring motorcycles have speakers built into the bike: loud enough to hear while roaring down the road. But, that doesn’t mean you need to go out and buy a tricked-out touring bike with high tech features. If you still want Steppenwolf playing in the background, mounting a Bluetooth speaker onto the handlebars works just as well.

My dad introduced me to motorcycles, but he also introduced me to musicians like the Rolling Stones, because when it was time to ride, that’s what best fit the moment. Much like music, biking and motorcycle culture are passed down through generations, as with me and my dad. Whenever I think about everything my dad has taught me, I’m thankful for all his art/music related advice and for making me feel like a rock star at 11 years old.

Of course, perhaps the most iconic image of a musician on a bike hit big screens in 1984 when Prince rolled up to First Avenue, and later cruised through the Minnesota countryside. After the Sturgis bikers are done with their party over in South Dakota, maybe some of them will ride down to Chanhassen to visit Paisley Park and pay homage to the original motorcycle from Purple Rain.