At the end of our street, beyond the washing lines..
The 3rd poster on my childhood bedroom wall in 1976 was of Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda from the movie Easy Rider. They were riding their Choppers, side-by-side through what looked like the same New Mexico landscape where I was standing that day in Taos in 2018. The poster was shot from a following car and it looked out at them across polished chrome like the cultural icons they already were. This poster was pinned up on my wall above the ‘Cocktail Party’ poster and the best view of it was when I was sitting on the floor. Easy Rider was a relatively new movie then, released 7 years earlier in 1969, the year I was born. In their boots, shades, hats, and with wild hair blowing back, my kid self had no idea who these motorcycle cowboys were and my imagination roamed for a connection to them and, in our home at that time, it did not take me long to find one.
– 2nd paragraph retained by author –
Looking back now, I can say with certainty that I was, in fact, raised by the characters of Easy Rider but the cast was British. There was no high, bright desert sun over vast cactus-covered landscapes in my story. Instead my childhood was a dark, gritty, and in some ways a supernatural tale, set against the backdrop of social housing in a Garrison town. Our small civilian rock-n-roll hilltop pocket was where Easy Rider's counterculture could still be found alive and well but it ended abruptly at the entrance to the tree plantation at the end of our street, beyond the washing lines, where all the land from there on out was owned by the Ministry of Defense. Tanks, helicopters and squaddies in fatigues were the everyday and commonplace in Tidworth, Hampshire in 1976. As were the puddles of blood outside the pubs in the morning from fights the soldiers had amongst themselves the night before. The motorcycles of my boyhood were Triumphs, Norton’s, and BSA’s and I never saw a Chopper anywhere else but in that poster. Our free festival was at Stonehenge where we watched the summer solstice sun rise between the stones. Where I remember a sea of people cocooned in brightly coloured sleeping bags scattered across a huge muddy field on the morning I got lost. An open tent with dub reggae playing from speakers mounted on stands outside. A plate of beans on toast eaten from the lap of oil stained jeans. A silver death's head ring. When Hawkwind took me in.
Dennis Hopper became the archetype of all the men that had a hand in raising me. It was his flickering image that slept on our couch for a year and smelled of Cocoa butter, engine oil and weed, with his book about Salvador Dali, he'd always let me read. It was him, in my memory, that took me to school in a motorcycle sidecar. It is his face that I remember playing Bob Dylan songs on a guitar from beginning to end at our kitchen table while howling like a dog. It was him that drove us to Wales in a Morris Minor van in search of magic mushrooms. It was him that introduced me to Marvel comics, the Mary Celeste and the curse of Tutankhamun. It was him that explained the closed loop timeline of the Planet of the Apes. And now I wonder, at this late hour, writing this today, if the face that my imagination was actually roaming to connect with was really that of my father, who died in March that year, and who probably has more to do with all of this than I am willing to admit.