Saturday, August 17, 2019

We Blew It

I wasn’t there, but I remember Woodstock. Yes I am that old. And I remember Easy Rider. Honestly I didn’t think it was all that great the first time I saw it. It was at a drive-in (yes I am that old). I might have been distracted, but I do remember Karen Black. More specifically I remember Karen Black’s legs. But I digress.

Peter Fonda’s passing brings back a lot of memories. By the second time I saw Easy Rider, my hair was getting long, at least long for those days. And this time I actually paid attention to the movie. I’d convinced my Dad to go see the movie. Mom did not care to go, so Dad and I went to the drive-in. (The drive-in loved Easy Rider back in the day. They also loved to run John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies. But Easy Rider got a lot of play).

We sat there in silence during the movie. I could tell my dad was enjoying it. His mother’s brother, Uncle Raymond, had been sort of an Easy Rider character way back. There are old photos of him on his Indian motorcycle, leather jacket, aviator hat and goggles. Raymond wandered out West and eventually settled down in Tucson, got married and lived a normal life. But he was definitely an unconventional character in his younger days. My Dad had some of that in him as well. He had volunteered for the paratroopers in WW2. He said it was because it paid more and he didn’t like the idea of landing on a beach and getting shot up. But, I think it was mostly because he wanted to go up in an airplane and jump out.

It’s been written, oh probably a million times, that Easy Rider came to define a generation. I would say almost. What Easy Rider actually did was define what a generation IMAGINED itself to be. It was certainly a reflection of the times and the cultural changes that were occurring in this country. The ideas of drugs, sex and rock n’ roll played a big part in the lives of young baby boomers. But it was mostly just ideas, not actions. Ten years later, at the tail end of the baby boomer generation, there was more action. But in 1969, most of us were just riding around, trying to buy beer , talking about sex and listening to the music.

Whatever change took place in us was more subtle, but no less significant. We cut our hair and got real jobs. We navigated around oil embargoes and double digit interest rates to end up riding the largest and last wave of the post-war economic boom. And by the time it crashed, we had ours. Safe at home and voting for a guy like Donald Trump. Along the way to our comfort zone, we had more divorces, attended church less often, took more pills, drank more alcohol, ran more miles, built bigger houses, embraced new technology and the information age without fully understanding what they meant; and failed the next generation in many of the ways that matter the most.

So let’s not romanticize Easy Rider or Woodstock or any of the other cultural icons of that era. While there were some worthwhile lyrics floating around, most of them just got lost in the music.

From the movie Easy Rider:

Billy: “We did it, man. We did it, we did it. We’re rich man. We’re retirin’ in Florida now, mister.”

Captain America: “You know Billy, we blew it.”

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