UNEASY RIDER

“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

THE BRIGHTEST LIGHT

Where do you find someone
Who’ll give you their heart?
And won’t take it back
Just to tear you apart
Someone who is
Everything she seems
A dream you wake to
When you wake from dreams
I’ve been searching so long
And learned to live alone
You kinda park your life
In a holding zone
But I believe one day
If you keep on giving
You’ll stumble in the dark
And find your reason for living
For it’s a contradiction
That in the darkest night
We see in the faraway distance
The brightest light

(G) Frank Howson

THE MISTS OF DAWN

Down here on this barren battleground
We have been issued no orders
We don’t even know who we are fighting anymore
Yesterday the fog was so thick
We mistakenly shot our own leader
And laid him to rest ‘neath a tree
Perhaps we should withdraw
Which is not a surrender
We mustn’t surrender
For there is too much to lose
But we’ve forgotten what
Send word back
That we have not thrown down our weapons
But we need back up
And supplies
It seems we have gone weeks without sleep
As we sit in the dark every night
Waiting for the enemy to attack
But they never come
This is a very sophisticated strategy
That we have not been briefed on
For our leader is dead
And his family have not received word
For they will only grieve
And too many tears have been shed
Too many hearts broken
Too many roads taken
Too many widows haunting us
In the mists of dawn
But we are holding our position
And ready for action
Eager to do him proud
To fight to the last man
We have burnt our white flags
So we wouldn’t be tempted
Our enemy has a lot to answer for
We just haven’t been informed of what
But we’ve been told to hate them
I wonder if they’re scared like us?
I wonder if they sleep?
I wonder if they just want to go home
Like we do?
I wonder if they’re still there?
Perhaps the war is over
I wonder who won?

(C) Frank Howson 2019

DRIFTING AND FADING

When I need a friend
To send me ‘round the bend
And I’m at a loose end
I’ll call you
My best friends
Stole my best friend away
Then hacked my computer and phone
To see what I had to say
But drifting and fading
Are now part of my day
This world’s a nice place to visit
But not sure I’d want to stay

She said I’d never done anything for her confusing me with another man…

(C) Frank Howson 2019

THE YOUNG BOY CALLED ME OLD MAN

The boy called me old man but I pitied him and his youthful arrogance, for I knew the pain that waited ahead for him. Life humbles us all. Even the ones who think they are Superman in those summer days of our lives. There will be plenty of time for him to look back at how much he squandered his power on those who let him down. Like an incessant drum beat that slowly fades and diminishes altogether till there is only the relief of silence that comes to those old enough to appreciate it. Some will rage against the unfairness of the inevitable but will fall where they stand as young men step over their bodies in their excitement to enter the ring.

When we are young we dream of running away with the circus. When we are old the circus runs away from us. But by then we can see through the grandeur to the sweat, fear and blood of the performance. And the toll it takes from us all.

It is unjust that we amass some experience and wisdom that gets us nowhere but a park bench in the sun. For no one is interested in listening to what we know because they’re too busy rushing around making all the same mistakes we did. And good advice is only met with resentment from the young, like telling someone how a book ends and spoiling it for them.

Some young men have so many women they don’t know what to do with them. Eventually the women realise this and leave for greener pastures and something more substantial than big talk. Or a big car. For they were never really interested in the car.

Time is a serial killer that picks its targets indescriminantly but will eventually come knocking for us all in the dead of night.

Even for those who were once arrogant young things who thought they knew it all

(C) Frank Howson 2019

THE POWER OF IDIOTS

I sit in this room, this crumbling room I grew to love, cluttered by the mementoes of a crumbled life. Framed photographs of friends, lovers and family, all long gone. My bookshelves filled with the greatest wisdom the world can offer, written in the most eloquent of ways, and yet all it did was lead me here. And very soon lead me somewhere else because of a landlady who is in my opinion certifiably insane and subleased apartments to me and several others without having the authority to do so. I would’ve thought that was fraud but it seems the police have no interest in fraud these days. I guess there’s too much of it to deal with.

So good luck out there trying to deal with people in good faith. I have written in the past about the death of common sense. But I also believe we have lived to see the death of basic common ethics. All of this of course is flamed by apathy. Nobody cares anymore. We are too emotionally burnt out by watching the end of the world live on the internet.

Einstein could see things the rest of us couldn’t. And yet quite often was unaware he had odd socks on. John Lennon was so acutely insightful and sensitive about himself and yet could not pick a mad man who meant him harm. We can, allegedly, put men on the moon and yet so much of ourselves is left untouched. How deep does that darkness go? That inner space we fear to go lest there be no coming back?

They say to kill someone also kills a part of ourselves. So, after a few more what is it to kill six million? It just becomes a number. We live in a society that does much to take away our dignity, dehumanise us, mock our integrity, and reduce the truth of our lives to third hand gossip because we have lost the will, the pride and the energy to correct it. No wonder we have become the most dangerous species of all. In fact, if we went away the world would thrive. What a sad epitaph to our existence. The proof that there is intelligent life elsewhere is their very reluctance to make contact with us.

Is it easier for us to hate than to love? Yes. But we weren’t born like that. The act that creates us, most times, is love and we are programmed to be born into it. But if that love is not waiting there, and all we get from a mother is regret and tears, and from a father anger and blame, how could we ever wish for the capacity to hope, or know of its existence? Monkey do as monkey see.

Some of us are born into great love and a warm bed. We are shielded by our parents in our formative years so that we don’t experience too much hurt, rejection, violence, and any physically harmful mishaps. They sing us lullabies and read us stories about heroes who laid down their lives for something bigger than themselves and are loved for it. We are nurtured like this until we are old enough and adequately delusional to go forth into this world in search of a love of our own. For we’re told we are not one until we are two. Complete. Our better half. Ready to be wedded to each other and to a mortgage, a job that pays us enough money to sacrifice our self-esteem, 500 pay channels of crap and fake news to dumb us down, and a long slow road to that retirement village and watery vegetable soup until one day we surrender back into that inner space. And if we have lived that accepted life without complaining we are deemed to be the lucky ones in society’s eyes.

But what happens if you are full of love for everyone and yet never find the right partner? Or waste your best years on the wrong ones? Well buddy, you’re on the scrap heap of life. Banished to Regret on the outskirts of Shame. Always finding yourself standing in the rain on somebody else’s property, constantly being moved on. Looked at suspiciously. Labelled a possible future threat. Told that we just don’t “fit in”. A gypsy. A fugitive. An unwanted man. As doomed as Jeffrey Dahmer.

I once wrote the following lines for a Keith Potger song, “The cowboys pine for the open range, the sailors stand looking out to sea, the gangsters get gun-shy and start acting strange, and the lovers end up like me.”

So, if the very foundations of our existence are either gone or, at the very least, shaky and unpredictable, is it any wonder we make such poor decisions in regard to everything else? And to the many of us who have lost all hope and are locked away in our rented tombs, are we not ticking bombs? The most dangerous person in this world is the man who has nothing left to lose. In effect, he is already dead. He no longer fears the police, or jail (he’s been living in his own for far too long), pain, slander, or meeting God. The government hate this person because they are considered a wild card and their actions cannot be predicted. You cannot bargain with him or her for there no longer exists anything they want. All those desires and needs and beliefs died long ago. The seeds were planted when we got too close to Santa Claus and realised he was just an out of work actor in a padded suit designed by Coca-Cola, hiding behind an ill-fitting false beard. In most cases this disillusionment make the disenchanted confrontational. They demand answers. If we have been expertly lied to about Santa for years where do the lies stop?

Man kills anything he can’t understand. And one of those things is love. We have a long history of murdering the messengers who preach it as our salvation. But if you promote hate and genocide and are paid big bucks to invent sophisticated lies a government can sell, you’ll most likely have a long life and die in your bed.

Recently a man who’d died for some time during an operation and brought back to life, was interviewed about this experience. During his dead time he said he’d had the usual white light sighting but then travelled on into the heart of it. He then became suddenly aware of a powerful presence behind him. He could sense it. When he went to turn, a voice of great authority said to him, “Don’t turn. For if you see my face you cannot return. And trust me you wouldn’t want to see me angry.” (The last statement proving God has a sense of humour.) The man asked, “Are you…?” To which the voice replied, “What do you think?” The nervous visitor then said, “May I ask you a question?” And the reply was “Yes. Of course.” The great presence was then asked, “What is the meaning of life?” There was laughter and then the response, “I get asked that a lot. It is very simple what life is about. Love. Love one another and be loved in return. This is not your time. You need to go back and appreciate the love you have. But when you return we will have much time to talk and you can ask all the questions you wish.”

The man was then hugged by the presence and the feeling of unconditional love filled him with a joy so intense he feared he was going to explode. And then he was back in this life. He weeps to this day because he misses that feeling of unconditional love. It seems that a love that pure without agenda could be addictive if we ever experience it.

Perhaps Life really was meant to be that simple. And man through his over-inflated ego has sought to make his own impression by complicating the natural balance and looting everything he can for his own benefit. In this lust to sell the world, pure true love has been replaced by how many women you can con into your bed for bragging rights to impress other con artists. But there is no love in carnal conquest just as there are no riches in financial wealth. Those who have acquired huge fortunes by walking over people often, at the end of their days, talk about the hollowness they feel inside. Having killed many lives with their fountain pens, and the excuse, “We’re just doing our job” they then attempt to fill their dead centre with booze, drugs, and sexual perversion. But that leads to feeling even less. “Pity the man who inherits the world but loses his soul”. You can lie to your conscious but not to your subconscious, for it records every con, lie, hurt, betrayal, etc,, until one day you cannot take any more, and so you don’t. The suicide rate is astonishing amongst the extremely wealthy. This doesn’t get much press because the power brokers of this world who push for more and more productivity are scared to inform us that our goals are wrong and that money is a false god.

I fear it’s too late for us to reprogram ourselves. This bullshit is too ingrained in our DNA. Or is it?

There’s a very insightful lyric by that mystical troubadour Bob Dylan, “Man has invented his doom, first step was touching the moon.” We have now invented technology that gives us the internet which we were told would open our minds, make our lives easier, and that the answers to every question would be at our fingertips. So how come the ignorance level has never been higher? We also don’t need to have to go to all that trouble inviting someone over to participate in sex because we have every porn clip in the world depicting every sexual fantasy anyone could possibly imagine, all performed by beautiful people. It saves being rejected, as well as all that energy. But should we be inspired by the sexual acrobatics upon our screen, we can get into Tinder and have a total stranger knock on our door within the hour. As easy as ordering a pizza. Too busy to establish personal friendships? Not a problem, grown men can play online games. It’s very exciting.

So, we become more and more isolated within ourselves, and reality is conveniently invented and programmed for our personal needs as easily as switching on the air conditioning to our perfect temperature. If there is a Satan could he have invented a more effective device to bring about our own hell?

But that’s where we are now. Perhaps the world has ended and nobody told us? Where are those madmen in the wilderness when you need them? Oh yes, that’s right, we probably killed them. Or at the very least, locked them up. Discredited them with a phoney scandal. Silenced them. This modern world doesn’t tolerate freedom of speech anymore. Yet it was those opposing voices and radical opinions that triggered spirited debate that led to positive changes. Today all the truth tellers have been very effectively silenced for fear of being labelled a Nazi, a sexist, a fascist, a racist, a bully, or just plain crazy. And in the present day world, if enough people unfriend us do we really exist anymore?

How clever of a higher being who initially gave us free will, to also have allowed us to orchestrate our own doom.

In spite of it all I still believe in love. And in the inherent good in the majority of people. We have just lost our way, that’s all. And the road back is very difficult to find in the dark.

(C) Frank Howson 2019

THE DEAD AND THE DYING

The heavy decrepit bodies of the great and not so, mingled with their offsprings, children too young to realise that this too would be their fate. Pathetic men way past their glory days paraded pretending that they still had it, while bored defeated women looked on knowing they didn’t.

It was another day at the enclosed perfectly temperatured salt baths. The warmth was comforting to the skin and the soul and made old bones and muscles feel rejuvenated. The inhabitants floated safe in this maternal womb away from the business deals that no longer mattered in a world that no longer cared and was on its last legs. Some old guys studied the racing form while younger middle-aged men preferred the stock market. Some gambled with their own money while others ventured with what they had married into, or had inherited. All in all there’d be few winners that day. There were no more lucky numbers to be had, or surprise gold and mineral funds in a world that had been looted, raped and gang banged so many times there was nothing left. Certainly not energy for outrage. Only resentment from natives who had been trampled under foot and squashed by the invaders who destroyed paradise without ever having taken the time to truly look around and realise the greatest wealth was above the ground. But like rats they burrowed lower and lower into darkness desperate for any shiny morsel of opportunity. Never thinking any further ahead than that.

We had destroyed the world without realising that such an abomination also destroyed ourselves. What we project outwards also implodes us. Given time.

I stood in the warm salt water as the floating bodies of the dead and the dying circled me.

(C) Frank Howson 2019

Sketch by Frank Howson.