Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Easy Rider Soundtrack

   Cinema works the same way as literature, both are narrative arts and both depict time and social environment. Sometimes movie plays a major role in social life and passes with the dilemmas of the era, sometimes it stays as the voice in universal discourse and can be heard for years. Some films work both ways and these we recognize as master achievements. One of such movies is without any doubts Easy Rider, produced by Peter Fonda, directed by Dennis Hopper. Fonda and Hopper were playing main characters Wyatt and Billy. The third great actor of the movie was Jack Nicholson in the role of the lawyer George Hanson. As voice of the generation, Easy Rider is clear example of the road movie. And like many movies of these times, it was driven by drug poetics and counterculture ideas. In 1969 those were the factors connected with instant success. I was critical towards American tradition; it was anti-Western and anti-frontier demystifying. Heading opposite direction than history of the American nation, from West to East, Wyatt (Captain America) wanders back to the sources.
   What makes this movie unique is a connection of strong cultural discourse and social criticism with aspirations of young Americans. Director of the movie Dennis Hopper said “Easy Rider was never a motorcycle movie”. Exactly the same way as Vanishing Point was never a car chase movie and Last Tango in Paris was not an erotic movie. It’s worth to notice, Easy Rider was not about drugs as well. Hopper in his explanation stated: “A lot of it was about politically what was going on in the country”. But politics is always behind the social issues and freedom has its price. The trip taken by the heroes is just as in every good road movie the trip into deep of self. The chase for American dream occurred to be the road to nowhere or to the series of disappointing close-ups of miserable life in the best case. This movie corresponds with Medium Cool, one another critical picture of American dream done in 1969 by Haskell Wexler. In both cases the footage creators are dealing with music, making it a part of the drama. And music accompanies the pictures, enhancing the story with deeper sense of cultural and social background.

Easy Rider Soundtrack (1969)

   There is no information about music in movie credits. It is significant fact. In 1969 nobody was willing to sign by his name a soundtrack made as collection of best record – this credit was reserved just to composers and musicians who really made music in the movie. So this is a choice made by producer and director. But such a decision also has its means. Despite of this, the soundtrack for Easy Rider was more than just a collection of rock songs. Before such collections become popular in seventies, in late 1960’s it was not very common practice, and different as in forthcoming years these songs were used as the element telling the story. Carefully selected songs and instrumental fragments correspond with main ideas, illustrate emotions, and enhance the impact of some scenes. And most of all, this soundtrack is the part of the message exactly the way rock music was part of life for entire generation. The same was modern jazz in late fifties. The radical change of music in Easy Rider soundtrack shows the way rebellion goes. From naïve Wasn’t Born to Follow by The Byrds and hippie communes on the West, to industrialized East with disturbing instrumental music of Flash, Bam, Pow by The Electric Flag which trance motoric rhythm can be seen as heralding postindustrial rock.

The Electric Flag - Flash, Bam, Pow (1967)

   Whole soundtrack album is ten songs credited to various performers. General line draws from Steppenwolf’s The Pusher and title credits sequence Born to Be Wild and The Weight by The Band (soundtrack album covers this song by Smith), through If you Want to Be a Bird by The Holy Modal Rounders and Don’t Bogart Me by The Fraternity of Man, to Jimi Hendrix Experience’s If the Six Was Nine. There are also The Electric Prunes’ composition Kyrie Eleison Mardi Gras and two ballads It’s Alright Ma and Ballad of Easy Rider sung by Roger McGuinn. All these songs had strong cultural and historic context, but Born to Be Wild by Steppenwolf become the anthem of the post-hippie generation.
   Some songs were not included in soundtrack album. The popul song Let's Turkey Trot by Little Eva is just the part of the bar interior characterizing esthetic and social contrasts. Many musical elements are just parts of background, like songs heard on the streets of New Orleans during Mardi Grass. One fragment which exclusion is hard to accept is musical fragment corresponding the drive through industrial landscape. It is mentioned before Flash, Bam, Pow by The Electric Flag, the music used two years earlier in Peter Fonda’s movie The Trip. In fact this is one of most emphatic moments of the movie thank to context and to the music. Unlike many other movies of this time, Easy Rider was truly and explicitly critical against traditional hierarchical society but also against hippie culture, against drugs and alcohol, against xenophobic stereotypes, against inequity and against hate. And the greatness of this movie is the story of the voyage can be taken as viewer’s personal experience. There are many keys to the truth and music is the best one.

No comments:

Post a Comment