Billy inaugurated his motorcycle gallery “20th Century Cycles” on Saturday November 6th, in a town known as Oyster Bay in Long Island, with a simple but elegant bike loving bash celebrating the debut of his current motorcycle collection and exhibit space — now open to the public. Located in a former Ford dealership, then carpet store and then dance studio on Audrey Avenue, the vacant space was completely gutted, renovated, and transformed from a decaying storefront to a gleaming showroom with the characteristics of a clubhouse/art gallery. Stacks of cool bike mags from this shore and others await patrons in a comfy couch area within a few steps of the neon jukebox, Coke and cappuccino machines. You are greeted with walls appointed with vintage posters, gas station signs and rare relics, hanging over functioning workbenches, and tool drawers. Exposed rafters and original beams, and new skylights affixed to the roof, extend the sense of space. The “oil heads” and “rice burners,” “cruisers” and “café racers” are beautifully presented as if they were center stage at the glorious Fillmore East.
This gallery is lucky to be in such passionate hands that imagined the metamorphosis of each bike on display; with both gallery space and 2-wheel motor machines enjoying a complete makeover, with no detail excluded. Displaying a collection of some 60 bikes lined up in neat rows, each a story on its own, where the important icons of their day are well represented with names like Ducati, Yamaha, Honda, BMW, Royal Enfield, BSA, Triumph, Harley Davidson, Moto Guzzi and others, leaning on their kick stands, suggesting the attitude of Brando; The Wild One; each a customized contender! A century’s iconoclasts are all here in some shape or spirit.
The spectacle draws the spectator in for a micro inspection of the subtle color choices; gas tanks painted shades of gray, forest greens, brilliant reds, yellows and a spectrum of blues. You’ll notice handlebars of various configurations; fender racks; and engine accessories; seats and saddles; with each bike a definitive original in this 20th century pantheon. No iPods and Bose speakers here. A Wurlitzer jukebox is stationed, its back against the front wall, a reminder that bikes and bikers need music like fuel, and it rocks with the cadence of Cream, Johnny Cash, Hendrix, Dion, Led Zeppelin, and of course the Beatles. On the flat screen TV, you’ll notice films like “Leather Boys,” a black and white British biker flick, circa 1964, with great footage of café racers set against the comings and goings at the famed Ace Café.
You can’t have a launch party in Oyster Bay without offering a sampling of the local oysters and a few cold beers, with some shrimps thrown in for good and tasty measure. Inviting friends and bike aficionados, Billy’s guests included Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) and Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, Mike Seate/Café Racer Magazine & TV Series, Peter Nettesheim/ Nettesheim BMW Museum, BMW USA's Roy Oliemuller, and Glenn Gamboa, writer for Newsday. Glenn’s conversation with Billy in the shop’s back office, before the party, is shared here. Thank you Glenn and Newsday.
GG: Growing up here, did you think you’d ever have a store in Oyster Bay?
BJ: When I was very young, I probably entertained the idea of being in some sort of entertainment business. I didn’t know whether it would be a piano store or a music shop, where I would teach students, or--I don’t know--a bar/restaurant…the first place I lived on my own was in Oyster Bay. I was always enchanted by this little village.
GG: The store is going to be open on weekends?
BJ: We’re going to start with weekends. On the weekend, there are a lot of Long Island motorcyclists driving around with no place to go. There’s this kind of aimless cruise that everybody does on the weekends. They all like to see other people’s bikes and they like other people to see their bikes. So where do you go? It’s kind of dumb luck. They go to the Oak Beach Inn parking lot. They go out to somewhere in the Hamptons or Montauk, Bayville, or Jones Beach. I was hoping this could become kind of a focus point for people aimlessly riding around on the weekends. There are no cars in the lot here (pointing to the parking lot across from the shop on Audrey Avenue) on the weekends because the Town of Oyster Bay employees are all gone. We could fit five motorcycles in one car spot. We could fit a lot of bikes there. It’s not what everybody’s worried about—the lifestyle-biker-bad-guy…a lot of affluent people own motorcycles and the demographic is all over the place.
GG: Do you think you’ll get a lot of your music fans coming to the shop to get a glimpse of you and not the bikes?
BJ: Well, I’m not naïve to think that won’t happen. I’m trying to encourage more of the motorcycle aficionados and motor heads, but I know there will be music fans that’ll want to come and talk about music. I’m not really here for that. I’m not going to be mean or standoffish to them. Of course, I’d welcome those people. But we’re trying to encourage another thing. If that helps people to pay attention to motorcycling, that’s ok. There are a lot of accidents that happen because people aren’t aware of motorcyclists. This will help raise that consciousness. Maybe people might think twice when they see a motorcyclist and drive more carefully because they think, ‘That might be Billy Joel.’ On the other hand, some people might say, ‘If I knock that guy down, I won’t ever have to hear his music again.’ Who knows?
This is a bigger more permanent exhibit, that got its kick-start with Billy’s June 2009 installation “20th Century Cycles: The Motorcycle as Art and Icon” which took place at The Christy's Building Art Center, in Sag Harbor, New York. That exhibit attracted enthusiasts near and far, and inspired a desire for a permanent space that could house and share Billy's endless fascination with the motorcycle as machine, artifact, and lifestyle. A cool hang, cool bikes, a place to ride to, a place to see and talk bikes, well, it's all here in Oyster Bay.
Billy finished the Face 2 Face Tour with Elton John on March 11, 2010 and decided to take some time off from the circus of touring, to focus on the home front. Ever creative, he poured his off stage energies into this and other endeavors, and is all smiles with his beloved bikes on display in Oyster Bay. Looking ahead to 2011, he suggested that it might be time to play. Stay tuned to www.billyjoel.com for more info.