Friday, March 30, 2012

SoulCraft


I've been slammed and have had little time to post. I wrote this way early in the year and never posted it. Super long post, but here it is. This and $2.50 will get you a coffee at Starfucks. The ground swell of shows and parties prompted me to post it. Be gentle, it's not easy putting yourself out there. word! 

*** I will preface this post with the following: If you are a regular reader then you know I am not a writer, don't profess to be, I know my spelling, punctuation and grammar tend to be weak. Yes, I have a college degree, but that was Art, not English so bear with me. Also, this may be a long post, I tend to do this from time to time in a stream of consciences.  Feel free to comment and add to the dialogue. *****

Every so often there are rumblings of discourse regarding the value of working with ones hands and the importance of supporting fellow artist/builders/craftsmen. It is a very important dialogue, especially here in the US.  It is no secret that the slogan " Made in the USA" has sadly lost some strength over the years. I would argue that the apex of US art, design, and manufacturing was the 1940's to the late 60's. Some would go even further and argue that the US has been in decline since the 70's, and there is some evidence to support that. Of course, as "proud" Americans we tend to be a lot more optimistic as well as a little arrogant about our place in the world. But that is an entirely different discussion.

Lot's of recent short films, and articles regarding the subject. 

Basically, the current premise is that we make very little in the US any more. Recent generations have lost sight of the value of making things and all that comes with it. There isn't a lot of descent about these opinions. Why this is the case and how we get that back or how we foster the value of craftsmanship and hand made things is a whole different discussion.

Of all the books, articles and stories I've read on the subject, none covers it in such depth as this book.

















Extremely well written, apolitical with a heavy philosophical tone. One of the best books I read last year. If you haven't read it, get it. Arguably the definitive book on the subject.

Adding to the discourse:

Conformity, Opinion

Philosophically speaking, there are multitudes of layers and complexities regarding why, as Americans, we are where we are today. Of course there is a huge split in opinions depending on your political views, right or left. I try not to get in to that, because if you come at it from a politically right or left stance, the bias can poison the dialogue.  Further more, I contend, that in some aspect of opinions, conformity plays a larger role on our perceptions than we may think. Of course, conformity is irrelevant to facts but it can skew views, even shape them. So, the ability to recognize this and shape a view that isn't influenced by some type of conformity is a difficult task, even harder to hold a view that may not be popular one.

What Happened?

The book by Mr. Crawford goes in depth on the shift in the country in the 80s towards tech based industries and away from trade based work. That shift created a ripple effect in the country that cut funding on shop class programs in public schools in exchange for computers. That shift, in part, created the generation we see now. I was lucky to have graduated before this was in full effect. While in high school it was just beginning. Auto shop, drafting etc., were still in place at my school as well as the first rounds of computer classes. Unlike a lot of my peers at the time, my father was of the WWII generation, so he instilled in me the value of hard work and hard labor. My appreciation for American craftsmanship came at a young age thankfully. Although I went on to make my living largely with computers, I never lost sight of that value of tangible creation and craftsmanship. In some form or another, I was always working on something with my hands. The more I did, the more appreciation I developed.

Like I said, now I see myself as lucky. I know a lot of people my age that couldn't fix a leaky faucet to save their lives. I don't blame them entirely, the US needs pencil pushers, but we have far to many pencil pushers and not enough craftsmen/tradesmen.

So, what can we do?

That is a big question with a lot of possibly answers. I'll offer my opinion within the context of our small world of custom motorcycles.

Like it or not, this custom motorcycle world is tiny compared to other fields or disciplines, but the act of creating a custom motorcycle can encompass a lot of specific trades like design, engineering, metal working, welding, mechanics, sculpture, painting, etc. So our community quickly gets a lot larger than just cats building bikes. While it is important to be critical, it is always important to be supportive of the community. Within reason of course.

One of the things that makes motorcycling beautiful is the generosity of the people who love two wheels. Like great artist, most of the best in their fields stand the test of time because, in part, they understand the concept of "annihilating the ego" and the value of reciprocity.

Integrity, character, generosity, humility, respect, dignity, and love for your fellow man are qualities that create a base for a sincere artist or craftsman. Notice I use "sincere" and not "good" or "great". There are a lot of "great" craftsmen/artist that do impeccable work, but the work lacks sincerity and in turn tends to be ego centric. That kind of work will never stand the test of time. As it happens, genuine sincerity tends to lead to great work. There are many examples of this in the custom motorcycle world.

Sometimes these things take a lifetime to learn, other times we are lucky enough to have mentors through life that pass on these concepts. I like to think I at least try to live up to these characteristics and I hope for that among my peers. Building motorcycles in some ways saved my life, so to be able to wake up every day and play with motorcycles is an amazing thing and I don't take any of it for granted. Sharing that love with other like minded people, and even not like minded, is a joy that enriches my life.

For folks like me, that love the old bikes, we've seen a bit of a renaissance in the last 4 to 5 years. The community of people in to old bikes was really small just 5 years ago, now we have an entire new generation of 20 and 30 somethings that have fallen in love with old bikes. It's a wonderful thing. As great as that is, like most things, it brings with it some negative as well. Some jump on because of the trend and instead of offering positive vibes, they bring juvenile attitudes and outlooks. That is to be expected, but like most things it will fade with time as those folks will move on to other things and those that do it for sincere reasons will still be doing it.

In the past this idea of "others riding the coat tails of our culture", really bothered me, but you learn that the negative energy does nothing in the long term and everyone has to start somewhere. I don't care if you've been doing something for 2 months or 30 years, if your are sincere then it will show through. Even if someone initially jumps on the trend for trends sake, then falls in love and learns what it all means, that is great too.

So, what can we do? 

Foster positivity. We can support each other, regardless of style, generation, fat tire, or skinny tire, period correct or modern, Harley or Honda. We are are a small group that needs to support each other so we can keep doing what we all love. While shows are fun, competitions are silly.  The internet and blogs have opened a huge door to share, communicate and learn. Let's use them to foster growth, encouragement and healthy criticism, not "one upping" each other or stealing from each other.

Support events and rides. There has been a ground swell of events since the first EDR in 06 and it is fantastic. Do whatever you can to support them. It takes tons of effort to organize a ride or event, lend a hand, a little cash, anything. Like most "scenes" there are always "cliques" and politics for one silly reason or another. Rise above it, don't encourage it. Not everyone is going to get along or see eye to eye, but one thing binds all of us, the love of motorcycles and riding. Family, friends and 2 wheels is all that matters.

For God sakes RIDE YOUR DAMN MOTORCYCLE!!!!

If you ride, good for you! Share your road stories, pictures, joy of the ride, camp, living life with friends, that's beautiful. Ride to Love, Love to Ride. The truth will show in your face when you share the stories.

Jeff Wright's FTWCO is a fantastic example of fostering positivity in the 2 wheeled world. Please support it.

If you are a US citizen, buy American when ever humanly possible. I use to not be so hardcore about this given the nature of our global economy, but it is becoming more clear in recent times how devastating the de-industrialization of American has become. That nature of American coorporate business oversees, the dwindling middle class, not to mention the loss of the blue collar workforce, in part, because of the recent trends. So, in recent years this has become more important to me. It is not to say that I am extreme about it, because lets be honest, buying all American these days is next to impossible, it is to say that I make a concerted effort to buy and support American made and American companies first. There are also a lot of small shops all over the world making beautiful hand made parts, support them as well.

Self Reflection

Speaking up can be a tricky thing. If you put yourself out there be prepared for some backlash. Knowing that, take a real hard look at yourself before you make a serious stand on an issue. Kind of like someone screaming pro PETA remarks and wearing fake leather shoes. It's not that the message isn't as important it just loses some strength for the community when the messenger is lacking in credibility.

I'm not writing any of this to prop myself on some sort of pedestal, god knows I work hard everyday at trying to be a better person than I was the day before. I'm sure there are plenty of folks out there that have "issue" with me for one reason or another, and that is fine, I can only be me. I'm just trying to put out some positive energy and maybe in some small way offer some dialouge the incourages people to stay true to the love and push us in a direction that improves our lives, not detract from it.

I guess I'm a little tired of all the internet "hating" as well, even the stuff you hear via third parties. It's so damn discouraging and deflating to hear all that silly shit surrounding something you love so much. Not to mention, it's just damn motorcycles, we aren't saving peoples lives, literally. So, stop acting like children and prop up and support your fellow riders/builders and just lovers of 2 wheels. ITS ALL GRAVY MAN!

Sorry for the long post, I encourage you to add to the dialouge. If you want to hate, this isn't the blog for you. Go somewhere else, plenty of that on the intereweds.

CRO CUSTOMS supports lovers, not haters.

further reading etc..

19 comments:

  1. Hear hear!
    See you in 2 Weeks.
    SWapmeet Boogie.

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  2. Not to much to say!!! I just love it. finally somebody is not speaking about hate..... Very good, keep it like that..

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  3. caleb.
    one of the best posts in recent times i would say.

    i almost need to go away for a day and think about this response but i will say what i have right now and if i have to add later i will.

    being in australia we grew up looking to america as our big brother who we would always support and who we could always rely on to protect us. my father taught me that. he told me from an early age to never buy from a country we went to war with....(crazy i know....racist?......yes....but founded in the 40s 50's and 60s and thats the way it was....i dont hold it against him...he died in 1994 his thoughts were of his time).

    but the thought i have for you mate ... that i want to say after reading your post is that over the last ten years....and im 42 now.....i have come to believe that its not about preserving the identities of our lands....protecting our economies,....saving our face (on a national scale)...its about solidifying our individual positions within the world by protecting our local environment. this may all sound green and bla bla bla but i really believe it now. i have this discussion with so many people. i recently asked where a blood orange had come from and i was told canada. i looked at a packet of frozen prawns that had been caught in australian waters and had gone to china to be "processed" and returned to australia to be sold.....my head spins thinking about this shit.

    so i suppose what im saying is that its about keeping it close to home....the more we can do closer to home the better....the more local we can buy the better...

    the tap fixed by the person who lives in the house saves the phonecall to the plumber, the travel, the $ and the waste of energy. the whole world will benefit.

    and the same goes for what we do with motorcycles.

    the sincerity you talk about, the love for building the mechanical thing, is all consuming for the people that love it.....but i dont hold it against anyone if they dont build the bike they ride. for me...the more people on two wheels the better the world and the less chance i have of getting smashed by a car. more bikes the better. .....the sincerity is just old fashioned honesty and politeness being forgotten by people. so i agree with you that the haters need to pull their heads in, the copy cats need to concentrate on their own position in the world, and the more people that get turned on to two wheels the better.

    lovely post caleb. i dont need to check any other blogs tonight before i hit the sack i just got everything i needed.
    thanks
    m

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  4. I can't agree more. My name is Lior and i'm an old motorcycles fan from Israel. The situation you describe here also happens here in Israel. The young generation has no skills besides using computers (since this is what considered as the "right" thing to learn). I'm 28 years old and I see the kids in schools today - it looks like that the younger you are the more spoiled you become. Lots of proffesions that require working with your hand are slowly disappearing and people relies on imported goods that usually costs much less. As you mentioned, the wearing of the middle class contributes to this decline. Anyway, I really sympathize with your words and definitely take it to my attention. B.T.W, sorry for my bad english.

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  5. Excellent Caleb! I think no matter what anybody is involved in, waking up and trying to be a better person than the day before is the starting point most should strive for. It's amazing what you get back when you put the positive forth. Be well, Jay.

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  6. Caleb, awesome!I also agree and I am grateful to know a few of you guys. p.s.- you write just fine :o)

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  7. hi well put Caleb. i agree with most o f what you said, the only differance is that i live in England so i want to support English made. only thing is i herd some English prick of an M.P saying that we are only good at internet buisnesis and that we should leave engineering and manufacturing to other countries.
    i have nothing against other countries manufacturing stuff , i have a Harley and a Triumph but i love 'jap' bikes, but England used to be the centre of the world when it came to building bikes . Shefield steel is still the most amazing product , but if you fly the flag in England everyone thinks you are a facist hooligan. nobody in England is alowed to be patriotic.
    i envie the Americans on the fact hat thay are proud to fly the flag and buy american.
    good luck to you all and dont get bought down to our level of being ashamed of who you are..

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  8. It's a great book, and I can only agree with your comments. It's a small community spanning huge distances, when you get out and ride you realise that you really are in a minority as you don't see any bikes that really turn heads on a day to day basis. With the Internet being as it is I think people loose sight of this - its so easy to trawl through blogs, forums, magazines and whatnot and see endless numbers of beautifully crafted bikes. The reality is that in the "real world" there aren't all that many bikes out there.

    I think that a lot of youngsters can't appreciate the effort, time and thought that have been invested into these bikes, and maybe just flick by the images having not having the experience to appreciate the trials and tribulations that putting together very single bike takes. I'm in my 20's and see a lot of my peers in the same way. They have this instantaneous attitude - I want one of those. With loans / credit cards etc many people do go out and buy what they want without a thought, this is counter productive to skills and crafts alike- nothing much can be done with that unfortunately. What I can't abide is this "hater" attitude, and that's not just limited to the youngsters I'm afraid.

    Young or old - experienced or otherwise; the greatest thing anyone can give is their experiences - bad and good don't kick a man when he's down - offer constructive advice of the way you would have approached the situation. Also- and most importantly I think people should remember that if you haven't got anything good to say- then keep it to yourself.

    The very first thing I made for my bike was a seat pan. I spent 2 days hammering this price of metal over and over again until I was happy with it. I was so proud of this form I had worked long and hard ( and probably gave myself tinnitus while making) - looking back now it was pretty rough, and uneven but versions 2, and 3 got progressively better as I watched and learned- but I'm still so proud of the first one...

    This is a community to listen, share and learn. I have met some absolutely brilliant people since I got involved and have learned so much. I Appreciate that I have sooooo much still to learn, but that is the challenge.

    I would challenge every hater out there to show me a compatible item that they had made. Not to pick out floors in their work, but to see if there was anything that could be learned from their efforts ( if indeed they had actually attempted to make such a thing..)

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  9. bravo caleb, this is such a important post. I am inspired by people who make it happen. Ive always tried to better my skill at the bike building. People that i talk to are blown away that i even try and make my own parts and in return blows me away because my thinking is, well? why not? People are afraid and maybe uneducated about the old will power and the american can do attitude."Well i can just got buy it".... Inspiration is everything to me, its just like skating or snowboarding with ur buddies, you feed off eachother and push eachother in a positive way. Thats the way this community needs to be. Im with ya on this. Thanks for the positive outlook

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  10. That book sits proudly on my desk in my chopper class, and I bought a second copy for my principle..lets hope he reads it!

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  11. great words Caleb! what a breath of fresh air...
    i've only recently come upon the fact that i'm working in a job that i'm not suited to and that the satisfaction i get from working with my hands far outweighs that which i get from my '9 to 5' spent on a computer abstracted from the very thing i'm 'working' towards. the satisfaction that can be gleamed from doing something yourself and seeing tangible results is amazing and we should all embrace the fact that others are doing the same. if i ever stop learning then it's all over. i've given up. that people can hate on whatever others are doing out there with their own 2 hands is just their own insecurity and lack of self worth bubbling to the surface. they know not what they speak of

    for a man that typically lets his work speak for itself your words also speak volumes. keep it coming!

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  12. Right on mate and well said. You and I have spoken about this on many occasions over a beer and/or some tools. The back bone of America and the future of it's economy, in our culture at least, are the small industries turning out US made products. From handlebars right through to complete bikes. Then there is also the supporting cast. Clothing, movies, art and yes, magazines too. If it's made, painted and printed in America then they are also part of the solution. And lets not forget the kid who walks into a dealership and buys the cheapest Sportster he can afford. With all of our help by keeping what we do positive, fun and drama free because like or not, that is a big draw, he will start the process. First the bars get changed, then the seat, perhaps the pipes and paint etc etc. I am of the opinion that once you ride a bike for the first time it gets under your skin, into the blood. Of course that is just one small cog of the growing motorcycle world we all know and love. Britain, like America, has become, over the last 120 years or so, a country thriving on industry. Take that away and it's a slow death. How long can a society survive by not actually making anything, importing everything that was once made here? The point is buy American or British, or products from whatever country you live in. It's sometimes hard and more expensive but it's very important. And as for the supporting cast? well keep it independent. There are some great products, clothing, movies, magazines etc out there that are not part of the corporate treadmill. Sorry, I'm ranting. Caleb, I miss you brother.

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  13. Simply put - building things creates wealth. "The sum is worth greater than the parts." This wealth can be shared by all.

    Shuffling papers does not create wealth.

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  14. Hi Caleb. It is a very interesting set of points that you make there. And I agree with you. We should buy things and support our hobby and culture and our friends and our local economies. We should speak out to encourage good efforts done by our buddies in the hobby.

    How can we help everybody to appreciate these custom works? By somehow highlighting what is most worthy of appreciation.

    I agree with you that bike shows are fun, but competitions are silly. But there seems to be very little dialogue going on about the merits of individual builder's efforts. That is, nobody really seems to speak or write about the good and bad points of a bike. Saying "good job" is nice and makes everybody feel good. But what about some critical thinking or constructive criticism? That seems to be met with a cry from the crowd. I was talking with Conrad L about this a while ago, and we wondered where and when there will be a time and place where bikes can be discussed with a critical eye. Not just to point out the shortcomings or flaws, but to draw attention to the things that were done right and done well. Maybe there is a place for discussion, but probably not in the newspapers next the movie reviews or reviews of TV, plays, art exhibits, etc. Any internet comment page seems to be the wrong place, as it is filled with semi-anonymous commenters who either love everything or challenge other commenters to show that they've done something better.

    I suppose bike discussion will remain a word of mouth, one-on-one talk behind the scenes while we all struggle to define the movements and to define the terms and the language to describe the best work of our bike craftsmen and artists.

    I'm sorry to take off on a slight tangent to your main points. But I look forward to seeing your future bikes and reading your notes here.

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  15. great post, during my secondary school and later a bachelor/master degree I did not realize once to go for an occupation where i should work with my hands. From different persons/institutions/school/news etc. the main message was to go for a white collar job. money, money, money... back then That was really essential to me, make a lot of money to buy,buy, buy....

    thankfully I did some traveling through Spain and the USA. those experiences where the best and it make me think a lot about several things. All the different people I met and their stories where the best. i look totally different to my current live and past years, even i'm just 27. it helped me to put a lot of stuff in perspective. at this moment I'm questioning my current work. roughly five years ago, I was affected with the old motorcycles. When I look back, it is amazing how many people I met which are now friends. All the experience I had because of the motorcycles where mind-blowing and will always be in my memory. all the people associated with motorcycles have Passion.

    it makes me think to do a 360 on work, but i experience that not a lot of people understand this. I always loved to work with my hands, I was raised b y my parents to do as much as possible by yourself. if it was work in the garden or around the house, try to do it yourself with your own hands. i always helped my dad with little jobs. thinking about a totally different step in my life, but the consequences are holding me back a little. this brings me back to your point of true craftsmanship that is not available any more and more is slightly fading away. in the Netherlands (and all over the world) were I live, the computers are playing an essential part in the economy. people who can work with their hands are getting unique. the current organizations source people from all parts of the worlds to fill up the weldings/carpenter etc jobs.

    I try to support as much people with a small shop, if it is in clothing or food. with the large businesses i miss the true customer service where it is about a relationship and not just about money. people that know the products and are happy to help you and not just work for the money. I'm thinking a lot if the general people want this also or if this is just something I like. as the group that are into the vintage bikes are getting old and smaller, I wonder who are going to fill up the spaces that will be available the coming period....
    As i have two left hands and a lot of theory in my mind, it do not know if i;m the right candidate but I will sure go for it. passion and the Will to go for it, will bring me somewhere. Caleb, your post definitely made me think a lot about a lot of things, thanks!

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