Thursday, February 19, 2009

"My White Bicycle" - Nazareth, 1975 (classic rock)

Riding all around the street
Four o'clock and they're all asleep
I'm not tired and it's so late
Moving fast everything looks great.
My white bicycle, my white bicycle
See that man, he's all alone
Looks so happy but he's far from home
Ring my bell, smile at him
Better kick over his garbage bin

My white bicycle, my white bicycle
The rain comes down but I don't care
The wind is blowing in my hair
Seagulls flying in the air
My white bicycle

Policeman shouts but I don't see him
They're one thing I don't believe in
To find some charge but it's not leavin'
Lift both hands, his head in disgrace
Shines no light upon my face
Through the darkness, we still speed
My white bicycle and me
My white bicycle, my white bicycle

This little ditty was originally recorded by psychedelic rock band, Tomorrow, however it didn't become a success until it was recorded by Nazareth in 1975. The song was inspired by community transportation program attempt in Denmark, and was instituted by an organization that was not all that dissimilar to what happened in the movie "Fight Club".

The movement began with Dutch Provos. Provo was an anarchistic, counter-cultural movement during the mid-1960's that focused on provoking violent responses from the authorities all the while using non-violent bait. They borrowed their name from Wouter Buikhuisen who dissortated frequently on the subject, calling "young trouble-makers" 'provos'. Despite the tendency for anarchy, the movement was highly organized...tiered, as it were. First were the happeners. 'The happeners' were the masterminds behind the happenings around the cities of Amsterdam and Antwerp. They often employed absurd humor to provoke the police, who were an essential part of the disruption. The police's response to the non-violent provocation was so crucial that they were even known as co-happeners. Next were the beatniks and the hipsters. After this level came the thinkers, whose primary function was to publish Provos ideas in literary publications such as newspapers, pamphlets, via radio, and any other forms of mass communication possible. The thinkers were quite often those who were employed by these very conveyances. Finally, there were the activists. The activists were the street Provos that carried out the disruptive assignments and whose responsibility it was to influence public opinion.

In the early 1960's, Provos teamed up with Dutch social inventor, industrial designer, entrepreneur, and politician Laurens (Luud) Maria Hendrikus Schimmelpennink. Schimmelpennink was most noted for his work in sustainable transportation concepts. His work was aimed at the reduction of motor vehicles in cities and urban areas, which he believed would be better for human health and well-being. His primary goals were to contrive a means for which people may still get around the city with speed and ease...only without their cars and buses. Schimmelpennink and Provos "The White Bicycle Plan" (without the city's permission, of course, as was the Provos way).

The White Bicycle plan was simply this: Provos and Schimmelpennink went about collecting several hundred bicycles. Each bicycle was painted white. He and his colleagues then took the bikes into the city and just left them standing about. The concept was, if you were in need of transportation, then you could just hop on a bike, ride it to where you needed to go, and then just leave it there. Someone else who was in need of a ride could then use it, and in short you have this nice little curtesy ride system that didn't cost you a penny.

Although Schimmelpennink and Provos had originally designed this concept to provoke the authorities, the public actually liked the idea, and in 1967 Schimmelpennink was elected to the Municipal Council for the city of Amsterdam. His idea, however, did not last as he was unable to get the political financial support necessary to continue the effort.

While The White Bicycle Plan may have failed in Denmark in the 1960's, today Schimmelpennink is an inspiration to a new breed of politics that focus on reducing the carbon footprint on the environment. Because of today's environmental consciousness movement, white (and yellow) bicycle projects, as part of a New Mobility agenda, are springing up in cities all over the world, such as: Helsinki, Copenhagen, Lyons, London, Barcelona, Stockholm, and once again in Amsterdam.

While one may not think so, today there are new technological measures in place to keep these programs running and counter any misuse. For example, project bicycles have actually been designed to look much different from the standard bike. This ensures that if one is stolen and repainted, it is easy to spot because of its unusual design. In order to use the system, citizens must register. Upon registration, they are given a key card. The bicycles are now housed in prominently located parking garages. These garages are equipped with bike racks. The user slips his key card into a card reader, and the microchip inside releases a lock from the bicycle rack, allowing the user to take the bike. Because the world is much bigger than it was in the 1960's, to guarantee that bicycles are never short supply, these key cards also record the time the bicycle was removed from the rack. The user then has an allotted length of time to run his errand and return the bike to the rack. This makes sure that bikes are not monopolized for exceptionally long periods of time, and it also helps make sure that a bicycle is available for someone else to use. Because it is now typical for people to avoid commuting within the city, long-term subscriptions are also available.

So no matter what your inner-city travel needs, there would be a bike program subscription available to meet them! As traffic continues to increase in our cities, traffic patterns often become more hectic and more confusing, resulting in an increase in motor vehicle accidents, particularly accidents involving pedestrians. One must almost have a sixth navigational sense just to drive around downtown (and know which streets are one-way, when they become one-way, etc.) Bicycle projects are a very good answer to the trials of traffic in the big (and small) city. What a great idea!

"My White Bicycle" - Nazareth, 1975 (classic rock)

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Anonymous said...

Well, maybe "Schimmelpennink" was one source of inspiration.
A simpler interpretation is that the bike is a drug.

LivingDedGrrl said...

The song is a cover of a "psychedelic" styled song written by UK band Tomorrow. At the time, psychedelic rock was popular in the West, but there wasn't much of a movement in Europe yet. The members of Tomorrow wanted to bring a piece of this movement home and began to experiment with the sonic elements of the genre. While the music may have been originally inspired by LSD, it doesn't mean that the songs themselves were about drugs. The White Bicycle song is well documented as not being a euphemism for drugs. According to Tomorrow's drummer, John Alder, Keith West and Ken Burgess did write the song specifically about the White Bicycle campaign.