March 15, 2013
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Tom Folsom's Hopper: A Journey into the American Dream is as fast-paced and brilliant as Dennis Hopper's life, and offers an intimate glimpse at twentieth century film, Hollywood, and celebrity.
Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:
"...a rich portrayal of an unconventional, free-wheeling thinker whose checkered experiences shock and beguile on the page."
I saw the life of Dennis Hopper as a ballad—a rambling saga of an outlaw's lifelong search for the American Dream. No question Dennis lived a musical life, but when you peek at the last fifty years of pop music through the Hopper lens, it's extraordinary what you'll find. Put on the headphones and let's ride:
"Born to be Wild" by Steppenwolf
The ultimate road trip kickoff song. My wife and I did our own version of the Easy Rider journey (albeit in a mid-sized rental car instead of choppers) when we hit the road from LA to Hopper's boyhood home in Dodge City, Kansas, in search of Hopper tales.
"Don't Fence Me In" by Roy Rogers
Our twisted Wizard of Oz begins with young Hopper, a little dude living with his grandma on an egg ranch outside of Dodge City. He looks to the west and dreams of the singing cowboys he's seen at the old Dodge Theater. One day he'll set out for greener pastures to that magical land where they make the movies.
"He's a Rebel" by The Crystals
Hopper's first Hollywood film is Rebel Without a Cause starring James Dean, thrust into the pop stratosphere after spectacularly dying in his silver Porsche Spyder. The fantasia continues with Hopper's friendship with pop master Phil Spector. He'll shoot the cover for Spector's Ike & Tina Turner flop, "River Deep, Mountain High." Spector will play a coke fiend in Easy Rider.
"Blue Velvet" by Bobby Vinton
Pop wonderland madness continues. For a whopping $75, Hopper buys a soup can painting by an unknown Andy Warhol. He gets the artist to come out to LA by throwing him a Movie Star Party. Andy goes gaga over the stars—Troy Donahue, Russ Tamblyn, Dean Stockwell from The Boy with Green Hair. They're all dancing to the songs Warhol heard on his road trip from NYC in a Ford Falcon—including the #1 hit at the time, Bobby Vinton's "Blue Velvet."
"Sweet Jane" by The Velvet Underground
Inspired in Los Angeles after the Hopper party, Warhol casts his host in his on-the-spot film, Tarzan and Jane Regained . . . Sort of. Back at the Factory, Hopper stars in a Warhol screen test, photographs Warhol hanging out on the Factory couch with his minions, and checks out Andy's new band.
"California Dreamin'" by The Mamas and the Papas
Hopper is there at the Monterey Pop Festival, where the Mamas and Papas sing this song in their psychedelic getups complete with Cossack hats. Hopper likes the vibe so much that he marries the red hot Mama Michelle Phillips, the ultimate fantasy girl of the 60s. They divorce after a week.
"Ballad of Easy Rider" by Roger McGuinn
Hopper's breakout directorial debut, Easy Rider, is the first soundtrack to use a collection of rock music popular on the airwaves. Until then rock scores were composed by one group—ala Simon & Garfunkel on The Graduate. It's not just Easy Rider that's a mega-hit. The soundtrack album featuring Jimi Hendrix and The Byrds shoots to #6 of the Billboard charts.
"The Pilgrim: 33" by Kris Kristofferson
Kris Kristofferson wrote this song about Dennis while down in Peru acting in The Last Movie, Hopper's ill-fated acid Western. Hopper will try and make a movie about Kris's song, "Me and Bobby McGee," but after the mega-flop of his Last Movie, doesn't show his face in Hollywood for another decade.
"The End" by The Doors
Hopper pops up from Hollywood exile in the Philippines as the jabbering madman photojournalist in Apocalypse Now. It's his chance to go toe-to-toe onscreen with one of his idols, Marlon Brando, who doesn't consider Hopper worthy to lick his boots. Hopper goes method and, arguably, outshines the master.
"My My, Hey Hey" by Neil Young
Hopper and Neil have some history. Hopper photographed Neil in Buffalo Springfield back in his days taking rock and roll pictures for Vogue magazine. Hopper wanted to make After the Gold Rush, the screenplay by his pal Dean Stockwell that inspired Neil to write the album. He even acted in Neil's directorial feature debut, Human Highway. He's looking for a title for the nihilist punk film he's shooting in Canada when he hears the Neil lyric on the radio, "out of the blue and into the black." Hopper calls his film Out of the Blue.
"In Dreams" by Roy Orbison
Playing creepy killer Frank Booth, Hopper is supposed to sing Roy Orbison's song in Blue Velvet, but he just can't seem to remember the words when he's rehearsing with Dean Stockwell, who's playing Ben, the creepier friend of Frank Booth. So Lynch gives the song to Dean, who creates movie magic lip-synching about . . . the candy colored clown. Yikes!
"Colors" by Ice-T
There's a script kicking around about kids drinking cough syrup that Hopper turns into a Rebel Without A Cause about gangs in South Central. Ice-T goes to a screening of Hopper's film Colors and is inspired to do the title track. Hopper's subsequent film, The Hot Spot, is a flop, but the original score is played by a supergroup of Miles Davis, John Lee Hooker and Taj Mahal.
"Fire Coming Out of the Monkey's Head" by the Gorillaz
Hopper chants about the fire coming out of the monkey's head on this song. With the Gorillaz. Seriously.
Tom Folsom and Hopper: A Journey into the American Dream links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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