22 October 2011

Easy Rider: A Ballad of Freedom

The soundtrack to the film, Easy Rider is as follows:

1. The Pusher – Steppenwolf
2. Born To Be Wild – Steppenwolf
3. I Wasn’t Born To Follow – The Byrds
4. The Weight – The Band
5. If You Want To Be A Bird – The Holy Modal Rounders
6. Dont’ Bogart Me – Fraternity of Man
7. If Six Was Nine – The Jimi Hendrix Experience
8. Kyrie Eleison Mardi Gras – The Electric Prunes
9. It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) – Roger McGuinn
10. Ballad Of Easy Rider – Roger McGuinn

The 1969 Dennis Hopper phenomenon, Easy Rider, was the first film to produce a non-diegetic score. In other words, Easy Rider was the first film with a soundtrack. Easy Rider was counter-cultural in more ways than one. The film introduces Dennis Hopper as Billy and Peter Fonda as Wyatt ,aka Captain America: two guys experiencing America through winding roads and hair blowing in the wind. These two friends just made bank from a cocaine deal in Los Angeles, and their goal is to make it to New Orleans in time for Mardi Gras. Along the way, they encounter a commune, a country family, a drunken lawyer, and a pair of prostitutes with whom the guys experience a bad acid trip.

“Born to be Wild” kicks off the journey of the film. Motorcycles are heard revving loudly which quickly turns into the proclamation of “Born to be Wild.” The constant revving of the engine throughout the film illustrates the ambition expedition the friends’ journey upon. The loud revving turns into a freedom ballad. Dennis Hopper picked songs that he liked and intentionally or not, they fit together to tell a narrative throughout the film. “The Weight”, by The Band stimulates a similar feeling of freedom.

Sound has an omnipresent and omniscient power of telling the plot during and foreshadowing events. Many of the themes and ideals found in Easy Rider have not been included in 1960s cinema prior. The usage of narrative cueing foreshadowed crucial plot points. Shortly after the most recently added member of the group, George, joined the crew, he was introduced to the phenomenon Billy and Wyatt celebrated multiple times a day: marijuana. The song, “If You Want to be a Bird”, by the Holy Modal Rounders, illustrates George’s need to be free. The narrative cue within this song alludes to the dark scenes to come. George thought that this new addition could help him achieve a free spirit and mind like Wyatt and Billy. The people in the south, where George is from, are jealous of Wyatt and Billy’s freedom and ambition. The men criticize their looks; the girls are intrigued. George, who grew up in this sort of environment has been surrounded with talk of freedom –this is the first he is actually trying to experience it.

“Kyrie Eleison Mardi Gras” by The Electric Prunes once again used narrative cues to introduce the dark and eerie elements to come. George was just murdered by an axe by a group of country folk in his sleep, and Wyatt and Billy meet prostitutes with whom to spend time in New Orleans. Wyatt offers the group some acid, and they have a bad trip. He winds up crying out to Mother Mary in response to his own mother. The ending of the movie does not get an inch more uplifting. Two Louisiana- bred men shoot Billy and Wyatt’s motorcycles causing an explosion and the death of both of the friends –which brings us, the listeners, to the last song in the film.

“The Ballad of Easy Rider” was the only song that was written especially for the film. It sums up the attempts, and later, destruction of freedom that Wyatt and Billy so viciously have longed for.

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