HEAVENLY.

I have only a limited amount of time left to inhabit this body. But I will go on. Like we all do. As a speck of dust floating in the universe. Free, untroubled, and no more time constraints. Oh, and the music, the symphony of silence, which will move even a speck to feel whole like never before.

Having been educated for a lifetime on earth, we are acclimatised to being alone. But it won’t bother us anymore because we’ll now know that it’s at our core to be this way. On earth we lived outwardly for the enjoyment of others, whilst living our real spiritual life within our heads.

It was good preparation for this new life. Our real life. Devoid of any more death or disappointments in this void amidst the great vastness of all voids. Drifting. Weightless. Nowhere to go for there is no “where.” There is only here. And now. No time to be on time somewhere. No further commitments or responsibilities. Nothing to feel guilty about for there are no religions in this new place of real love and peace. All that belonged back in that ant-like existence when we had so little consciousness we could never comprehend the complexities, and yet simplicity, of this great vastness and freedom of being. In this new existence you can let your mind wander for a thousand years, even a million, in old time, and then snap back to a moment before that thought even occurred.

You now realise that the great artists – the writers, the painters and the composers – instinctively understood it.

Finally, we are fulfilled with a capacity to love that was once capped on earth by a ceiling we feared pushing beyond. But now, we experience it to the full which unleashes a bliss to make each of us feel like God. Because in this moment that never ends, we are God.

I was young just yesterday, and now I am older than the world will ever be.

Looking back at my earth life, I now realise that most of us were only living because we feared dying.

But there’s nothing to it.

 

(c) Frank Howson 2020

THE MEANING OF SUCCESS.

The word success is almost impossible to define, as it means something different to just about everyone. It’s much too large than a single word can contain,  because it’s a concept. A floating concept that bends and morphs and matures as we do. What we think it means at the beginning of our journey, may be vastly different to what it means at the end. It’s a dream that, once it’s seemingly fulfilled, may be considered a burden. A curse. A prison cell. A nightmare.

Perhaps it’s God’s sneakiest joke on us all. Giving us what we think we want, in order to find out first hand how hollow it ultimately becomes. 

McCartney hit it on the head, simplifying it to “Can’t Buy Me Love.” A record we could dance to, even if the concept was way beyond our comprehension at the time. Perhaps Paul was starting to understand how restrictive a “successful” life can be.

One of the Ten Commandments states that “Thou Shalt Not Worship False Gods.”  I have interpreted that to include money = success. For I’ve seen first hand people worship it at the expense of their family, friends, colleagues, ethics, talent and own life.  Their “concept” of success was so delusional it eventually devalued every thing of true value in their life.

I was once privileged to have had a song of mine selected for inclusion on the Ferrets’ second album “Fame At Any Price.” I loved that album title then, as I love it now. It was prophetically apt for a band that self-combusted shortly after its release. Perhaps from the pressure of having to follow-up a Number One single and a Gold debut album “Dreams of a Love,” which incidentally also featured a song of mine entitled “Killing Ourselves.”  A lyric about the friends of mine who were falling in action during the Melbourne heroin epidemic of the Seventies. That song proved prophetic for the band too.

It’s one thing to crave success. It’s another to have the stomach for it. People take drugs like heroin to numb themselves to the world around them. Isn’t it bizarre that when many performers finally break through and achieve the success they’ve craved, they reach out to self-medicate themselves to…what? The pain of it? The disappointment that the concept of success was so much more thrilling than the reality? Or is it their fear that they, mere mortals, are suddenly treated like gods, and know they can’t sustain this facade for long without publicly falling? False prophets for a false society. 

It says a lot about our society that Elvis Presley, the most famous and desired man in the world, died of loneliness. Photographs of him towards the end show a man who is dull-eyed, self-medicated to the point of not knowing where he is, and clearly not having a good time. He even mocks himself in his final heartbreaking performances as if all his dignity is gone. Pity the man who inherits the world, but loses his soul?

We are fed the “Dream” to keep us productive, and striving day to night to achieve our goal, so we can be happy. But, what if, as Judy found out, there’s nothing at the end of the rainbow except burnt-out, broken, despairing suckers?

I always thought the rainbow ended on the corners of Hollywood Boulevard and Western. It almost did for me one night, but that’s another story. And there are millions of stories in the naked city.

My father worked his guts out from 6am until 5pm every day in a thankless job that paid him nowhere near his worth. Then he’d come home and drink. Do you blame him? I sure as hell didn’t. He dreamed of reaching retirement age and getting a big payout. He didn’t make it. In one of the final lines in Arthur Miller’s cathartic play Death of a Salesman, “…No one dast blame this man…He just had the wrong dreams. All wrong.”

How much of our lives are wasted chasing the wrong dreams? “When I get a nice new car I’ll be happy!”…”When I get married I’ll be happy!”…”When I get a nice house I’ll be happy!”…”When I have a child I’ll be happy!”…”When I get divorced I’ll be happy!”… “When I can retire and live as I want I’ll be happy!” etc., etc. The truth is, we’re not happy to begin with. One thing I’ve learnt from my own experience is that money and success won’t make you happy. In fact, they will just amplify the painful reality that you aren’t.  In order to enjoy money and success, you must be happy within yourself before you obtain them. Otherwise they are weights around your neck that’ll drag you down to the bottom of the ocean.

Bob Dylan once said that “a successful man is someone who gets up in the morning and goes to bed each night and in between does exactly what he wants.” So, there you have it. Real success is freedom. The freedom to be who you are, and do what you want to do.

I’ve always admired people who are good at what they do. That’s probably a working class respect I inherited from my parents who much admired skilled tradespeople.

America used to have a healthy competitive pride whereby whatever job you had, people wanted to be the best at it. Whether it was driving a cab, being a shoeshine boy, a bellboy, a clerk, a hot dog vendor, etc.

I’ve seen waiters in Los Angeles, old guys who had made a career of it, and they were perfection personified. It was riveting to observe their attention to detail, manners, diplomacy, professionalism, and so on. The top guys made a fortune in tips and deserved every dime. But more than the money, they prided themselves on being the best. Some, were legends. I was in awe of them and paid them great respect. 

So, what is success? Is it determined by money? Or by your ability? Or what others think of you? Or how loved you are by your family? Or how many people know your name? Or how many of your peers respect you? Or how fulfilled you are within yourself?

Because, if we don’t know the answer to that, it means most of us have been striving for something that is so elusive, it is even beyond us. And, if we don’t know what we’re seeking,  how can we expect to find it? Or ever be content?

I like to walk a lot and, when I do, observe people. You could say it’s part of my job. And in my journeys into the outside world, I have from time to time passed many happy people. The happy family man. The happy young girl walking hand-in-hand with her love. The happy little boy who puts his protective arm around his younger sister and smiles at her. The happy busker who has a captive audience and a hat full of money. The happy taxi driver who loves to chat with his passengers and treat each as a new friend. And so on. To me, all these types are successful people. In the truest sense of the word. They are happy within themselves and thus radiate happiness outward. They have not been shackled by expectations. Either of our own making, or of others. 

I have also seen and met some of the wealthiest, most powerful and famous people in the world whilst I lived in L.A, and quite a few were utterly miserable, and made everyone in their presence feel the same.

In the some of the final lines of the classic movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” it is stated, “No man is a failure who has friends.”

I believe that. I have some very true, loyal friends. Their rock solid friendship make me feel successful, happy and content for having found them. No matter what I do professionally, or don’t do, or they do or don’t,  we have achieved something rare, precious and beautiful. Something real. 

 

(c) Frank Howson 2020

photograph by Vanessa Allan.

THE MAN IN QUESTION

I looked into the man’s face. It was etched with suffering. He had no doubt fallen many times in his battles with Life. It looked to me like the greatest pain had not come due to the falls, but from the effort required to rise, and rise again. I also observed the deep laugh lines that’d gathered around each eye resembling a spider’s web. Yes, this man had lived life to the full. He had triumphed many times and learnt nothing from it. That’s because the recipe for success changes frequently. No. It was from his failures he’d learnt everything. And the reason for them had been simple – he’d gone against his instinct.

He’d survived many things in his life. Wars, plagues, floods, marriages, injury, slander, lawsuits, success, failure, gambling, death threats, betrayals, great wealth, poverty, love, broken hearts, rejection, addiction, vicious dogs, adultery, asthma, poisoning, tightrope walking, gangsters, drive-by shooters, merchant bankers, and long debates with actors. As such, these days, it was difficult to get him excited much, or fearful at all.

He’d beaten his demons, and was proud of it. But it’d been some of his friends who’d done him the most damage. They’d posed as friends but were really opportunistic spiritual vampires, sucking off his life force in order to live through him. And when they’d been found out and cut like a cancer out of his life, they had flayed about like dying sharks biting at his reputation with lies, exaggerations and groundless accusations. Most of what they accused him of were acts they’d done. The fact that they were so blatantly hypocritical was what hurt most of all. And from then on, he’d rationed his loyalty to those who’d proved theirs to him.

Now, he spent much of his time looking for things he hadn’t found. It made him as expectant as Jungle Jim on a safari.

He’d once stopped a cab and gotten out to wander through a desolate, ravaged field that beheld the remains of what’d once been a theatre. The taxi driver was bewildered as to what his frantic passenger was looking for. Whatever had been here was long gone, he thought, as his meter ticked away. But his forlorn travelling companion was searching for something only he could see. His youth.

Sometimes, late at night, he wished he was dead. But there was a safety net in knowing God never granted his wishes. This knowledge scared him with the recurring nightmare that he may live forever. And that’d be his punishment for having lived too well for a few years at the peak of his success, when he was too young and too busy to have enjoyed it. He’d once had immense power and never abused it. He’d also held the key to many vulnerable hearts and never used it. The facts, as opposed to the gossip, would show that his integrity was never bought. So God took these opportunities away and seduced someone else with them.

In exchange, the man in question, was given a rented studio apartment and enough food to get by. He was also granted the solitude to reflect on the follies of life, and write about them with a rich appreciation of God’s sense of humour.

He’d figured out the secret to God – He is passive. Having granted us free will he sits back and watches what we do with it. If you wanted action, you had to consult his competitive estranged brother, Satan. But that loan shark had interest rates that’d severely cripple your life, and could never be repaid due to the compounding penalties given only passing mention in the very small print.

And if you accepted that deal, you’d end up worse than alone.

The man who sat in front of me, felt many things. But he’d given up feeling what didn’t matter anymore. He told himself that he had enough heart left for one more great love. But she’d have to be an extraordinary woman, and he now suspected that such a perfect match only existed in dreams. Or delusions. He wasn’t sure what the correct word was anymore. All he knew was that God loved to tease him with possibilities that went nowhere that only foolish younger men or, those older bodies on the brink of madness, pursued. 

He laughed out loud at how younger women now delighted in taunting him. They took so much but gave very little in return. They knew the art of getting away Scott free, and would only be able to get away with it a few more years before they too ended up alone. It was all about the promise and how much could be taken in the shadow of that. While one could. He knew all their tricks now and that rendered the game too predictable to hold his attention long. They hadn’t known him in his prime, nor would they’ve had the opportunity to. But these were different times. There were very few who could see past surface layers to find true love. Soul to soul.

How much do you have to hurt before you feel nothing anymore?

How much do you have to love before it means nothing anymore?

This man hasn’t aged from living. He’d aged from giving. And now all those who’d taken from him could celebrate the fact that there was nothing left.

They’d conquered something that felt important to them, but they couldn’t analyse what it was, or why they’d felt such compulsion to deplete it.

After all, they were good people, weren’t they? I mean, they wouldn’t hurt a fly.

The man now, each day, felt his spirit leaving his body and wondered what kind of life his shell would have. He thought, perhaps, he might be more socially accepted in this zombie-like state.

But who knew such things? And who the hell would even think about it? Other than a man with too much time on his hands, who’d stopped momentarily at the crossroads.

That was when I realised I’d been observing myself and the extraction had been successful.

 

(C) Frank Howson 2020.

OBITUARY TO A WORLD

Everyone will get lauded

And betrayed by a kiss

I’ll call that Life, said God

It is what it is

And so it was

And the story was told

Till a man called Paul

Rewrote it to be sold

They buried the truth

Like they buried the light

A few shadowy figures

In the secret dead of night

They took women who were righteous

And reduced them to whores

The rest were dismissed

To do menial chores

But the rock has been rolled away

And the light let back in

On the land of two suns

And the disciples of sin

Where the weather ravages

The new Babylon

That houses the murderers

Who thought all witnesses were gone

Johnny, we hardly knew ya

But your truth is marchin’ on

Ain’t it sad how one’s never valued

Till we turnaround and they’re gone

A beautiful woman named Mia

From Canada she came

She left a husband there

So she could make herself a name

She was blonde and naive

And believed in romance

But the wolves descended

And made her dance

They took pretty Mia

And turned her into a whore

She’s been walked over now

More times than a floor

They said, “Welcome to Hollywood,

My dear

We’re gonna feed you delusion

Baffle you with power and fill you with fear

Now take off your clothes

And show us what you got

You’ll be an attractive addition

To our crowded backlot

She was used and abused

And caught the Stockholm Syndrome

From those granted absolution

From the exulted in Rome

She fell in love with her captors

And thought they were her friends

But in a cold water shack

Her story ends

I’ve lived in one rooms

And I have lived on the street

I’ve lived in mansions

That weren’t complete

Didn’t I fall?

Do you remember when?

Carrying your cross

Again and again

Blind Boy Grunt knows what it means

He’s had his ear to the tracks

And can now detect the line 

Between truth and the facts

The joker, it’s foretold

Whom everyone laughed at

Will be the one who’ll conquer

The disease of the bat

Hatched by evil men

And their New World Order

Who want the world vulnerable

Without morality or border

It’s only the madmen

Who’ll see with their hearts

The coming of the Lord

When the fighting starts

Between men and children

And women and themselves

The signs are blinding

The deeper one delves

Tyrants will hijack the world

In exchange for their souls

They’ll force feed you on fake news

And phoney polls

Everything you believe

Will be exposed as a lie

And your heroes will be exposed

And as traitors will die

Dark clouds are gathering

And we know what that brings

That slow train comin’

Carries a scorpion that stings

And the highest of high

Will appear to end the mystery 

That the meaning of life was to simply love

and to love  simply

 

(c) Frank Howson  2020

 

photograph by Vanessa Allan

MY MOTHER

My mother had suffered. While other teenage girls were carefree, my mother's 
youth was robbed from her by polio. And the result was she'd walk with a limp 
the rest of her life. She'd also been denied an education because she'd had 
to leave school at 12 to work in a florist shop to help financially support
the family. Her father, whom she'd adored, was thrown out of the house by her
mum, and although he'd occasionally return to beg a reconciliation with his
family, it never eventuated. 

I was told that he couldn't keep his feet still if he heard music and loved 
to tap dance. It's one of those spooky things in life that I too loved music
and told my mum I wanted to learn tap dancing when I was all of 7. I guess
somehow in that mysterious way of the world I'd inherited his love of that. 

One night he was hit by a car driven by a drunk and died instantly. No doubt
my stubborn Irish grandmother felt guilt that she'd never taken him back into
the family and household he'd loved so much. But all actions have ripples, and
some turn into tidal waves.  

My mother missed him all the days of her life, and always told me what a
lovely man he was. 

Some say wisdom can't be taught, it has to be earned. And perhaps all the
early heartbreaks my mother endured explained her inherent wisdom. She had
a calm soulful way of smiling and imparting her wise words that would cut
to the heart of any problem you had. 

She was also the greatest mental arithmetic exponent I've ever witnessed, and
could correctly spell any word by sounding it. She was never wrong. Perhaps
She had a love of words that rubbed off on me. Her mathematical skills did 
not. 

She loved people. Another trait I inherited. And like me, she sometimes
trusted the wrong people. At the age of fourteen this pretty, naive, 
friendly girl was raped by a much older man. At fifteen, before her life
had really begun, she had a child, which was brought up by my grandmother
as hers to avoid a scandal and being ostracized by society at that time. 
My mother assumed the role of the baby boy's sister. A common story in 
those days, and much later gave me the insight to write about it in the
musical based on the life of Bobby Darin, "Dream Lover." I had witnessed
first hand the aftermath of the pain, shame and fallout of that situation. 
Hence the line in "Dream Lover" that "once you tell a lie, it must become
your truth forevermore."

In her early twenties my mum met my father. It was obviously, on my dad's 
part, love at first sight. But my mother steadfastly resisted any commitment to him. 
Still, he persisted. Phone calls, flowers, visits to the house, all
intended to wear her down and make her fall in love with him. His desperate
Quixote delusion. These days such a romantic fool would be arrested for
stalking. Back then it was considered "woo-ing."

He and his two brothers were all steeple chase jockeys, and although my
dad wasn't yet earning big money, healthy prospects loomed. All the 
brothers had been brought up as stable boys so they had a great gift with
being able to handle horses. It was second nature to them. My father offered
to give up his promising but tenuous career to get a steady job if only
Pearl Walsh would marry him. She refused his proposal. Then one night he 
showed up at her mother's house, drunk and crying, and threatened to kill
himself if she didn't marry him. My mum's oldest brother, Bill, told her
to "let the silly bastard off himself so we can all get some sleep!"

My mother, cursed with a soft heart, married Henry Francis Howson (Jacky 
to his friends) and they set forth to try and build a life together.  

She'd thought her child would move in with them and the wrong could be 
righted, but he'd grown too attached to the familiarity of her mother by 
then. My mother carried the hurt of this rejection the rest of her life. 
In his later years he'd desperately sought my mother to acknowledge him 
but she never did. He had made his choice. In Irish Catholic homes 
betrayals and vendettas ran hard and had a way of icing even the sweetest 
of hearts. 

I never knew any of this until I was a teenager. I was staying at my
uncle's house once, and his kids kept referring to him as my brother.
Suddenly, it was unraveled and and revealed.

My father's drinking accelerated and one can only assume as to why that
was. He went to his grave with so many inner feelings unvoiced. Like most 
men of his day. Perhaps he regretted what could've been if he hadn't given
up his racing career. He watched both his brothers go on and gain much
acclaim culminating in his oldest sibling winning many Grand National
Steeple Chase events and ending up in the history books. 

Or perhaps it was because he was sensitive enough to know that my mother's
love never matched his. After he died, my mum told me that she hadn't loved 
him and had only married him because he seemed so lost. That hurt me very 
much to hear, and made me sad knowing my father had endured a life with that
knowledge. She'd married to get away from living in her mother's home with
her two older opinionated brothers. Suffocating living under too many 
people's rules with a child she wasn't allowed to acknowledge as her own. 

At times I've thought that some people marry in order to kill each other. Or
themselves. Not sure if there's a name for that syndrome but it surely does
exist. As much as day follows night. 

I guess I always dreamed that I'd one day have a normal family life of my 
own, not damaged by denials, guilt, recriminations, and shame. And, for
15 years of a marriage I did, but lost it all when I stood up over a
principle (that Irish streak again). I won big in the integrity stakes but
lost in the financial one. Still, I could live with that far better than the
alternative, for I'd seen first hand what damage living a lie does to
people.

Who knows what my mother could've achieved if she'd been born into
different circumstances. Her great love was the movies. Spencer Tracy, Bing
Crosby, Cary Grant, Bette Davis, Fred Astaire, Ronald Coleman, Katherine
Hepburn and Ingrid Bergman were among her favourites. Later she became a big
fan of Peter O'Toole and thought that the acting between him and Richard
Burton in "Beckett" was the greatest she'd ever seen on the big screen.

My mum quoted Hollywood stories like some people quote Shakespeare or Bob
Dylan. Somehow she's found some morality stories about Tinsel Town. One of
which was about dear ol' Cary Grant who'd married the Woolworth's heiress 
Barbara Hutton, and how everyone at the time had thought he'd only married
her for her money. Yet, when they divorced, Cary took not a cent. What a
guy. That morality story has cost me a small fortune. I too, as a result, 
have never walked away from a marriage with anything other than the clothes
I'd been wearing. Somewhere Cary and mum are smiling. As for me, I've spent
years crying. 

She had an amazing instinct about people. Not sure if one is born with this 
ability, or earns it from meeting too many horribles along the way. Anyway, I'd 
bring a young school friend home and after they'd left she'd say, "He's 
(or she's) not for you." That really pissed me off as I thought she was far
too judgmental. But what pissed me off most was the fact that she was always
right. In fact, I've missed her judgements for far too many years. 

She was so protective of me. I'd been a change of life baby and in her eyes I 
was a precious gift from God. Of course I tried to rebel against this
rather restrictive image at every opportunity, but her love to me was always
unconditionally. When my much older sisters heard my mother's good news about
my impending entrance into this world they, in their usual graciousness,
refused to speak to my mother for 12 months. In many ways, I became the love
of my mother's life. All her unrequited dreams were wrapped up in me. It 
became a heavy burden for a young boy but on reflection I guess it pushed
me to strive harder so as not to let her down. This resulted in my mother
thinking everything I did was right, and my sisters believing everything I
did was wrong. It got me used to mixed reviews. And I also learnt early that
if people resent you it doesn't matter if you walk on water they're going
to be unimpressed. Or pretend that they missed it. And you can't fight that
or you'll become as mentally ill as the swallow people. 

Every day she'd get on the tram to the city and wander around all the floors
of the Myer Department Store shopping for the latest bargains. I shared those
journeys with her many, many times. She was on first name basis with all the 
sales staff of that vast shopping complex. If she didn't have the money she'd
put some item on higher purchase and pay it off (sometimes over years it seemed). 
Or, she'd have them deliver it "cash on delivery." If they delivered during
a poor week we'd have to be as quiet as mice as the very patient Myer delivery man knocked
at our door. It was quite an adventure. The policy was that they'd attempt
delivery three times before they'd give up. If this happened, we'd go into the city
and order the very same thing to be delivered hoping that by luck the knock
would come at the door on a more prosperous day. My mother was a first-hand
example of perseverance and hope.

She had a smile for everyone and loved a chat. A trip with her to the corner
shops and back could take all day, as she'd stop and chat to each person
she encountered. It used to frustrate the hell out of me as I'd hear the
same stories 43 times in succession!

When she died, her dear friend Kathy Jansen described my mother's voice as 
"the sound of joy." And so it was. I never once caught her being maudlin,
sorry for herself or depressed. To her, each say was a new adventure. Along
Along the way, she beat cancer and overcame heart problems - probably by
her positive disposition - and it was only a freak silly accident in the
house and a bump to the head that caused a blood clot, that signaled her
exit from this world. 

Her stroke cruelly took away her ability to speak. To my mother, this was her 
lifeblood. Every day I'd visit her she'd clench my hand with all her might,
look me in the eyes, and through sheer force of will force out three words,
"What's...the...use?"

I had no answer for her. We'd never lied to each other. 

It didn't take long until she'd willed herself to death. 

Years later when I was living in Los Angeles and having my own voice
problems caused by intense stress, my longtime friend John Capek
suggested that I go to an energy healer he knew on Laurel Canyon. I
took his advice and did so. During my first session, the energy guru
asked me to tell him a potted history of my life. I did so as best as I
could to which he replied, "Oh my God, what a hard life you've had!" 
I was momentarily shocked as I'd never thought of it that way. Not in those
terms. After all, I had no other life to compare it to. It was what it 
was. In fact, I'd felt that I'd many things to be grateful for. But when
I thought more deeply about it, given his statement, the tears started to 
flow uncontrollably from my eyes in spite of myself. As though my body was
releasing the intense pain I'd suppressed since childhood in order to
just keep going. It was quite a cathartic experience. He then said, 
"Oh, and your mother is still with you. She doesn't realise she'd dead. 
She loved you so much she can't let go. You need to tell her to go away."

It was one of the hardest things I've had to do. The fact that her great 
love for me had transcended death was so touching and yet I had to reject
her in order to breathe and begin to restore my own life. I have weathered
many great losses and loves in my life, and this was another loss I'd dealt
with. To everything there is a lesson, and I've learnt the art of icing my
heart to certain things. To quote a line from my film "Remembering Nigel,"
..."It's alright to love something, but you are damned if you love that 
thing too much."

And I'll be damned if I wasn't right. 

I've never been one of those men who looked down upon women or devalued
their opinions or didn't see them as an equal, and that's no doubt because
my mother was a very positive example to me. She was smart, wise, funny, 
instinctively sharp, kind, true, strong and open-hearted to all other
open hearts. It's true that when some people die the world is diminished
in some way. And so it was for me and all those who knew Pearl Howson.
Not a day goes by...


(c) Frank Howson 2019














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

SO WE CALLED IT LOVE

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

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