Easy Rider is one of the hallmark films of Hollywood. It defines a cultural period as this important film established filmmaking styles and attitudes. Aside from its cinematography, it also launched a guerilla style of independent filmmaking with very controlled and smooth studio film cinematography. Principally, this film featured a very remarkable soundtrack. Easy Rider was one of the first films that used the popular music during that period. The film also featured musicians such as Steppenwolf, The Byrds and Jimi Hendrix. The rock and roll background gave a more enriched narration and storytelling. The musical pieces featured by the film also made it as a significant piece of cinematic art. Easy Rider is a time capsule of the period (H’mmerle, p. 1). The following parts of this paper detailed how this important film made music more significant in terms of artistic and cinematic effects.
Easy Rider: A Cultural Epic
Easy Rider is a film on counter culture made by participants of the counter culture. This made the film extraordinary. It is cultural representation of the various issues of the period such as drug use, bigotry, and alternative hippie lifestyles from the orientation of the people within the counter culture looking externally instead of others looking internally (p. 1). The film was very profound as it questions the general counter cultural movement and the heroes’ motives for transporting the drugs (p. 1). This was highlighted at the end of the film and achieved the poignant and powerful effect of showcasing the realities of life.
The film, as directed by Dennis Hopper, sustained its role and rock music became a major issue that was responsible for the film’s success. There was a vast literature on rock that ranged from academic musicology and sociology through each type of journalism to disposable gossip and poster books (p. 1). Some of these elements, as shown in the film, were very helpful in showing that music has thus become a mainstream in the Western culture starting that cultural period (p. 1).
Easy Rider was one of the first films which utilized the realization of the Rock as a soundtrack. Indeed, it argues that even in the 1950’s, rock and roll has already been a cultural medium. It also affirmed that rock and roll originated in the U. S. and it has spread across other western and English speaking countries and reached Europe around the 1960’s (p. 1). Rock and roll has been a popular form of music at the end of the 20th century and this made the film Easy Rider more akin to the young viewers and film aficionados. Rock and roll was a commercial medium and a cultural element. Its business importance was reflected in the establishment of global recording industry, in the sales of television programs and in cinema.
Psychedelic rock was the most popular musical form at the end of the 1960s. It was very much influenced b drug use and abuse. Rock and roll was inspired by hallucinogens like marijuana and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide). These drugs expand the minds and affect one’s emotional highs and lows. The use of drugs was symbolic of the rock and roll sound such as the use of intense volume, feedbacks and electronics.
As emerging from the 1960s, this type of rock music became the soundtrack for the more general cultural exploration of the hippie movement. It was first centered on the West Coast of the US and spread from the San Francisco Bay area to the rest of the country and then to Europe (p. 1). Then, it hit as a major rock trend. Famous rock bands also began to introduce psychedelic elements into their music. For instance, the Beatles had albums like Revolver (1966) or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
After a while, the psychedelic experience of strong rock sounds became the musical soundtrack for a new youth culture – the hippie culture (p. 1). The hippie culture and the new Beat Generation were instantly linked with the rock paradox. The peculiarity of the hippie movement of the late 1960s in the US was also socially linked with the Vietnam War service and anti-Vietnam War protests, the Civil Rights Movement, and sexual liberation. All these social events were heavily marked by rock music, not only in the US but also in other parts of the world.
Easy Rider showed a cultural period wherein the young generation in the fifties desperately attempted to create a new life style. It was a cultural movement of breaking with all old rules and taboos so as to passionately follow the young ones’ intimate and fervent (and even wildest) desires or dreams. The soundtrack from the Easy Rider film such as ” Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf, the Byrds and their ” I Wasn’t Born to Follow” or the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s ” If Six Was Nine” proved to be the main links between black funk and psychedelic rock. The film reflected the influences of the psychedelic rock in cultural forces such as in sounds and in movies. Many other film genres also showcased psychedelic rock not only for illustrating the scenes of the film. They also showcased the specific linkage between the music and the scenes, which were attractive even more strongly because of the music and the lyrics. Every sound then seemed to be turn into rock. American psychedelic rock was also identified with biting political lyrics, soaring harmonies and hallucinogenic titles. It was an important statement for the counterculture in the 1960s and it had many hits in its popularity in the years to come (p. 1).
Steppenwolf’s “ Born to be Wild” was the most popular song from the film’s soundtrack. It was already Number Two in the US hit list in 1968. The song is one of the main reasons why the film Easy Rider was an anthem of the young generation. It really attracted a following among the young audiences. ” Born to be Wild” could well be considered as the title song of the film. As it served as the musical background in the scenes in which the protagonists rode their motorbikes. The song brought those who watch the picture in a close contact with the film and let them take part in memorable experiences. In retrospect, the reason for its popularity was not only due to the commercial success of the song but also from its native function. It expressed a strong and unbounded feeling of freedom. It was a hymn of freedom and in the film per se, the freedom of the bikers (p. 1).
The director and the producer of the film brought to life the very idea that the soundtrack represented. The Byrds who sang ” I Wasn’t Born to Follow” made a more commercial version of raw psychedelic (p. 1). After the message of ” Born to be Wild” as easily taken for freedom, this special song also celebrated the beauty of the roads in the Southwestern landscape. The film gave rise to a new sub genre of a road film whose soundtrack carves a deeper meaning with its unique sounds and lyrics. The feeling of desire is captured by the film’s beautiful landscape showing the country.
The film Easy Rider apparently showed the large paradox of rock and roll. This famous type of music produced a new type of thinking that has been articulated everywhere and was commercially packaged by upcoming record companies (p. 1). The US film company Warner Brothers, for example, took cues from music and transformed it into opportunities for commercial success. Rock and roll music directly stated the new conditions and kept faith with the assumption that music is a type of human conversation, even when it is channeled through radio and television by film makers or advertisers. The rock music lent itself to a new type of event. Celebrating hippie rebellion and traditions of the Woodstock festival during the late 1960’s also helped make Easy Rider a commercial success as it appealed to a new generation of Americans (p. 1).
The main cultural idea of this important film is delivered through songs. The initial lines connected with the idea of moving through motorbikes. The bikers were looking for adventures and they wanted to be always on the road. They have full energy as indicated by the loudly working engines of their bikes. Looking at the scenes on the road while listening to its music, one realizes that it is easy to identify the song with the film’s heroes. The identity of the bikers pushed the hero to leave the hippie commune. He said, ” I’m hip about time, but just gotta go,” which was very close to the line in the song ” I gotta go and make it happen”. The steady life-style full of routine was not an option for him. He belonged there, on the road, so he must ride on. This seemed to be the logic of the film. The main focus of the song seemed to be very controversial, if the audience considers that, at the end of the film, the heroes die instead of finding their unbounded freedom. As Wyatt got shot, his motorbike flew up in the air, fell down heavily, and exploded. The end of his wild life found its meaning in violence as well.
Easy Rider also showed that the dramatic effect on the music stage was carried out in the film. The cult of the hippie culture in the film shows much of America’s young generation’s anxiety over youth culture and rebellion (p. 1). These younger ones in the country had grown up to the sounds of the mass-cultural power of rock and roll. As a rock artist, Jimi Hendrix personified the emergence of rock and roll as a certain musical genre in the late 1960s (p. 1). He was just then trying his best to become a guitarist in rhythm-and-blues bands. He also possessed a jazzman’s commitment to collective improvisation and became famous as he led a trio in London. He explored the possibilities of the amplifier as a musical instrument in the recording studio and on the concert stage. Hendrix established versatility and technical skill as a norm for rock musicianship and gave shape to a new kind of event – the outdoor festival and stadium concert, in which the noise of the audience became part of the essence of the music.
Meanwhile, the ballad sung by Roger McGuinn and written by Bob Dylan ” I’m Only Bleeding”(” It’s Alright Ma”) and ” Ballad of Easy Rider” aided the dramatic voice of the film (p. 1). Bob Dylan, who hailed from Hibbing, Minnesota, personified a new form of American music in the 1960’s. He brought together “ the amplified beat of rock and roll, the star imagery of pop, the historical and political sensibility of folk, and through the wit, ambition, and obscurity of his lyrics, the arrogance of urban bohemia” (p. 1). Dylan gave the emerging rock scene artistic significance and a new record of youth as rather an ideological category.
The song of Bob Dylan, as used in the film, can be taken as a reckoning with false moral attitudes, power, money corruption, politics, and education and with all the wrong going on inside modern society. Its apocalyptic gesture hints at an approaching end. After the LSD-trip in which the protagonists ride to a graveyard in New Orleans, Billy still believed that they managed everything and were very happy because they all became prosperous. At that moment, Wyatt turned to him with the words, ” We blew it” (p. 1). Instead of highlighting a beautiful landscape, the film moved away to show another contrasting close-up of an industrial area and petrol station. The music was the strong indicator for all changes in the film’s action, particularly in relation to the main characters.
The making of the road film, Easy Rider, highlighted a close relation to the beginnings of the fifties and the Beat Generation in the US. The Beat Generation is another cultural movement which started from the artistic circles. It also stood for the first protest movement against what was generally assumed as a closed American system. It brought the start of the growing criticism and further on separation from the ruling system.
H’mmerle, E. Easy Riders and Psychedelic Rock. Accessed on 05 June 2014