Larry was no Indian. As a young mechanic in New York City, he
was the go-to guy for wrenching on Indian motorcycles. The nickname stuck.
Indian Larry was born Lawrence Desmedt in the village of
Cornwall-on-Hudson near West Point, New York, in 1949. Growing up in a rural
community, he and his two sisters raised livestock and explored the woods
nearby. But Larry's interests had always been focused on things of a more
Larry's father was a maintenance supervisor for the United
States Military Academy at West Point. Clean-cut, authoritarian and an ardent
sports fan, he did not abide his son's aloof and grimy passion for motorcycles.
He reprimanded Larry mercilessly and unremittingly. The boy began to believe he
was a disappointment to his family.
Obliged to attend a Catholic school, the pretense of guilt was
emotionally reinforced and sometimes physically beaten into him. At 16, Larry
rebelled, less in adolescent exasperation than desperation, as the inherent
desire of a son to please his father took a perverse turn toward the dark side.
Since he was expected to do no good, he set out with a vengeance to do bad.
Larry rolled with a nasty crew. They did drugs, committed
armed robberies and hijacked trucks. He was once chased in a car through several
states by a police helicopter. He was arrested 35 times with rap sheets in
Oklahoma, California, New Jersey and New York. At 18, Larry was sent to Sing
Sing State Prison in Ossining, New York, after recovering from a gunshot wound
to the head incurred during a bank robbery. Deliberate though he had been about
his criminal career, he never felt good about it. Once locked in a cell, it was
"pure Zen instinct," as Larry recalled, that compelled him to redemption with
the same resolve he had once mustered against his father. With lucky access to a
good library in the slammer, he read assiduously. He earned his general
education diploma and, for a while after his release, pursued college-level
studies; but his passion for motorcycles eventually distracted him from the
pursuit of a formal education. Although he left both prison and school behind,
Larry maintained a reading regimen throughout his life.
Once freed, Larry worked as a journeyman mechanic picking up
new skills. He ignored the stigma of being an ex-con and adopted respectable
friends. During a brief stint working in California, a childhood hero of hot-rod
fame, Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, gave him some experience painting cars. He also met
Von Dutch, the legendary pinstriping artist. Larry decided he would be an artist
"And then," he exclaimed, "came the '60s!" Riders who may have
sat tall in the saddle were high in another sense. The long-bike movement took
off with a bong—I mean a bang—which was "complete bullshit," as Larry put it. He
lamented how chopper design had degenerated into a "pissing contest," mixing
scatological metaphors. By 1967 mainstream American culture was introduced to
not only choppers but also hippies. The Summer of Love lasted for two years
until after Woodstock and, then, the melee at Altamont in 1969 involving the
Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels and a mysterious murder victim. The film Easy
Rider was released that same year. It really was the era of sex, drugs and rock
'n' roll. Riding a chopper was as good as a backstage pass.
Larry said, "A chopper is all about sex. Get a girl on the
back of a bike and it's just like that!" He snapped his fingers, "Case closed."
He got older and got married. "But I still chase girls," he said without letting
on if he could catch them. He also said, "There's a million guys out there with
fancy-pants choppers who can't get laid with a hundred-dollar bill stuck to
their forehead." But that was Larry the traditionalist talking, not Larry the
Larry fancied himself as a kindred spirit with the movie
character Forest Gump. His own providential and episodic adventures found him
socializing with the likes of Robert Mapplethorpe and Andy Warhol, who depicted
his tattooed demeanor in their own work. Hs modeling led to jobs as a Hollywood
stuntman. By the '90s Larry foresaw a future in custom motorcycles. A pattern
had developed. As convention dictates, form follows function all right; but
function had become secondary to the surprisingly good looks of competitive
Larry set up shop in Brooklyn in 1991. His bikes were classic
by design but not reactionary; old school didn’t mean old-fashioned to him. They
remain larger than life, as was the man who made them; while on a less expansive
note his top tubes are closer to the ground, his front ends are shorter and his
tires are thinner. Heaven forbid there should be a gauge of any kind! "By the
time the oil pressure is gone," Larry said, "you're wiped anyway."
Larry envisioned a cross between a top-fuel dragster and a
roadracer. He would never sacrifice performance for visual effect, but had no
disdain for decoration. He was big on candy and metalflake paint. You'll also
find graphics painted on open primary belts. Jockey shifters flaunt
oddball—often billiard ball—ornamentation. Kickstarters make more than mere
cameo appearances; but after Larry broke his right foot every bike bore an
electric starter. A sissy bar supports a bed roll and a jacket. And it's a
virtual Indian Larry trademark for the oil filter to hang behind the tranny
instead of being mounted conventionally in front of the crankcase. Finally,
there's the requisite hardtail frame, but always with some crazy-ass
twist—literally. Larry could bend, snake and twirl red-hot steel into such
complex shapes that you might think he purloined a wrought-iron gate for parts.
"If I lived in the 1500s," Larry said, "I'd probably be
building cathedrals." He believed that work equaled spiritual recreation. He
enjoyed the fantasy of a future archaeologist discovering and dissecting one of
his motors and likening its intricacies to the inner workings of a mechanical
universe created by an advanced but lost civilization. The motor was his
cathedral. When his body tired of work, his mind still spun in high gear and he
downshifted by practicing meditation. If he told you he could build a bike in
his sleep, he meant it almost literally. In the wee hours, wearing a tank-top,
pajama bottoms and flip-flops, he would slip into his "secret shop," situated
under a stairwell in the basement garage of his apartment in Manhattan's Lower
East Side. Chock full of tools, it was 5 feet wide and 18 feet long, just big
enough to hop up his version of a rip-snorting, dual-carbureted, amalgamated
motor called a "Pan-Shovel."
In the guise of Indian Larry, he gave himself to his fans,
making himself available for as long as it took to shake every hand, sign every
autograph and pose for every snapshot. He knew how to cultivate celebrity; but
there was nothing phony about it. Fame meant business, and business facilitated
art. One hand washed the other.
Speaking of hands, Larry lost a finger due to a mysterious
explosion. Pipe bomb? Fireworks? He wouldn't elaborate. But with the letters L O
V E tattooed below each knuckle of his right fist, he didn’t have room for a
corresponding H A T E on the left, so he chose F T W instead. Throughout the
years, Larry's torso became a canvas for many creative and evocative tattoos,
including these four lines on his neck:
IN GOD WE TRUST
VENGEANCE IS MINE
SAYETH THE LORD
The two middle lines were inked in reverse so Larry could read
them while shaving in the mirror every day.
Larry refused to be labeled a daredevil. "A daredevil," he
said, "takes uncalculated risks." On August 28, 2004, in front of 8000 fans at a
rally in Concord, North Carolina, he forgot to heed that distinction.
There was no throttle lock on "Grease Monkey," the bike Larry
rode that day. That fact is not remarkable unto itself, but without one it was
not possible to maintain a steady clip once he accelerated to the optimal speed
for his signature stunt, standing upright on the saddle. He knew that once he
stood up on the seat and let go of the throttle, the bike would immediately
decelerate and start to wobble. Not wanting to disappoint the crowd, Larry
persevered a few seconds too long. He jumped off before the bike fell over, but
still struck his head; he was going too fast to hit the ground running. He was
airlifted to the hospital and died on August 30 of head injuries.
Source Tom Zimberoff,
Art of the Chopper.com