“Indian Larry Chopper Shaman” combines wonderful photography and excellent writing in a compelling biography on one of the most enigmatic men to grace our industry.
“Indian Larry Chopper Shaman” by Dave Nichols snares the reader with a powerful, eloquent introduction that grabs you like a fish on a hook and then takes readers on an enlightening ride through the life of one of the most enigmatic characters of the motorcycle industry, a gentleman given the name Larry DeSmedt at birth but who evolved into the larger-than-life persona that was Indian Larry.
It was refreshing to read a motorcycle industry-related book that wasn’t strictly nuts and bolts. On the contrary, Nichols’ work is more cerebral as he parallels Indian Larry’s life to a mythological hero and supports his hypothesis with quotes from Joseph Campbell’s “Hero with a Thousand Faces.”
The book immortalizes Indian Larry’s life by painting a realistic picture of the man. Nichols doesn’t smooth over the fact that Larry went to prison for robbing a bank and fought the demons of heroin addiction. He does point out some of the circumstances that helped lead Larry down particular paths, like how the murder of his sister Diane caused Indian Larry to “descend into a personal hell.” But this is all part of Nichols’ plan to portray him as a mythological hero, because before one ascends to greatness “the hero moves in a curious fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials.” It also shows that Indian Larry was an everyman as the battles he waged are the same battles that many have encountered.
Building custom bikes was more than just a past time for Indian Larry. It was his life-blood and soul and served as the medium through which he was able to showcase his immense talent. The high regards Indian Larry had for the craft is
Indian Larry’s work is unmistakable. Daddy-O, the bike above, was made as a tribute to Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth and was the first bike he built for the Biker Build-Off series.
described wonderfully in this passage from Page 145. “As far as I’m concerned, it is one of the highest art forms, because it combines all media: sculpture, painting, as well as the mechanics, and it’s just a lot more than any one single medium.”
The book honors this talent with wonderful pictorials, multi-page spreads of some of Indian Larry’s most memorable builds like Daddy-O, Wild Child and Chain of Mystery. Inspect Larry’s work in the book and you’ll quickly realize how much his style can still be seen in the work of countless custom bike builders today, from artistically twisted metal frames to bare-boned engines that showcase their ‘mechanicalness.’ You also get a sense of how much he influenced everybody around him by the 4000-plus people who showed up at Gasoline Alley for the celebration party commemorating his death.
One of the most distinct portraits of Indian Larry’s true character comes in the passage on Page 145 where Nichols
Paul Cox and Indian Larry surf some asphalt. It would be this same stunt, a pose Indian Larry referred to as ‘the Crucifix,” that would ultimately claim his life.
recalls the Biker Build-Off competition that pitted Indian Larry against Billy Lane. The two custom builders were friends more than adversaries and when Indian Larry was declared the winner, the pair cut the Biker Build Off trophy into pieces, signed them, and then threw the pieces out to the crowd while declaring over the microphone “There are no winners, there are no losers.” Now that’s a class act.
Small vignettes provided by other custom motorcycle builders like Lane, Paul Yaffe, Dave Perewitz, Mondo Porros, and Eddie Trotta provide deeper insight into the man known as the Chopper Shaman. The way Indian Larry’s peers speak so highly of him validates Nichols’ depiction of the man as a larger-than-life figure. They also reveal that Indian Larry was a humble man who didn’t let the spoils of popularity go to his head. The way he smiled when he was riding is forever engrained in the memories of those who knew him best because it was when he was riding that he most felt alive. “That’s how I picture Larry, riding and smiling,” said Yaffe.
“Indian Larry Chopper Shaman” is filled with photographs shot by Michael Lichter and contributed by Bambi, who was Indian Larry’s muse in life. The book can be enjoyed without reading a word. But you’ll definitely want to read it. It goes well beyond a mere biography. It is a compelling tale written by a man who knew Indian Larry personally. And even though I never had the opportunity to meet Indian Larry, thanks to Nichols’ work I feel like I know the man.
“Indian Larry Chopper Shaman” by Dave Nichols – MSRP $19.99
* Photography in this article by Michael Lichter, contributed by Motorbooks