'Easy Rider' Is 40; How Dennis Hopper's Celebrating Dennis Hopper starred in and directed the seminal movie Easy Rider 40 years ago. In honor of that anniversary, Taos, N.M., is hosting "Taos Summer of Love 2009." Hopper, a sometime resident of Taos, is curating an exhibit of paintings and photographs there as part of the city's celebration.
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'Easy Rider' Is 40; How Dennis Hopper's Celebrating

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'Easy Rider' Is 40; How Dennis Hopper's Celebrating

'Easy Rider' Is 40; How Dennis Hopper's Celebrating

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In May of 1969, the mayor of Taos, New Mexico, Rumaldo Garcia, announced that his town's annual summer fiesta would be canceled that year, quote, �due to the widespread publicity Taos has received regarding the so-called hippie situation.� The mayor went on to say that as a result of this publicity there might be an influx of undesirables, and this could result in serious health and law enforcement problems. Well, no doubt part of the publicity was generated by the release that year of the film "Easy Rider," the cult hippie road classic starring Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper.

(Soundbite of movie, "Easy Rider")

Mr. DENNIS HOPPER (Actor): (As Billy) What was that, man? What the hell was that, man? Huh? No, man. Hey man. Like I was watching this object, man, like, like the satellite that we saw the other night, right? And like it was going right across the sky, man, and then, I mean it just suddenly, it just changed direction and went whizzing right off, man. It flashed...

Mr. PETER FONDA (Actor): (As Wyatt) You're stoned out of your mind, man.

Mr. HOPPER: (As Billy) Yeah, hey, like I'm stoned, you know, man, but like, you know, I saw a satellite, man.

GREENE: As the mayor predicted, that year, 1969, thousands of young people descended upon Taos in search of, well, something greater, maybe something like what Hopper and Fonda and Nicholson were searching for themselves in the movie. What exactly was that?

Well, we've brought in a pretty good expert - actor-director-artist Dennis Hopper. Mr. Hopper, thank you for being with us.

Mr. HOPPER: Yeah, wow...

GREENE: I want to get right to it. What were your characters in �Easy Rider� exactly looking for?

Mr. HOPPER: What were we looking for? Well, you know, I mean there was an ad, I think, that said that we went looking for America and couldn't find it anywhere. But that was just something that somebody tagged on the top of the picture. I think we were looking to make a big score and retire in Florida. You know? That was the idea.

GREENE: The movie certainly made a very important mark on American culture, as you've said. What was the reason?

Mr. HOPPER: Well, I mean, you know, Leary had said, tune in, turn on, drop out, and find an alternative way of life. And so lot of people came to Taos and went to the Indians here to try to figure out how they could go back to the earth and how they could actually, you know, make communes and grow their own food and do their own thing and so on. So it was a very popular movement at that time. So that was part of the picture. Part of it was, like, you know, scoring drugs and going to Florida. And then the things that happened on the road.

GREENE: And Taos, New Mexico has of course been a really important part of this movie's legacy, and this month is marking a celebration, looking back to 1969. Talk about this place and your relationship to it. I mean it was - it was pretty relatively undiscovered back then.

Mr. HOPPER: Well, it is one of the seven sacred mountains of the Tibetans. It's the second highest plateau in the world, second only to Tibet. Taos Pueblo is the oldest still-inhabited structure in the continent of America. It's a very incredible, beautiful place. You either come here and have a flat tire and stay the rest of your life or you can hardly wait to get out of town.

GREENE: You're actually this month launching an art exhibit at the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, and talk about that a little bit.

Mr. HOPPER: They've asked me for a few years to curate a show at the Harwood and I - I've said no. But finally they got me with this - the year that �Easy Rider� was actually released. So I picked five other artists besides myself and these artists are people that I knew in LA before I came to Taos. So I've mounted what I think is a really beautiful show of these artists and - and my own work.

GREENE: Well, look back for me to the summer that we're all talking about. The movie came at a moment that some people look to as sort of both the epitome and demise of the �60s. I mean do you agree that this was really a pivotal time in this country?

Mr. HOPPER: Well, it was a pivotal time, yeah, in this country in, you know, in a lot of things. I mean as far as film is concerned, it was a first time found music was ever used in a movie. I mean the whole soundtrack was things that I picked off the radio when I - when I went to edit, over the year I was editing.

(Soundbite of song, �Ballad Of Easy Rider�)

Mr. ROGER MCGUINN (Singer): (Singing) The river flows, it flows to the sea, wherever that river goes, that's where I want to be, flow river flow, let your waters wash down, take me from this road, to some other town...

Mr. HOPPER: I never edited to music. I edited to pictures and then found songs that went with it, so �Born To Be Wild� and �God Damn the Pusher Man� and all those things were - were found on the way to the studio, �If Six Were Nine,� Hendrix song.

(Soundbite of song, �If Six Were Nine�)

Mr. JIMI HENDRIX (Singer): White collar conservative flashin' down the street, pointin' their plastic finger at me, ha, they're hopin' soon my kind will drop and die but I'm gonna wave my freak flag high, high. Wow�

Mr. HOPPER: I wanted to make a time capsule. We'd gone through the whole �60s and we'd never - we'd never seen a movie that dealt with people smoking marijuana without going out and killing a bunch of nurses. And this is the end of the �60s now, it's not like we hadn't gone through it already. We had already gone through the �60s.

GREENE: Well, let me ask you. I mean I'm sure there are some parents out there who don't exactly want their kids to see this movie. Is it a healthy thing for a teenager to see if they want to?

Mr. HOPPER: Is it healthy for them to see it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HOPPER: Well, I don't know. It played in one theater in Paris for 35 years, but when it went to the Turner Channel, the classic movie channel, they called me and asked me if I wanted to watch them cut the film. I said, cut the film? They said, yeah, we're going to take out the cocaine at the beginning and we're going to take out the nude scenes with the girls at the hot springs and we're going to take out the nude part of the acid trip and we're going to take out you giving the finger at the end. And I said, Wow. I said, What's the movie about? [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The edited version of "Easy Rider" ran on AMC, not Turner Classic Movies.]

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: Well, Mr. Hopper, I really appreciate you talking to us about the movie and the summer. Sounds like a great celebration.

Mr. HOPPER: It's going to be wonderful. We're going to have a good time.

GREENE: That's actor and artist Dennis Hopper joining us from Taos, New Mexico. His exhibit of photographs and paintings are going to be at the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos through September 20th. And the Taos Summer of Love 2009 festivities are kicking off this weekend.

(Soundbite of song, �Born to Be Wild�)

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