Don’t trust anyone over 75
Your Humble Blogger walked out on Easy Rider. Saw this revolutionary movie in its entirety when it first came out in 1969 (was it the first MTV music video?) and almost again this weekend at Madison’s Barrymore theater. It was sponsored by the Slimy Crud motorcycle group. For one buck, you couldn’t go wrong. Plus, that was the only way to get at the beer concession inside (Excellent selection!) and the spooky lobby.
The audience filled at least two-thirds of the theater and appeared to be (ahem) of a certain age. The oldsters cheered when Steppenwolf kicked into Born to Be Wild and Billy and Wyatt tear through the wide open (think of the possibilities!) American Southwest, playfully alternating leads on their Panhead, raked Harleys. (Photography by the great László Kovács.)
I like smoke and lightning
Heavy metal thunder
Racin’ with the wind
And the feelin’ that I’m under
Suffers from Commune-ism
But then the movie bogs down. Wyatt (Peter Fonda) picks up a hitchhiker. Billy (Dennis Hopper) always paranoid asks the hitchhiker a simple question. Where’s he from? Hitchhiker won’t answer. After further prodding, grudgingly responds, “Some city.” Yeah, right. Cities bad! Well, actually, in the 1960s, they were burning down so maybe Mr. Mysterious had a point. But would it have killed him to answer “Milwaukee”? Or Flint?
Easy Rider is an update of Huckleberry Finn (or Homer’s Odyssey) with better music and worse dialogue. An episodic travelogue in which the central figures encounter varied people and changing circumstances in different settings. TV series like Wagon Train, Route 66, and Rawhide were built around the same structure.
The boys take Hitchhiking man to his commune. Communes were big in the late 1960s and none of them ended well. (See Charlie Manson.) The hippies in the Easy Rider commune were living in abject squalor. Trump’s original Third World Hell Hole. Dust, dirt, and filth! Smoke everywhere. Some of it legal. The de-volutionary tribe in the movie consumed drugs seemingly all day long. Screwed at random and put on bad plays. (Mickey and Judy have left and gone away. Hey, hey hey!) No one contributed. What did these commune-ists eat? Let’s not get gushy about subsistence agriculture, people. No tractors to be seen. No beasts of burden. Try growing enough wheat to make a single loaf of bread. Try managing the camp fire to bake that bread. Rounding up field hands among these layabouts? Peace out, Man!
There is not one intelligent woman in the film. If they’re not the two prostitutes at Mardi Gras (one of whom is Karen Black) they are giving it away for free. The Playboy philosophy at work.
The music of our life
As for the music, the entertainment director at the Stately Manor has probably played the Easy Rider soundtrack more than any in the rest of his priceless collection. In fact, the Squire hereby instructs his grieving heirs to play “The Ballad of Easy Rider” by Roger McGuinn at his funeral before torching the pyre containing his Softail Slim so your Humble Blogguer can explode into space like Peter Fonda at film’s end. (He blew up real good.)
The river flows, it flows to the sea
Wherever that river goes that’s where I want to be
Flow river flow, let your waters wash down
Take me from this road to some other town
What is Easy Rider ABOUT? From what the Policy Werkes can gather: Sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The sex was free, the music unparalleled, and the drugs … (“We can climb so high, we never wanna die.”)
Late in the movie, Wyatt says “We blew it.” Consider that the boys “earned” their last trip by selling cocaine to that guy in the Rolls Royce. (Played by hall of fame music producer Phil Spector who killed a woman and now sits in prison.) There’s a reason Steppenwolf opens the movie with The Pusher.
You know, I’ve seen a lot of people walkin’ ’round
With tombstones in their eyes
But the pusher don’t care
Ah, if you live or if you die
God damn, the pusher
God damn, I say the pusher
I said God damn, God damn the pusher man
God damn the opioid crisis this very day. Madison cops use their Naxolene injector more than their firearm, despite what the social justice warriors would have us believe.
‘Tombstones in their eyes’
It is bad karma that the boys take an acid trip to hell at their final destination, Mardi Gras. (Then and now an excuse for sex, music and substance abuse.) Right and just that the power-tripping Hitchhiker is who gave it to them. Fonda, lurching amidst New Orleans’ above-ground burial vaults, seems to be recycling his real-life mother’s suicide in perhaps the only acting he does in the film.
Hopper, nonetheless, adopted drug abuse as a lifestyle. He made one incoherent movie and essentially disappeared until playing the crazed photographer (how many cameras can a single man hang around his neck, anyway?) in Coppola’s Apocalypse Now a decade later.
Easy Rider made $60 million and cost $400,000. That buys a lot of sweet dreams. Peter Fonda got Jack Nicholson cheap, before he was a big star. Which is what this movie made him. Stole his scenes right out from under Fonda and even Hopper. Paranoid and vindictive to the end, Hopper died not speaking to Fonda.
Far as the Squire could tell, confirmed by former judge Mark Frankel sitting elsewhere in the Barrymore, no one was smoking dope. You don’t get to be our age by being stupid.
Slimy Crud rally at Leland (Sauk County) on Sunday, May 6, 2018. (Un film de László Blaska)
Slimy Crud motorcycle rallies are held first Sundays in May and October for all makes and models, especially featuring vintage bikes. Starts Sunday morning in Pine Bluff west of Madison and migrates to Leland, another tiny hamlet in Wisconsin’s beautiful “drift less” area of hills and rivers. Both towns have two taverns. (Go figure!) This video shot in Leland, north of Baraboo, WI.