Not many people outside the UK know about the Mods and the Rockers.
I was fascinated by both movements in my youth, having learned all about them from my much hipper — and older — cousins, who seemed to be right at the forefront of everything that was cool in the ’50’s and ’60’s.
Search around the Internet and you’ll find a few decent histories and photos of the era; the Scotland Road Group has a succinct monograph that covers some of the history.
Suffice it to say, in very general and stereotypical terms that the Mods had pretensions of middle class, listened to American-style jazz, rhythm & blues and soul music.
They dressed in narrow suits and pointed shoes, and they favored the Mod hair styles of the day. The Who was one of the best known bands that grew out of the Mod movement.
Continuing the somewhat biased generalities, the Rockers were more familiar to us as motorcyclists. They were the “ton up” boys, in black leather Lewis or, in the U.S.A., Schott jackets crisscrossed with zippers, buttons and studs. Modified Nortons and Triumphs were their mounts, and Rock ‘n Roll was their music. These were the “1 Percenters” of the UK; sullen, anti-style rebels without a cause.
The Mods and the Rockers even had their own Hollister fiasco. After the media caught on to the movements and fanned the flames whilst looking for a good story, a fight between the groups broke out in the town of Clacton and was parlayed by the press into a class warfare byline.
Both movements sort of faded away with the “flower power” evolution in the late ’60’s, and would probably be completely forgotten if it wasn’t for the recent insatiable demand for retro by the Baby Boomers. My feeling is that the retro movement is moving beyond monotonous — it’s bordering on ridiculous, because there seems to be no looking towards the future, only a thirst for the past with amnesia to the Neanderthal social mores that we worked so hard to overcome.
YouTube Video: Brian Setzer “Rumble in Brighton”
I’m as fascinated as the past as anyone, probably because time seems to has such great velocity in my life that I wish I could have a few “do overs” to more carefully work through the issues of the day with patience and deliberation than I lacked in my youth.
But it’s too late now, and the only substitute is to look back in time with words and pictures. The Mod Years and The Rocker Years are two very interesting “bookazines” — short books with a magazine format — that do a good job of covering the era.
Some who were there pooh-pooh the idea and claim that both of these publications are simply thrown-together collections of photos and text without originality. So be it, but they still provide an historical glimpse into a past that very few have even the slightest awareness of.
Each publication has lots of photos, stories and interviews from the Mods and Rockers movers and shakers, covering the bikes and the scooters and the clothes and the haircuts. The bookazines do a decent job of exaplaining the zeitgeist, and they can only continue to encourage what is now a lively scooter and vintage bike movement in the UK and, to a lesser degree, in the U.S.
There’s a small but active vintage motorcycle movement in the U.S.A., but sales of scooters are still very small compared to other forms of transportation. Over 1 million motorcycles were sold in the U.S.A. in 2004, compared to approximately 100,000 scooters. We have yet to see the massive surge in new scooter sales that has been repeatedly predicted by industry wags, mostly due to the vast distances that penalize scooter travel in the U.S. But several cities are starting to experience a rise in popularity of both new and vintage scooters, and that interest is also spawning a desire to learn more about scooter history.
There’s probably no better way to learn more about who we are today than to study the past, and The Mod Years and The Rocker Years are a fun and very interesting way to get a quick dose of motorcycle and scooter history.