From the Washington City Paper, Aug. 26, 2006
By Timothy White
Merrell, 192 pp., $49.95
I’d like to know what the guys down at the Swamp Circle Saloon, our local pub for two-wheeled clubbers and their four-wheeled wannabees, think of Indian Larry, the man and the book. But damned if I’m venturing in there with this gorgeous, gold-and-purple-foil-embellished coffee-table book to ask. Larry Desmedt, who got his nickname from the Indian motorcycle line—one of western Massachusetts’ big three exports, along with singer-songwriter folk and lesbians—apprenticed with hot-rod customizers Ed “Big Daddy” Roth and Kenny “Von Dutch” Howard when he wasn’t getting drunk or, later, sober. And as with Big Daddy and Von Dutch, his image threatened to eclipse his actual work: Can someone who frequented the Discovery Channel be an outlaw? Was his street cred dented when he rode with Harrison Ford? However rock-star he might have gone, Desmedt’s skill as an artist is undeniable. Indian Larry welds together the work of two artists: Larry, of course, but also Timothy White, the celebrity portraitist who was his friend. The text is limited to brief tributes from collaborator Paul Cox (barstool-affectionate), Matthew Barney (haute-poetic), and White, who offers the closest thing to a written bio here: “Indian Larry was a motorcycle artist. He built rolling sculpture. He worked as a stuntman, an actor, a model. He was a philosopher, a sage, and a clown. He had known homelessness and drug addiction. He had been a bank robber and a convict. He became sober and spiritual, a visionary. He was insane and brilliant.” Larry’s 2004 death, from a relatively innocuous stunt—standing on his moving bike, he fell, perhaps distracted by glaring sunlight, and hit his head—is handled economically, with a short remembrance by Choppers Inc. founder Billy Lane, but the photo that follows, of a makeshift shrine at Larry’s East Village studio, speaks more eloquently. Throughout, White uses the language of photography with a poet’s skill, offering a variety of perspectives on Larry’s custom creations: not only his motorcycles but also his tattooed body and tender-tough persona. The full-color depictions of Larry’s bikes would probably have the guys at the Swamp drooling all over the slick, heavy pages, admiring the gold trim and Roth-inspired painting on “Daddy-O,” the faux bamboo of “Tiki,” and the Escher-esque helices he forged out of the downtube of “Rolex,” a bike he built for White. There are a handful of action shots—none of them showing any Knievel-type stunt work, just Larry having fun—and a few celebrity-infected glamour poses, most regrettably one in which Larry stands next to Liza Minnelli as she lifts her shirt to reveal a tiny heart-shaped tat under her tit. The glitz is balanced by photos that might have been taken at a family reunion, Sturgis-style: Larry cuddling a Chihuahua, mirroring the profile of the Indian figurehead on one of his bikes, and wading bare-assed into a pond. In one masterful black-and-white triptych, a sequence of overhead shots, Larry autographs the left breast of a young woman in sunglasses as a couple of choppers and the jean-clad legs of viewers encircle them. He writes; he sticks out his tongue like a benign Gene Simmons; he gives the camera a radiant smile. She beams the whole time. As did, it seems, the admirers and friends who put together this lavish, if not comprehensive, encomium.