On a personal level adventures haven’t come my way lately, and neither have I had any motors runin’, quite the opposite actually, with little work and energy coming my way these days, day and night somehow seems to merge all together, and at it’s own tempo. In other words, I’ve been having trouble with my sleeping-rhythm lately…and this certainly messes with your mind, at least mine. Take for example this incident that occurred the other day. It was dark inside and outside, so dark, so black as if it was a moonless night. I couldn’t sleep I felt claustrophobic so I fled from the bedroom and parked my behind in the living room sofa. Here I skipped through the DVD collection, aiming at a movie filled with escapism so could forget my current diagnosis. So what to watch? I was thinkin’ or kind of talking to myself: “Brazil by Terry Gilliam?…maybe but no, too chaotic, Crimes and Misdemeanours by Woody Allen?…catchy but no way, too talky’…How about a horror film? Good Idea John, How about Childs Play by Tom Holland?…well, funny but seen it not long ago…I got it, a road movie would hit the spot! Y Mama Tu Bien or Broken Flowers? oh man, too sexy and too cool for me at this moment. Now what?”. I got up and started digging among the more classical films and here I found the perfect cinematic ride for the night and this was a film I had not seen for a while, a film full of skid marks, shifting landscapes, vivid visions, life, death, exploration, and adventure. Without hesitation I went with Easy Rider, and I asked myself could this be my medicine or could this be a drug?
These words quoted above were once uttered by John Kay the vocalist of one of hard rock’s earliest pioneers Steppenwolf, and they have now become every real biker’s true gospel. Real bikers like the two main characters of the american road-movie classic Easy Rider. On the surface the story is about two hippy-bikers who travel all across the north American continent in search of themselves, and what the country has to offer. Under the surface, Easy Rider deals with the subject matter of freedom beyond cultural and spiritual boundaries whitch also mirrors Steppenwolf’s both lyrical and musical expression. Therefore it doesn’t seem far fetched that director Dennis Hopper ultimately put Steppenwolf on the movie’s soundtrack with songs like The Pusher and Born To Be Wild. Given the enormous box-office success Easy Rider had during its release back in the summer of ’69, the band, the song and the movie are now inseparable and synonymous with the American biker culture.
During my re-watch of Easy Rider on DVD 2.am the other night, I found myself extraordinary alive and craving for some real motor runin’ highway adventure. During sometime in the last chapter of the film I was so deeply hooked on the film that I literally wanted to become a real biker right there and then. Quickly I got on my midnight blue denim jeans, my sheep-skin biker leather jacket, and to put the cherry-on-top I pulled on my Stetson American-made Cowboy Boots. I opened up the window and slowly closed my eyes while I sat down in the sofa. Here I felt the wind in my hair, the tightness and smell of the leather jacket, the comfort in sitting down, spreading both arms and legs, resting and relaxing like I was somewhere on the road near New Orleans. Beneath me I could hear the sound of the motorcycle motor roaring with its pistons firing away while quenching its thirst with gasoline. It didn’t feel as if these sounds came from the DVD, they came from my own cruiser. This was basically like watching film in 3D in your own living room, only much better, no glasses, no audience noises, no subtitles necessary, no BS.
Suddenly at the sound of an explosion I opened my eyes and the illusion was gone…then reality clicked in after the end credits went by, so I quickly figured out that nothing could possibly enhance this experience, only a real ride could, and at that moment, I had neither a biker-license nor a bike for my disposal. I closed the windowpane and gazed out. The realms outside were filled with a huge ocean, scattered islands, bulky roads and a bunch of coloured wooden houses, this was not the America I was just visiting few moments before the abrupt awakening. With a disappointed sigh I sat down in the sofa, while zipping down my sheep-skin biker leather jacket I grabed the DVD-controller and skiped back a scene. While re-watching the last scene in Easy Rider now with my eyes open, I came to the conclusion that this film surly had stood the test of time with its unpredictable-ness, like specially in terms of its post-modernistic storytelling. Whereas the outer journey is really the characters inner journey in search of their true ‘self’ and we identify with them despite their liberal and anti-establishment values which they represent.
After losing my train of though I felt a sudden clarity that drawing myself as an older biker would be the easiest way to express this dreaming state of mind in which road, dust, leather, chrome, wind, wheels and myself could be united once again.
As a starting point I began sketching the bike. The bike is more inspired by a chopper than a traditional motorcycle. I got my lovely girlfriend to pencil-paint the drawing and she did a splendid job I must add. I didn’t want to caricature-ize the drawing by drawing it out the proportions but rather keep it plain and simple. In the facial area i was a bit inspired by Discovery’s American Chopper TV-series, and especially Paul Sr. who owns Orange County Choppers. I imagined how some of his looks could easily pass for an robust old biker. The blue denim jeans, a darker version of both jacket and boots are in place as if time has made its mark on them. While drawing it came to my mind that the Stars n’ Stripes, the American Flag as we know it was very much displayed in both The American Chopper Series and in Easy Rider. For example on Wyatt’s leather jacket backside a huge American flag is to be seen, as well as a paint job on his bike tank. In the The American Chopper series tattoos, t-shirts, wallpaper and bikes are decorated with it. I smell a contradiction here. Yes, there is a contradiction by how the flag is represented. First of all, Americans are very protective and strict about the flag itself; you can flagg it, display and salute it too, but it shall not touch the ground, nor made mockery out of. On the other hand its the most merchandised flag in the world.
In these circumstances, a certain painting from a long, long time ago came to my mind. The American abstract expressionistic artist named Jasper Johns made a painting called White Flag in 1955. White Flag as shown in the picture above it shows the American Flag totally drained for its color and therefore one can ask what kind of flag is this? But hold on, it is a painting its not made out of cloth like a real flag. Like Time Magazine’s late art critic Robert Hughes underlines in his book American Visions: The Epic history of Art in America, that White Flag rose questions about representation in art itself. He wasn’t the first one to do so, like Rene Magritte’s old brainteaser about representation, a picture of a pipe with the tagline (this is not real pipe its a picture) , but Johns was the first one to bring the context to attention in America. Without taking a political standpoint with his painting, Jasper Johns claimed that he got the idea of the painting by simply having dreamt it one night. In the mid fifties The Cold War between Cuba and U.S.A was at its peak and Jasper Johns painting shows a passive muteness and confusion to what is patriotism in America.
A parallel can be drawn to Easy Rider’s opening scene where Wyatt is basically hiding his dope money after a successfully drug trade, through a plastic hose inside the tank of his bike, where the tank is as mention painted in the fashion of the American Flag. Dennis Hopper is taking the symbolism even further as if there is something dirty behind the American Dream. According to TASCHEN’s incredible book called Dennis Hopper: Photographs 1961 – 1967. Jasper Johns met first with Dennis Hopper at an art gallery in L.A as early as 1960, and as clearly as this book vividly displays that Dennis Hopper had a passion for art and its masters.
And that the 60’s being a decade in change and turmoil, its was clear to a certain extent obvious that both Hopper and Johns critical view on their home country were to be channelised through their art. The Picture below is a photo of Irving Blum and Jasper Johns, taken by Hopper in 1964.
“I lived out the fantasy of ‘Billy’ for years after that, this sort of roughhouse guy who keeps moving along despite everything, you know. I’m always trying to make sense of the mayhem around me“. Dennis Hopper (1936 – 2010).
Anyways, Easy Rider is highly recomendable. I’ve watched it many times over the years, and I even put it on a couple of times just for the music itself. The soundtrack features the cream-de-la-cream from the Woodstock generation like Richie Havens, Blue Cheer, The Band, The Moody Blues, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience to mention a few. The stellar cinematography by the late Hungarian master László Kovács A.S.C makes you want to travel wherever Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) goes. The psychedelic editing rythmes by Donn Cambern A.C.E makes you feel as if your under the influence and taking the trip with them. Jack Nicholson who also is starring in the film makes a hilarious role as the wise drunken lawyer named Geroge Hanson. With that being said I’ll end this post with a quote from the film.
“You know, this used to be a helluva good country. I can’t understand what’s gone wrong with it”. George Hanson
Drive safely and have a nice weekend!