If I should die tonight What would I say? I'm glad you came along And chose to stay And thank you for the love Shown to an orphan gone astray If I should die tonight That's what I'd say If I should cry tonight Don't turn away You've been my ray of sunshine Come what may You helped me through the storm Through all the nights that followed day If I should cry tonight Don't turn away You see me When others don't You're the one who tries When others won't In the temple of truth I was humbled and confessed If this be love Then I've been blessed If I should die tonight What have I learnt From all the battles fought And bridges burnt? I bore a heavy load Through all those dreams that wouldn't cease If I should die tonight God grant me peace (c) Frank Howson 2019
He's in that room Second door to the right Asleep on the couch Exhausted from trying to make sense of it all And from staying out of anyone's way He can't play the person he was anymore The clothes don't fit The lines don't ring true And the lighting isn't right All of his happy endings Added up to one massive disaster He stood up once To be shot down But that bravest hour His finest Misreported by many Cost him more than money And years And the loves of a life Although the fire was extinguished Some embers still burn When it's that three o'clock hour And the world is silent and God whispers "Don't worry" To thwart the attack of the shadow people For it takes a lifetime To realise That the more you're taught The less you think you know It's all part of the process Of shedding skins In order to set the spirit free From the chains of this world For you have to be beaten And mocked And fall Time and time again On your road to humility That will eventually carry you Above these prison walls The world has been taken over by idiots And statisticians Gossips shows and celebrity chefs And is a place where a couch In a tiny room Has become someone's refuge As he puts on his coat And goes walking with his ghosts Into a familiar surrounding That is at last bearable As he wanders With the knowledge that With wisdom comes predictability And explains God's boredom With us Can you imagine? Few can Take this man Oh, take him, Lord He who lived with trauma And the insanity of hope And walked streets that turned back into themselves Like people do And was insulted, defamed and betrayed By those he'd shown the most kindness to How much am I bid for his heart? It's weary from caring But it is still in working order What do I hear for his love That has the capacity to extend to so many For so little in return? What am I offered for his feet That have walked the world many times And yet were still able to stand while others fell? What will you give for his voice That was silenced for a time by experts Who feared his truth? Going once Going twice Sold Words (c) Frank Howson 2019 photograph by Bruce Woodley.
“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
There used to be stars
Before we pulled them down
We used to have leaders
Who were mentally sound
There used to be a gift
From up above
We didn’t know what it was
So we called it love
There used to be care
For our fellow man
When friends were in trouble
We’d try and lend a hand
It’s now considered weak
And out of date
So we look the other way
And we call it fate
The older we get
The more we forget what we’ve been taught
By all the friends we squandered
And all the dreams we bought
We toss and we turn
We live and dont learn
Stumbling in the dark
And shooting from the lip
Until we wake to find
It all comes to zip
There used to be Dreams
That got us through the night
Some called us lucky
Until we missed our flight
And we’d lost every girl
By the final reel
Too old to try again
And too scared to feel
(C) Frank Howson 2019
I died a week ago
About the time you left me
But no one has seemed to notice
I’ve been haunting some familiar bars
Speaking to strangers without getting an answer
I guess they’re dead too
There’s a lot of this going around
I think it’s called Limbo
The waiting room
Before we can move on
I’ve heard we are stuck here
Until we can make sense of it all
The room of the lost
I guess heaven is reserved for the winners
So that won’t be such a change
From what I’m used to
I don’t know what I did
Or didn’t do
To lose you
I hope I work it out soon
Because I can’t move on
Without some closure
Me, the one who vowed to love you
May be here a very long time
In this place where nothing grows
This grey place
I kept my vow to you
And now there’s all hell to pay
What room are you in?
(C) Frank Howson
Photograph by Frank Howson.
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
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