Don't stop me from having some fun Fun is in such short supply these days When I was a child nothing made sense And the school system shut me out I was too busy dealing with things at home To be expected to think during classes All the lessons I needed to learn were there Within my family And I soon excelled at observation And the devastating power of words Achieving an A every year My senses heightened to love And other dangers So I befriended broken people Some were too broken and betrayed me So they could claim credit for breaking me some more But others bloomed when they received the loyalty Of a friend And I was nothing if not loyal For loyalty has been my greatest gift And my deepest flaw It has undone me many times In the light of day The most important thing we can learn Is that we know very little We can send men to explore the outer realms of space And yet so much of us is unchartered If the moon landing was faked It is probably the most revealing comment one can make about human beings God would smile at our arrogance Attempting to create on such a grand scale for ants It seems, to me, that it's not what we do that counts Anymore It's what we appear to do So, perhaps we have finally accepted The truth That we are just B grade actors On a huge soundstage created by the Almighty And each day we rise to go through the motions And play our roles as convincingly as possible For the amusement of God You see, the poor bastard is so bored Living in the great darkness he shares with Satan Where there is no time And not even the relief of commercial breaks In my opinion that would make sense Of the nothingness And we'd at last know who we are And where we are Like the Joker One has to go insane to see the insanity of the truth (c) Frank Howson 2019
I remember you Even more painful, where and when You told me when it was over That you'd find me again So you searched all the hostels Inhabiting lonely men I was killed by your mouth You were killed by my pen I told you I liked chocolates So you bought me a cigar You have a cruel talent For pushing me too far I remember walking miles While you passed me in your car The same one I'd bought you When you became my star Now the years are conspiring To drive me insane Along with some of my friends Who only deal in pain So let me spell it out To you nice and plain My dance is slowly fading And it failed to bring you rain I'll soon be gone like Jesus To never come again You nailed me to your cross And made me watch you with other men They all hurt and manhandled you And I shed tears for my precious friend But you stood with them and mocked me I should've known how it would end (c) Frank Howson 2019
Let us kneel and say our prayers That something hears our call We think too deep And we see nothing at all Rome wasn't built in a day But I bet it took an hour to fall Let us not weary in our cause Until we right the wrong A place is not a home Until you feel you belong A country isn't great Until it looks after its own To value true friendship You must walk many miles alone Let us not rush to condemn Until we know what's real Let us try a little kindness Until the broken hearts heal Let us not worship false gods Like money or power For we will see their futility In our final hour And when we face the truth May we hold our heads up high And know we did our best And that the seeds of those deeds won't die And that the judgement we're given Can't be argued or repealed For the best of us did not rest Until the broken hearts healed (c) Frank Howson 2019 Photograph by Frank Howson 2019 Mui Wo.
“All they wanted was to be free, and that’s the way it turned out to be…” – The Ballad of Easy Rider.
I was recently saddened to wake to the news that Peter Fonda had died. At my age it has become a regular occurrence, almost daily, to hear about a dear friend, acquaintance, associate, or a boyhood hero checking out of this world.
When I lived in Los Angeles for nine years I was very fortunate to have met a large number of actors, musicians and directors that’d inspired me during my formative years. Some of them became friends, others I’d see around here or there and we’d give a nod and a smile. They were mostly nice people dealing with their own pressures, families, problems and all those things we too juggle. Just on a much bigger scale. The few I encountered that were mean or monsters were the pretenders. The ones who’d seized a spotlight or some power through bluff, marketing or manipulation.
The bigger the talent, the nicer the person is what I found. Mostly.
Which brings me back to Peter Fonda. I only met him once. It was in one of my favourite books stores, Book Soup, on Sunset Boulevard, and I was browsing the latest releases when Peter came in with some people and they began setting up a table for him to do some book signings for his autobiography, “Don’t Tell Dad.” The title referring to his father, the legendary actor Henry Fonda, who was described by his children as being strict, uncommunicative, and unaffectionate. He never told them, ever, that he loved them. One of those closed men from an era when it was deemed unmanly to show your feelings. Perhaps this explains why both Peter and his sister Jane became rebels. Pushing the boundaries, striving to achieve and seeking approval from others. Running wild in Hollywood.
Peter had nothing in common with his father other than looks. I chatted with him that day and he was a genuinely nice, kind, loving individual. Before the crowd arrived he even signed a complimentary copy of his book for me. He was a hippie, spiritually, until the end.
Carving out a film career had been difficult for Peter. When he started out he had to stand in the very large overpowering shadow of his father. Remembered not for his work, but for being Henry Fonda’s son. Then later, he would be referred to as Jane Fonda’s brother. It must’ve been a creatively lonely and humbling existence for him. In fact, in most of his early films he looks stilted and uncomfortable, devoid of any identity of his own. If the trick to great acting is total relaxation, he was a long way from it.
Not making much of an impression in movies such as “Tammy and the Doctor” “The Young Lovers” and other forgettable fluffy fare, the offers dried up as he sat on the sidelines watching his father continue to shine in major movies, and his sisterJane soar in one film after another. It must’ve hurt Peter to have been thought of as the “loser” of the family, but perhaps those forces also shaped him as the gentle, unassuming, empathetic, kind man he became. He knew, in his own way, what it was like to suffer. To be ignored. Or dismissed.
Like many outsiders of the big slick Hollywood machine, Peter stumbled into the conveyor-belt Roger Corman “B” grade movie productions churned out for drive-in market. These exploitation films had budgets less than what real movies spent on catering. Some of them were shot in two days! And those that worked on them, usually had two or more jobs to perform. But Peter joined an illustrious company of other young, eager outsiders who couldn’t get a break in mainstream movies either. People like Jack Nicholson, Francis Coppola, Robert DeNiro, Bruce Dern, etc.
The brilliant thing about the Corman movies was that you learnt on the job, from experience, seeing yourself on the big screen and seeing what worked and what didn’t. You can now observe in these mostly crappy movies how Fonda and Nicholson go from stilted, self-conscious actors to guys who become so comfortable in front of a camera, their true self shines through and magic is born. We see this in Fonda’s performances in “The Wild Angels,” and the LSD fuelled “The Trip.”
And so it was, with a small budget film called “Easy Rider” (directed by Dennis Hopper and starring Peter, who also co-wrote the script and co-produced it) that Peter Fonda became a huge international star in his own right, and a cultural icon to a whole generation of baby boomers. His character Captain America oozed quiet confidence and the cool factor in abundance. The way he moved, how he dressed, the manner in which he spoke, had us boys all trying to emulate him. He became our martyred hero who, like us, was so lost, confused and despairing about the world, that we dropped out of the ranks of what was expected of us.
One of the last lines his character utters in the film, just before his date with destiny is, “We blew it.” He doesn’t elaborate. It is a beautiful, sad, famously enigmatic line that in a way is a eulogy to a lost generation.
Although Peter went on and starred in many movies and won Golden Globe awards and nominations for Oscars, it is his character in “Easy Rider” that still haunts us. That cool, disenchanted, silent-type loner, searching for the meaning of life on the coolest looking motorcycle we ever saw.
The advertising by-line to the movie “Two men went looking for America, and couldn’t find it anywhere,” best sums it up.
Peter screened the final cut of the movie to Bob Dylan hoping that the famous troubadour would give permission for his recordings to be used for the movie’s soundtrack. But Dylan was so angered by the movie’s tragic ending, he said he’d only give his songs to the movie if the final scene was reshot and the bikers won. But Peter explained that the two leading characters had to be martyred. That’s what happened at that time, at that place, in America. Young people couldn’t beat the system.
So Bob took a piece of paper and scribbled these lines on it, “The river flows to the sea. Wherever that river flows that’s where I want to be. Flow river flow, let your waters wash down, take me from this road, to some other town…” He handed it to Peter and said, “Give it to Roger McGuinn to finish. He’ll know what to do with it.”
And do he did. Roger added the lines, “All they wanted was to be free, and that’s the way it turned out to be.” And “The Ballad of Easy Rider” was born. Dylan declined a credit as he’d given the lyrics to Peter, and the film, as a gift.
Peter Fonda was born to be wild. He is now free from the chains and restrictions of this earthly world. Free to ride the wind. To be a part of that beautiful dawn. To be as still and wise as the trees. And to flow with that river to the sea.
Farewell, dear Peter. Take it easy.
(C) Frank Howson 2019
Once I was a child
And the world was beautiful
Loving and cruel
Much bigger than me
I looked up to everyone
Some grownups didn’t like children
You could tell by how they looked at you
Perhaps they didn’t like fellow grownups either
But I didn’t know that
I was just a child
I liked to play with little soldier figures
That I collected until I had my own army
Then I started collecting an army for them to fight
They like to hook boys on war as soon as possible
My army won every battle
But none of them got really hurt
They just pretended to be to satisfy my scenario
That’s a grownup word for story
Grownups like to show off
I also liked to listen to the radio
My mum said I could identify every singer
Just from hearing a few bars of their voices
My dad worked every week day
And sometimes he took me with him
I was made a fuss of by his workmates
Because I was a child
Sometimes my mum worked at night
I didn’t like that
I would sit on my dad’s knee
Listening to the radio
Eagerly awaiting her return
I wished that we had a TV set
And then one day Steele’s department store
Delivered one by accident
We never told them
And they never came back
My parents thought it was luck
I knew it was magic
And my wish had come true
But what did I know?
I was a child
Sometimes my much older sisters were nice to me
Most times they weren’t
I grew to accept that
I must have done something wrong to them
And they were paying me back
Or else they knew I was worthless
I should’ve thanked them for bringing this to my attention
But I was just a child
I liked watching things on TV
In those days shows always had a happy ending
And the cast would smile as the credits rolled
Sometimes they’d wave at me while they smiled
And I waved back
Before they faded out
I wished that I could be on TV
And then I was
My parents called it luck
But I knew it was magic
My wish had come true
One day my mum took me to see a pantomime
At the Tivoli Theatre
It looked magical to me
And everyone seemed to be having fun
I wished I could be up there on the stage
And one day I was
My parents called it luck
But I knew much more
You see, I was a child
And for a time my wishes came true
Then I grew up
And I wished I hadn’t
But as much as I wished
And I couldn’t go back
Then my dad went to heaven
He said he’d had enough
So I got married
Because that’s what grownups do
When you replace grownups
And take on responsibilities
And it all begins again
And I got to learn grownup secrets
There are not always
And that wishes rarely come true and it’s more to do with luck
The older you get
The more selective you become about what you wish for
One day my wife took me to dinner
And told me a happy occasion was coming
And soon we had a child of our own
I always knelt so as to not look down on him
No matter what he asked
I always smiled and gave him
And what wisdom I had
I tried to make him feel he was worth
Then one day it was all taken away
But that’s a long story
I guess I’d forgotten in my joy
To say thank you
To the one who grants the wishes
And he can be a hard God at times
My mother didn’t want to leave me
So she hung on a long time
But finally she got so tired
She had to go
Sometimes people ask me what I want
And I answer that I want what I had
A long time ago
When there were heroes
Before the press tore them down
Back when my family and I gathered around
Our hot TV
And watched our favourites
And laughed as one
Cried as one
And cheered as one
When I was a child
And the world was new
When wishes came true
If you were lucky
But now I’ve been cast as the kindly old man
And seek signs of affection
In the eyes
Of those I pass in the street
As I did when I was a child
But people’s eyes are cold these days
And they don’t see others
For they are only looking inward
I also smile at children
Remembering when I was one
But they confirm that I am now invisible
For they’ve been taught to ignore strangers
I’m no longer in the club
Expelled for growing too tall
Even though my heart remains young
The deserted alleyways of night
Are the only friends one can confide in
Walk it away
Walk it away
Around the next corner there is no light
And you can lose yourself
Sometimes I am seen
Searching for my youth
In the recycling bins
Trying to find one little toy soldier
Who might stand up for me
Take my side
Fight the good fight
And guide me
(C) Frank Howson 2019
We sleep in the dark
And wake to a stark
We never learn
We wait our turn
Then forget what to say
When someone nags
We pack our bags
We push and shove
And try to love
But lonesome ends with me
Wasn’t I there for you
Aren’t I a friend too?
You sneak thoughts into my head
While I rest in bed
I used to feel alive
But now I feel
As good as dead
With that having been said…
We give what it takes
And make our mistakes
We walk alone
And turn to stone
I love you but you lie
I walk the beach
And sometimes teach
That one and one
Can come undone
And lonesome ends with me
(C) Frank Howson 2019
These were the shoes he wore. Notice the soles are thin. He’d walked many miles in these trying to get ahead.
This was his favourite jacket. He felt wealthy when he wore it. Even though it had holes in the pockets.
This is the shirt he called his lucky one. He always wore it to important meetings and although nothing ever came of them he felt this shirt would bring him luck. Someday.
These were his favourite pants – he’d been married in them. Twice.
This was the hat he wore everyday. It shielded his head from the rain and the wind and the sun. And if he pulled the brim down, from everyone.
This is the map he lost just before he lost his way.
These are the tears he cried when he had nowhere to go.
This is the heart you broke and you didn’t even know.
These are your letters he kept when he believed in you.
This is the photo of his mother who thought he was precious.
Where are the friends he helped instead of helping himself?
This is his favourite song that he played every night.
This is the movie he said changed his life.
These are the books he loved now all packed away.
Who saw him last?
(C) Frank Howson 2019