blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1


FEATURE | July 18, 2005

Harley Momma, by John Bresland
Blackbird presents "Harley Momma," a radio essay by John Bresland, whose video essay "Les Cruel Shoes" appears in this issue's Gallery. Originally published in the Iowa City Press-Citizen (July 21, 2003), "Harley Momma" discusses a son's reaction when he discovers his 57-year-old mother is preparing to "take a Fat Boy cross country." Bresland writes:

"Harley Momma" began as a newspaper column, something of a quickie, I must admit, as newspaper columns tend to be. By the time it was published, after I'd half forgotten it, a stanger turned to me in the frozen food aisle and growled, "HARLEYYY!" Since I live in a university town where most residents a) are supereducated; and, b) talk to themselves on a regular basis, I thought little of it, kept moving. Then it happened again. A banker peered over her glasses and said, "Honey, your Mother is a kill." The guy at the fish market, after being asked about the day's trout, said, unprompted: "I've got a Harley. I'll ride it until I die." Nothing I've written before or since has gotten this type of response.

And so, adopting the dim logic of Hollywood, I turned "Harley Momma" into a radio essay, thinking, "What the hell, if they liked the print version, they'll love it on radio. . . ." "Harley Momma" translated easily to the medium, it turned out, exactly because it was so hastily written. I'd used simple, straightforward language and edited very little. As a text, I suppose, it came off less compressed, less precise, less insightful than it might have been. But as a spoken word performance, the looser language felt right for the occasion. Most of us don't speak the way we write, thank god, and if we did, we'd be hanging clauses all over town, strangling listeners. My goal was to sound as though I were speaking my mind, not reading a text.

A note on production: I produced "Harley Momma" on my three year-old Apple Powerbook with something called an Mbox, a snazzy audio interface made by Digidesign (which the aspiring radio essayist can nab off eBay for around 300 bucks). I also used a good quality Audio-Technica condenser mic and a so-so pair of studio headphones.