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December 3, 2007

Supersonic Sky Cycle

My feeling for the early 1970s comes from four distinct but somehow blended memories: Watergate, the energy crisis, the Symbionese Liberation Army, and Evel Knevel. The first three were in the papers and on the evening news -- while the latter was a presence looming in the daily conversation of any white boy in elementary school in Texas, even a bookish one. Evel, who died on Friday, was the bravest man in the world, or at least the most famous, which was almost the same thing, given the circumstances.

Naturally Phil Nugent says everything I could, and does it one better:

I grew up white trash in the 1970s, which means that I am among the select group that might be expected to be able to explain Evel Kneivel to the generations not then yet born. I'm not really sure that it can be done. I can say that for those of us who were of a certain age, the Snake River Canyon adventure on September 8, 1974 marked the first time we really grasped the concept of "hype," just as those a little older or a little younger figured it out with a little help from the Liz Taylor Cleopatra or Frankie Goes to Hollywood. The event was long in the planning and almost as long in the anticipatory trumpeting, though it's probably just a trick of the memory that I recall hearing about it while still in my mother's womb. (Or maybe not. Mom liked the TV on loud.) Evel a motorcycle daredevil by trade, announced that he would jump the canyon with a specially built "supersonic Sky Cycle", a phrase calculated to conjure the picture of some kind of bike in the mind's eye. In fact, the plan was to strap the man to a rocket, aim it at the other side of the canyon, and hope for the best. Reports indicate that Evel himself had given up hope of surviving the event by the time it came due but preferred certain death to giving back the money and enduring the jeers of the fans. (The kinks never got worked out prior to the actual attempt; after the first few tests failed, Evel decreed that there would be no more test runs because the actual reminders that he was a dead man walking were bumming him out.) Viewed today, the footage of the "jump" is like something from The Simpsons. To the screams of a desert full of excited, well-juiced fans, the rocket shoots up in a wobbly trajectory, then the chute unloads prematurely, and then you have forever to watch Evel slowly, slowly descend into the canyon, where he narrowly avoided landing upside down in the water and gurgling his last. Then the rescue team goes down to pick him up, the closed-circuit TV company that broadcast the great event killing time before the post-fiasco interview by letting people jam their faces into the camera babbling variations on, "He did it! He said he'd do it and he did it!" As Bill Clinton used to say, a lot depends on what your definition of "it" is.

More here.

Posted by smclemee at December 3, 2007 7:10 AM