A few days ago, via my Tumblr feed, I came across an article from Outside Magazine about the glories of road trips. In the article, author Mark Jenkins references five classic literary and movie road trips: On The Road, Travels With Charlie, Zen and The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance, Blue Highways, and Easy Rider. I have read all of the books he mentioned multiple times but I had never seen Easy Rider.
Known as a “cult classic,” I was fascinated by Easy Rider. During the first scenes of Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) riding through the Southwest F and I tried to name the places they were traveling through (and based on the location list at IMDB, we did pretty well). I’m always a sucker for beautiful scenery shots and this was no exception. Aside from the scenery, I was really impressed with how current the film felt to me. Aside from the undercurrents of hating the long-haired hippies, the themes of freedom and stylistic choices felt like a modern independent film. Sometimes it felt a bit contrived but it was that good kind of contrived, if that makes any sense.
The whole film was summed up by George (Jack Nicholson), in his discussion with Billy about freedom. It’s not a rosy vision of freedom but rather a dark and realistic one.
George: You know, this used to be a helluva good country. I can’t understand what’s gone wrong with it.
Billy: Huh. Man, everybody got chicken, that’s what happened, man. Hey, we can’t even get into like, uh, second-rate hotel, I mean, a second-rate motel. You dig? They think we’re gonna cut their throat or something, man. They’re scared, man.
George: Oh, they’re not scared of you. They’re scared of what you represent to ’em.
Billy: Hey man. All we represent to them, man, is somebody needs a haircut.
George: Oh no. What you represent to them is freedom.
Billy: What the hell’s wrong with freedom, man? That’s what it’s all about.
George: Oh yeah, that’s right, that’s what it’s all about, all right. But talkin’ about it and bein’ it – that’s two different things. I mean, it’s real hard to be free when you are bought and sold in the marketplace. ‘Course, don’t ever tell anybody that they’re not free ’cause then they’re gonna get real busy killin’ and maimin’ to prove to you that they are. Oh yeah, they’re gonna talk to you, and talk to you, and talk to you about individual freedom, but they see a free individual, it’s gonna scare ’em.
Billy: Mmmm, well, that don’t make ’em runnin’ scared.
George: No, it makes ’em dangerous.
Easy Rider sits with me sort of like Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance did; there’s a lot to relate to and a lot to ponder. Lots has been written about this movie (this original NYT review is pretty neat). It also makes me want to drive through the southwest.
P.S. Just found this picture of F’s truck he had when I met him. I’m sorta sad that he got rid of the Easy Rider poster: