This time, the only thing that kept Jesse James from putting his name on the cover of a really good book was his trademark self-deprecation. And a few camera angles. Motorcycle Mania 3, based on the latest installment of the Discovery Channel series that made the West Coast Choppers king, could have been a gripping read had James and his cameramen just loosened up and enjoyed the ride a little more.
The back story must have read like a dream—a young writer's maturation in mere months. Where James' New York Timesbest-seller this spring, I Am Jesse James, was all mood and posture—pictures of him with his bikes, strippers, cars, strippers and friends (strippers)—Mania 3deflates him just a bit to tell the story, in brief text even a NASCAR fan (sorry, Commie Girl) can understand, of his latest bike build.
It was a doozy: James apprenticed with an East Coast metalsmith to learn how to hand-hammer sheets of copper. After a crash course, he flew back to the LBC and built a bike with gas tank, fenders and accents all from solid copper—a brother steed to his personal trademark "Chango Blanco" (White Ape) chopper. Then he built an orange-hued hugger with Dukes of Hazzard graphics for Kid Rock. Then they drove the bikes from the Texas-Mexico border south to Mexico's Copper Canyon, which is big enough to hold four Grand Canyons.
Oh, and along the way, he married and divorced former soft-porn star Janine Lindemulder. The breakup of Jesse James' latest marriage awaits you in language ripped straight from the latest Harlequin romance or Hallmark card. (No, Sandra Bullock is never mentioned.) Need proof your mean macho Jesse James is softer than the Downy teddy bear? Try this meaningful moment, which came right after an argument.
"Things were tense with his wife as Jesse packed for the Mexico trip. As he stepped through [the door], he heard her say that she loved him and that she would miss him. He didn't turn his head."
Oh, but wait, they made up when he got back.
"Before he can slide his key into the lock, the door swings open. His new bride, eyes bright with love and longing, pulls him inside."
It made me remember when my high school creative-writing class had to watch Love Story to learn how to write a romance novel (don't ask), an incident that may have spawned the high school exit exam. In the semidarkness, my friend Larry, who worked at Chess King, asked what we wanted to know: "When are they gonna get it on?"
In Motorcycle Mania 3, they never get it on—not to anyone's satisfaction—in the workshop with welders, on the road with Mexican police, or at home with the wife. There are no real fights, no setbacks, no jail time, no sex. Or, at least, we never hear about it. The James-Lindemulder nuptials dissolve with a whimper, which isn't bad—it just sounds that way:
"Jesse and his wife both wanted their marriage to work. But when chaos becomes the rule, the days can only become numbered." Gaaack!
There isn't even a decent picture of Copper Canyon in the book—and that's a crime because you know that by now, Jesse James could have an Annie Liebowitz- or a Herb Ritts-caliber photographer on staff if he tried, not to mention a decent writing coach. Ritts is dead, but what he did for Chris Isaak, someone—Sante D'Orazio?—should do for Jesse James.
The man makes choppers that have almost single-handedly jump-started the biker industry. His custom cars and personal style have created what's being called the "new old-school." He's got to have at least one good book in him. Somebody reach down that tattooed throat and haul it up outta there.
Motorcycle Mania 3 by Jesse James with Curtis Cummings, Eric Hameister and Frank Ockenfels; Viking Studio. Hardcover, 112 pages, $18.95 at your local bookseller (in Canada, it's $28).
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