Sunday, May 30, 2010

Born To Be

I didn't go to many movies that year. Living on $180 a month didn't leave room for much after food and rent. But when Easy Rider came to Houston, Texas in the Fall of 1969, everybody on the VISTA project went. We went in groups because, after all, it was Texas. If I told you that after the last scene of the film, the one where Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper get blown away by shot gun toting rednecks in a beat-up old pick-up truck somewhere inside Louisiana, that some folks in the theater audience applauded, I'd be telling the truth.
Long hair on men had not come to the South until later. Dope smoking, motorcycle riding, war-resisting, free-loving counter culture types were thought to be a major threat to democracy, at least one version of it. The hair and the marijuana would come a few years later, but on this day, many in that Houston theater were relieved when the forces of vigilantism restored order in the land.
We weren't surprised. Back then we too had the KKK on our tails for trying to bring a little equity into the lives of poor people.
When Fonda and Hopper rode away into that bloody sunset I knew that our struggle would be lifelong. I sensed that a person could be easily eliminated (they just come up missin') if they advocated the kind of change that exposed racism and hatred, and intolerance. But as Jack Nicholson implied in the film, it's not your beliefs they hate, it's your freedom they envy.
Dennis Hopper died this week at 71. His career was always a thorn in the side of the entertainment establishment. From his portrayal of a Beat poet on Petticoat Junction in 1964 until his memorable performance in David Lynch's Blue Velvet, he left his mark.
Dennis Hopper's Louisiana was a peculiar version of Hell. But it also contained lots of Heaven in the form of Mardi Gras and Cajun country. And while the BP oil continues to smother the aquatic life and poison the beaches of the Sportsman's Paradise, we remember Dennis Hopper. Like the oil, he was necessary but for some wouldn't go away fast enough.

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