Suddenly, when I was a wee six years old, the 1970s ended with a bang, cancelling any plans I might have had to become a famous disco dancer or star of Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park II. I want you to think about this, and think about how it affected me and all of those who once felt something for me.
Evel Knievel was a '70s man with a '70s plan in his '70s can. His '70s span and his '70s tan made a '70s fan out of '70s Dan. Wearing '70s Ban, balling '70s Ann, he ate '70s nan through his '70s LAN. With his '70s gland, made a '70s clan, ate some '70s bran and rode his motorcycle while decked out in an All-American red, white and blue jumpsuit. If you never survived the 1970s, let me tell you a few things about Robert "Evel" Knievel. He was a motorcycle daredevil. We kids adored him, and many of us owned a little Evel Knievel toy where you'd stick the little guy-on-a-bike into a little plastic kickstand type thing and crank the little lever around and around and around (as the bike's back wheel went "vroom! vroom! vroom!"), then suddenly when you were going really fast, the bike would leap off the kickstand, pop a wheelie and go zooming across the room to make a dent in the wall. It was a real gasser! Interestingly, this was also how the ACTUAL Evel Knievel worked, except he made dents in his body.
I know that all you "youth of today" are obsessed with Robbie Knievel, but I "can't close my eyes" to the fact that he's just an alternative long-hair trying to ride in the gigantic, untouchable footsteps of his great father. For you see, Evel Knievel was not an ordinary man. He was a bizarre near-parody of excess masculinity. Granted, the '70s were a more sexist time in general, but Evel considered himself to be THE man. And he acted the part. Not arrogantly, per se, but just very MANLY. No fear. No childish giggling or crying. He always carried himself like a war hero -- strong, stern, disciplined and clean-shaven -- and his wit was as dry as his beer. He took his position as a role model very seriously, yet told his detractors exactly what he thought of them. He was religious, patriotic, determined to be the toughest "man" possible... and he did crazy tricks on his motorcycle. Which brings us to his top-selling album Evel Speaks To The Kids.
Surely even Evel himself, who at this point must be pushing 60 (and pressing 650), recognizes this record for the hilarious piece of kitsch that it is. It is one of the few "incredibly strange records" I've come across that's actually rewarding the entire way through, even upon repeat listenings. Recorded shortly before Evel jumped the Snake River Canyon on his "Sky Cycle," it is separated into four segments: (1) a 20-minute press conference showcasing the man's solid wit and knack for macho bbrraggaddoccio, (4) a 20-minute Q&A session with 60 schoolchildren that finds him playing "role model" to a gutbusting extreme, (2) a poem -- that's A POEM, you understand -- written and recited by motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel, and (3) "The Ballad Of Evel Knievel," an original composition by two people you've never heard of that features some of the worst singing, schmaltziest instrumentation and most bizarrely unnerving lyrics since I got into song-poems a few years ago.
These four masturwirks are encaged within a prologue and epilogue narrated by The White Shadow's Jerry Fogel, who introduces the album by listing a few of Evel's accomplishments and then remarking, "Science fiction? No." As fake wind and bombastic country music play in the background, Jerry continues with his overstatements -- culminating with "Evel repeatedly faces his one and only omnipresent competitor: DEATH" -- before the press conference comes in and things really get hopping.
During the press conference, Evel in his slightly psychotic yet manly voice discusses his upcoming leap over the 1/2-mile to 3/4-mile Snake River Canyon and the specially-designed Sky Cycle that he will be riding. Apparently, "the vehicle looks like a bottle of beer" and operates in such a way that it puts Reverse G-Force on the driver, making all the blood rush into his head so that "you don't black out; you RED out. You hemorrhage a slight bit."
Let me just interrupt for a second to say..... ew.
Evel goes on to explain that he will have three official backup systems for the jump, as well as two that his crew doesn't know about: "The fourth is The Lord's Prayer and the fifth is when I spit at the canyon wall face-to-face if the parachutes don't open." Has ever a more masculine sentiment been whittled to life by tongue?
As a matter of fact, yes it has. Just a few minutes later, when Evel (a deeply religious man) discusses his vision of Heaven: "I want to go to a Heaven, as a young man in the prime of my life, where there's a motorcycle jump I can make every day and never miss, a golf course where I can par every day and get some birdies and not miss any putts, where there are a lot of good-looking broads, no state tax, no federal tax, and no politicians!" This line is so classic that some rock band (Red Red Meat?) used it as a sample back in oldentimes.
The press conference continues as they will, and Evel tells some hilarious stories about making up fake business managers for himself, calling Caesars Palace three days in a row pretending to be different reporters asking about Evel Knievel, and explaining that he's determined to jump the Snake River Canyon because "I want to spit in the face of those who told me it couldn't be done." I don't know what his deal with spit is, but I bet you a thousand dollars he had a problem with overactive salivary glands, and tried to take every opportunity to relieve his swishy mouth. Pay up because I win!
One last witty comment I want to share with you from this section (and there are many others for you to hear for yourself): Before he chose Snake River Canyon, Evel tried to get permission to jump the Grand Canyon. He received a note back from 'the people in charge' saying "Good luck with your undertaking," and thought -- oh wait, I'll let Evel tell you: "And I thought man, 'undertaking' is a damn lousy choice of words." HA! Go Evel! Eveleve!
Next on tap is Evel's poem, a constantly rhyming piece of work discussing "Why" he does what he does for a living. Admitting that he intended to write a song but "can't carry a tune in a bucket," he recites the piece in his gritty, hairy chested manner as a gentle acoustic guitar, heartwarming piano and self-important strings wheeze in the background. Here's a brief sample for all the dreamers out there: "To be a man/To do my best/To stand alone is my only quest/Success is a term that has broad use/For having none in life there is no excuse."
After the poem, behold the pale song. It's not fair to blame "The Ballad of Evel Knievel" on our hero, as he clearly had nothing to do with it, but boy oh boy -- "This strong and simple man living on the edge of danger/Secure in prayers that God has heard him say"? And for the Lord's God's Christ Above, who the hell decided that the most sensitive way to end each chorus was to wistfully sing, "He knows some day he's gonna have to face that canyon in the sky"!?!?
And finally, the title track shows up and with it another bit so jaw-droppingly astonishing that Red Red Meat used it as a sample. Talk about jaw-droppingly astonishing!
Huh? Oh sorry. I was just thinking about Red Red Meat and how jaw-droppingly astonishing something has to be for them to use it as a sample. I imagine this would have been much more effective on video than on a record, but it's still a mindblower. Keep in mind that Evel's talking to a child here: "Do you ride a motorcycle? Do you wear a helmet? Every time? Come here. Stick your leg out. (tap) Did that hurt? Stick your other leg out. (tap) Did that hurt? Stick your arm out. (tap) Did that hurt? Stick your other arm out. (tap) Did that hurt? Now stick your head out. (*SMACK!*) You wear a helmet whenever you ride that motorcycle!" (*crowd laughs nervously, claps and eyes the exits*)
Parts of this Q&A session overlap with information he shared at the press conference (questions about jumping the Snake River Canyon and whatnot), but he goes way way WAY out of his way way WAY to be the most perfect role model he can be - even during segments that don't call for it at all! Much like Jim Morrison's first animal during an awkward instant, Evel's previously abundant beer references are jettisonned (he even tells the kids at one point, "I never drank much alcohol"), and in a mere 20 minutes, he manages to be:
-- anti-drug: "I've never ever ever taken a narcotic. And I never will!"
-- anti-racist: "This country needs a black man that little white kids can look up to, like I had when I was young, and a white man that little black kids can look up to. That way, maybe we'd have fewer of these racial problems."
-- pro-God: "Anyone who can look around at the trees, the grass, the sky and not believe that there's something larger than us out there is crazy."
-- pro-law and order: "I went to jail once because I stole some hubcaps. I screwed around and did stuff I shouldn't have done."
-- pro-honesty: "I'm going to jump the Snake River Canyon because I SAID I would. I'm going to keep my word."
-- anti-suicide: "If you're ever feeling bad, I want you to sit down and make a list of all the good things in your life and all the bad things....and I guarantee you that the good will outweigh the bad by so much -- that you won't even need to THINK about the bad things."
-- and best of all, witty!: Q: "What do you wish for?" Evel's A: "Ummm... I wish the Snake River Canyon would shrink?" HEE!
If you're not very familiar with Evel Knievel, look him up on the Internet and try to get acquainted with his feats, manner and legacy. He was a real character -- a live wire, a strange man, and presumably a masochist considering he broke about five trillion bones during his career (apparently after his infamous Caesars Palace accident, he was unconscious for TWO WEEKS!). Simply put, Evel Knievel was the kind of hero that only the '70s could have created. Don't ask me why though, because I just meant that as a cliche really. If I thought about it, I could probably come up with a reason, but thinking's not really my scene.
Evel Speaks To The Kids is a great CD. Everything about it is so wrong yet so right. It's nearly an hour long, and any boring moments are held to 30 seconds or less. For those of you who get a kick out of celebrity oddities or weird records, I can't recommend it enough. Weird record? Hell, weird MAN!
I will end my review by quoting Evel's final spoken words on the CD. I'm sure you'll find them touching yet ridiculous, and thus a perfect summation of the work as a whole.
Evel: "If I don't make it across, and I hit that canyon wall, I'm just gonna get somewhere quicker where you are ALL going some day. And I'm gonna sit there and have a beer... and wait for ya."
I WAS ONE OF THOSE KIDS... I WATCHED EVEL(and Bob Truax) LAUNCH THE "SKY CYCLE"(at Snake River Canyon), LIVE AT CAESARS PALACE IN LAS VEGAS ON CLOSED CIRCUIT TELEVISION, (Maximus banquet room), STANDING ROOM ONLY FOR 40 BUCKS...THAT'S A LOT OF MONEY FOR A FOURTEEN YEAR OLD BACK THEN.
TELEVISION MEMORIES OF EVEL
HOWARD COSSELL SPEAKING...
"The man behind me is named Evel Knievel...a Motorcycle daredevel; Openly defies death, occasion after occasion. On September 8th, he hopes to be the first man to leap across a canyon in Idaho. Next week, as a prelude to that jump, Evel will perform a "warm-up jump"... he calls it a "warm-up"jump, once again his life will be at stake. You'll see it live, tomorrow, on ABC's Wide World of Sports. Coming up next, we have put together an up close and personal "piece" on Evel, one which we deem to be an interesting profile of the man, the man you see, the man,EvelKnievel. EVEL KNIEVEL SPEAKING..."I wear this red, white, and blue number one on my shoulder because I think I'm the best...in my business, you have to think you're the best or you could wind up dead. Because when you do what I do for a living, you've got to have a positive mental attitude. If you don't have that positive mental attitude when you make that jump, then you've got to be man enough to handle the consequences... in my case, I'm man enough."
I've earned and I mean earned, eight million and I'm proud to say I've spent ten.
I really lead three lives...the first is personal, it's with my family in Butte,the second is being the professional manager of that daredevil, the third is like the first, it's personnal, it's things I do on the road to handle what's coming up and unwind,to handle the consequences this lifestyle brings me.
EXERPTS FROM EVEL"S POEMS AND QUOTES (Sketchy at best)
"A word to you would-be daredevils out there...
Your wheel must be true,
The spokes of your wheel must be true,
If not, you will begin to spindle or flip flop."
"I say don't do the jump.
"You've got to know what you're getting into before you will ever do it or attempt it.
"And the reasons why or how,
"Is not worth taking any kind of a risk."
"I had to jump many times to earn the money to pay for the ramps and the sky
cycle and test vehicles...I said I would jump the canyon once, I never said
I would do it twice.
But, you may have not heard the last of Evel Kneivel."
"And to the dear Lord I would pray,
upon every stitch and every scar.
Please Lord help me walk again someday.
And he did. I did jump again someway."
"They see the scars and they wonder why?
I say why not, try?"
"I say to you finally, It's just like you...I've got to be me. Thank you."
"It's better to be called a "has been" then to never have tried at all"
THE CANYON JUMP!
T-minus FIVE, five, FOUR (start your cameras!)four, THREE, three(Evel repeats countdown), TWO, two, ONE, one...THE STEAM POWERED ROCKET PUNCHES UP THE LONG RAMP TOWARDS THE IDAHO SKY ABOVE!
GO! THE PARACHUTE BEGINS DEPLOYMENT SEQUENCE AT THE PAD WITH RED FLARES STREAMING AS THE "SKY CYCLE" ROLLS TO THE RIGHT...."OKAY, EVEL STAYED WITH THE BIRD", he stayed with the bird,"GET YOUR VISOR UP"... Going down very slowly..."YOU'VE HAD A PREMATURE CHUTE... YOU'VE GOT A GOOD CHUTE ON!", he's going down, very slowly...obviously into the canyon,(orTHE RIVER!)There are scuba men and rescue personnel on the snake river below!..."HE JUST LANDED INTO THE ROCKS",(on this side) into the river! OH MY GOD! You couldn't see it from the announcement stand but "HE TRIED DESPARATELY TO GET OUT OF THE SKY CYCLE!...I CAN"T SEE THE CRAFT OR EVEL AT ALL!""AS I SAID...There are two men ROWING up to the crash site!"
"EVEL KNIEVEL IS IN THE RAFT, HE IS ALIVE AND WELL!"
What would the world be without heroes...just like today I guess...
-"Kevin Voelcker"(kid of the 1970's...oldschool hero worship I guess)
Just yesterday I was very pleased to find a used a copy of Turbonegro's 1994 album "Never Is Forever," which is great 'cause I couldn't find it on bittorrent. Anyways, I listened to it, got to the end, and I found an even more pleasant surprise; the song "The Ballad of Evel Knievel" in (what I imagine is) its entirety, included as a hidden track. Not a cover, but the original recording itself, stolen wholesale and appropriated for the band's record. I don't thing ol' Evel ever saw a dime, and maybe that's a shame, but I'm glad to have had the opportunity to hear that wonderful ballad. I think you sell it short in your review; it is without a doubt the best motorcycle stuntman-themed country ballad I've ever had the pleasure of hearing.