Peter Fonda had an idea. For the 50th anniversary of Easy Rider, a live band would play the music while the film was shown. Calls were made and John Kay and Roger McGuinn – two musicians who contributed to the original soundtrack – were in. For New York City, Radio City Music Hall was booked. And then Fonda died before the date arrived.
After some introductions, a tape of Peter Fonda introducing the film was played. He said that he was pissed off because there were not films being made that portrayed his generation correctly. So he decided to make his own. He was good friends with Jack Nicholson, who was about to quit acting. He thought Jack would be great for the Texas lawyer. Dennis Hopper, his director and co-star, did not think so. Jack was from New Jersey. Hopper could not see him as someone from Texas. Fonda told Hopper that it is called acting. Fonda said the most important line in the movie was, “No, Billy, we blew it.”
A cheer went up when this photo appeared on the screen before the show.
T-Bone Burnett collected a wonderful group of musicians in addition to Kay and McGuinn. Nicole Atkins was there to sing “The Weight” and Tash Neal played a Hendrix-worthy version of “If 6 was 9.” Peter Stampfel performed and horn players and a drummer stepped on stage during the Mardi Gras sequence to play “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
But the biggest cheer and longest applause was when the opening credits started to play and the band went into “Born to be Wild” with Kay on vocals.
Since most of the songs do not play in their entirety on the film, the film would stop at the point the song would end/fade out and the band would finish the song. That was the only real disruption and it was not even really a disruption.
I had first seen the film when I was college at a revival house on the west side. It was so much fun to see it again on a huge screen with a pristine print. I had forgotten about Phil Spector’s cameo at the start. And I had remembered Karen Black as one of the prostitutes but did not know who Toni Basil (the other prostitute) was at the time I originally saw the movie since her real fame was about five years in the future.
Watching Jack Nicholson, I was amazed again at what a wonderful actor he was before he became a caricature of himself.
Since the film ends on a very sad note with a very sad song, Kay said he would let us leave on a happy note and went into “Magic Carpet Ride.”
It was an incredibly fun night. I have never seen so many old bikers in my life. I am sure RCMH has not seen so many in one night either.
By Carene Lydia Lopez