Summer of Love: In May 2009, exactly one year before Dennis Hopper passed away from the ravages of cancer, he was in Taos, New Mexico, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the movie “Easy Rider”, where much of that iconic 1969 movie was filmed.
I had the great good fortune of meeting him and interviewing him there, to talk about motorcycles, Hollywood, the Vietnam War, art, and Taos.
Mr. Hopper, who also directed “Easy Rider,” told me he fell in love with Taos in 1967 when he was scouting locations for the movie, and has lived here part time ever since, including doing much of the film editing there.
He told me that he was not making a motorcycle movie as much as a comment on the cowboy way of life – good guys vs. bad guys – and the political turmoil of the ’60s, In case you have forgotten, that included the Vietnam War and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Also, he said, nobody had yet made a movie about the counterculture hippie movement.
“Easy Rider” turned Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and a then-newcomer named Jack Nicholson into instant stars. It also created a thriving culture of freewheeling, free-spirited open-road drives on motorcycles, and the culture of customizing bikes, like the ones the trio drove into our psyches. The Captain America Chopper, with its flaglike stars and stripes tank, and the Billy Bike, with its air-brushed “flames” and orange body, still inspire chopper shops and motorcycle riders today.
In addition to acting and directing, Dennis Hopper was a respected artist and photographer. In May 2009 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of “Easy Rider”, he was still healthy enough to be the curator of an exhibit by artists who have been living in Taos since the original Summer of Love in 1969. Those artists include fellow actor Dean Stockwell. Some of Mr. Hopper’s own work was included in the exhibit at the Harwood Museum of Art in downtown Taos.
Taos is still nirvana for bike riders, and is home to several motorcycle festivals, including the annual Bavarian Mountain Weekend BMW Motorcycle Rally on Labor Day Weekend, held just outside town at Red River. This event includes all-day rallies and rides along spectacular S-curves through the mountains, high desert plains and the Rio Grande gorge, and around Taos, through some of the same scenery as in the movie.
Great Drives — Even though I was in a car, not on a bike, the long, the long, empty stretches of road and the spectacular landscape kept me smiling.
Easy Rider Trivia –The motorcycles in Easy Rider were Harley-Davidson Hydra Glide models, all former police bikes, purchased at auction and customized for the film. There were four bikes – two were backup duplicates. Captain America was built by Fonda, bike customizer Tex Hall and fellow actor Dan Haggerty. Today, there are hundreds, but they are replicas in automobile and motorcycle museums around the world.
Dennis Hopper — actor, director, photographer, artist — will be missed by his fans, friends, and most of all, his family. He was buried in his beloved Taos on June 2, 2010.
by Evelyn Kanter