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Bruce Conner,Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and me!

January 2, 2011

Recently the renowned actor and Director Peter Fonda gave a written tribute to these two accomplished artists and film makers. So where do I come in? In 1963-67 I was in primary school and living in an apartment in Boston Massachusetts (where my father attended Harvard’s more nerdy, tecky yet close brother educational institution MIT) with my parents and brother and sister. On the top floor of this three-story walk up lived an artist, then relatively unknown outside the Art world, named Bruce Conner.

He  was probably the first real hippy I ever saw and from late 1963 to early 1967 (the period in which I  lived in the same flats as he) Bruce Connor was making a name for himself as a visual and cinemagraphic artist of the first rank, producing ground breaking paintings, prints, photos and films. At the ground level we, that is friends, relatives and your’s truly living  in the inner city flats, were able to get a glimpse of fluoro ( or Day-Glo to use  Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool- Aid Acid Test  appellation) painted floors, ceiling and walls and bizarre sculptures made from found  materials (junk) and the imagination of one very radical guy. In some ways he became a kind of role model and it was great to see him being recognised and consulted by some of the best in the Art and movie business.

There is a bit of up to the minute serendipity that needs to be mentioned at this juncture. In late November 2010 I made comment (see previous blogs here and through my website davidjamesbnovelist.com) on a series of TV documentaries detailing live footage taken from the assassination of President JFK and the aftermath and telecast on the anniversary of that event on the 22nd of that month. When I first wrote this tribute to these artists I had no idea that Conner had himself created a widely viewed film (called REPORT a work in progress between 63-67, now part of the prestigious Library of Congress)  stitched together from cuttings of TV coverage of  the fours days from the death of the President (and the killing of Lee Harvey Oswald in between) to the funeral on the following Monday. Conner himself noted at the time the creation of a mythology concerning JFK. I have been able to speak to that event’s impact on my own life in the same space/time frame in a previous blog as mentioned. In the words of former confident and late critic of the Kennedy Clan, novelist and pundit Gore Vidal, the (subsequent) Dead Kennedys were transformed into “smiling initialed Gods”.  Artist  Andy Warhol also made his statement on the Kenndy myth-making in the 60’s  through a series shocking and compelling silkscreen prints that got much exposure during the period. In the following decades there has been no sign of this phenomenon fading despite (perhaps even because of) exposure of his rakish, reckless lifestyle that in some ways also was itself a precursor for the far out hippies.   

Bruce Conner’s non-linear film craft and diverse approach to the creative act (like Yoko Ono he embraced conceptual and absurdist themes to make his point whatever the commercial consequences albeit  with no wealthy spouse to back him financially when times got tough, as it did for our Bruce) had an impact on the industry in Hollywood and Dennis Hopper in particular, something which Peter Fonda refers to that in his recent written tribute to his fellow cultural revolutionary and creator of Easy Rider. I was myself influenced by Bruce Connor’s eclectic approach to Art and Life, in fact I went on to go to Art College and become a practising artist and experimenter in multi-media myself. This year a novel of mine, London’s Falling is going to be published in the UK (Caffeine Nights Publications) and I hope, wherever you are Bruce (Conner himself went to God in 2008), that you get to read it in the Never Never.

As a writer and artist I feel it is important to push the boundaries or envelope of experience and tradition in order to create literary and artistic works of genuine and lasting merit. To brother artists past and present, Dennis Hopper, Bruce Connor, and yes Peter Fonda, I salute you! Your lives shall live on forever in your brilliant works and the world was made a better place for it.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 2, 2011 1:52 pm

    nice tribute,for whom im not sure,those ledgends live on and in the minds of many,regretably we no longer live in those easy rider days,life goes on. Comments by Mark

  2. January 2, 2011 6:59 pm

    Hopper and Fonda were indeed the first riders to bring hippydom to the world via the big screen. Woodstock came after that with all the apehangers and drugs one could possibly find in a single gathering. But the radicalism was more than anti – establishment. It was anti warring and pro welcoming of fellow humans, regardless of race and religion, to unite under a common banner – that represents living peacefully, lovingly and respecting the environment, – before it all hits the fan! But the politicains seemed to have missed the message.
    by Prad Mandal – lover of humanity.

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