My brother Charles is about 16 1/2 years older than I, and to me he was always the coolest guy in the world. I idolized him growing up. He was the South Philly guy complete with the accent and the swagger, was in the army, drove a vintage MG, rode motorcycles, saw every legendary rock band in concert at small venues like The Electric Factory, was and is a master mechanic, smoked Luckies and had magical music collection on reel-to-reel tapes that filled a room with sound and filled my head for years. If we were living in Speed Racer’s reality, I would have been Spritle and he definitely would have been Racer X.
I first heard the term weekend warrior from my brother Charles when I was in grade school. My head was filled with images of the biker movies that were still being played to death on TV at the time. Crappy movies like CC and Company with Joe Namath would wind up playing on the CBS Movie of the Week and I was glued to every one being young and having no critical frame of reference. A version of cool was being spoon-fed to an audience that included leather jackets, shaggy hair, being aloof and chuckling at inside jokes that squares weren’t hep to. When I grew up, I would live in a clubhouse with a bunch of cool friends or a band. We’d ride motorcycles all day, and watch rock bands play every night. That’s how they did it in the mythical kingdom of California. My first step towards coolness was getting an outfit. I told my older brother that I wanted to get a leather jacket with a bunch of motorcycle patches sewn all over it. Charles shook his head and said,”You don’t want to be a weekend warrior, do you?”
I didn’t know what he meant. He explained. Weekend Warriors were phonies. They talked the talk, but never walked the walk. Ersatz tough guys. Dime store cowboys. Guys wearing costumes trying to fool others and ultimately deluding themselves. I was crestfallen. This whole cool thing wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought.
Of course, not every kid had an older brother like Charles, and advertisers in comic books counted on it!If becoming a muscular Adonis in one week through a series of exercises or a workout device held no appeal for you, there was always the trappings of cool that may be enough to scare the squares and impress a groovy blond chick with an embroidered peasant top and hip-hugger jeans that she bought from a similar ad in the romance comics or teeny-bopper magazine.
Looking at this ad, I wonder what sort of jagoff would blow that huge wad of dough particularly that amount in early 1970s dollars for a German stormtrooper helmet. It’s more sad than anything. Yes, you too can look like the third dress extra from the left behind Peter Fonda in The Wild Angels.
Sadly, some trends never die. It seems the quest for that magic totem that will miraculously transform Potsie into Fonzie will forever continue to fill the tills of cash registers. Back in the late ’90s, I was in a trendy area of Philadelphia known as Manayunk, and I remember being struck by the image of chinless, middle-aged men astride tricked out, showroom shiny and clean motorcycles. They did not look to be the type of guys who built the bikes themselves. They were at a point in their careers and lives where they could splurge on something their fathers would have frowned upon. These Hell’s Middle Managers on Wheels were letting their freak flags fly. It was as if they were posing in traffic with their shiny toys. I felt vaguely embarrassed for them.
As Frank Zappa sang, “You are what you is!”
I see the trend continuing with tattoos and other body modifications. Tragically what seemed like a good idea at the moment is permanent. At least the biker guy could turn the stormtrooper helmet into a planter, but a cool for RIGHT NOW tattoo is forever. I offer you Exhibit A:
The biker ad appeared in issue #126 of The Amazing Spider-man published by Marvel Comics in 1973. The cover of my issue has fallen off making it completely worthless to collectors and speculators. Freed from the possibility of being entombed within a mylar sarcophagus, it can actually be enjoyed for it’s own sake.
My brother John probably picked this up from a 7-11 or newsstand, read it and chucked it my way. I remember it being one of the earliest comics I actually read. I was familiar with the 1967-1970 cartoon that was still in endless rerun syndication on UHF stations. The cartoon featured simplified stories and a stripped down cast of characters from the comics. I was unfamiliar with a lot of the characters in the comic. Who was Mary Jane? Who is this sweaty guy Harry? Green Goblin has a secret identity? I thought he was a green warlock, at least he was in the cartoon. There’s J. Jonah Jameson, but where is Betty Brant? I was intrigued and wanted to know more.
The other thing that excited me was Ross Andru’s art. It was so much more dynamic than the images in the cartoon. The animators of that series had a horrendous habit of reusing sequences of the cartoon over and over again. Some times the show was padded out with library Jazz and Spider-Man swinging like Tarzan across trippy watercolor paintings of Manhattan. The comic was so much more interesting. Spider-man spun his web among gritty, tar paper rooftops with pipes and vents and clotheslines and things. There was an attention to details that were blown off by corner cutting animators. For instance, Spider-Man had webs all over his costume! Who knew?