Various Artists

Soundtrack to “The American Dreamer”

A soundtrack to a 1971 documentary centered around Dennis Hopper during the making of The Last Movie, a film whose title was almost a self-fulfilling prophecy regarding his career. The Last Movie was a project near and dear to Hopper’s heart and he bankrolled his success and notoriety from Easy Rider to get a million dollars in funding for a disjointed, and sometimes fascinating skewering of Westerns and Hollywood in general. Centered around Hopper’s role as Kansas, a stunt coordinator who quits the movie business after a tragic accident during a shoot in Peru and falls in love with the culture. Somehow, he gets roped into a bizarre scenario where lines between reality and fiction have blurred and he tries to navigate his way through a surreal situation where some Peruvians are shooting their own homage to the American Western, but the violence is very real and they are shooting the film with “cameras” made out of sticks. Needless to say, it’s reception upon release was hostile and it caused him to take a step back from the industry for years.

If that wasn’t enough, he was the centerpiece and subject of The Last American Dreamer, a documentary that captured him at his most delusional, addicted and hedonistic moments as he rambles about the nature of art, sex, filmmaking and politics. It’s an utterly fascinating portrait of a man walking on the edge of his own sanity while remaining lucid enough to remind you why there were aspects of brilliance about the man. However, the viewer must wade through clumsy hookups with groupies in bathtubs and an impromptu nudist strut through a Los Angeles suburb. I wouldn’t exactly recommend either movie, but they are interesting since you don’t really see stars toss fame aside in such a surreal fashion these days.

You wouldn’t expect such an introspective, lost and forlorn soundtrack to accompany such orchestrated chaos, but then again it is kind of the perfect canvas for a tale of a man clutching at the end of his rope. I am totally unfamiliar with any of the artists besides Gene Clark, but each and every song on here captures that existential hangover that occurred when the Woodstock era of peace and love began to decay and folks began to spiritually prioritize their lives when the party was over and the drugs and excess began to take its toll as it always does in any era. Each song is an examination of the collective psyche of the time and each artist sings a paean to the search for something to replace what was once fulfilling, but now seems increasingly empty. In that regard, it might be one of the most fitting soundtracks I’ve every heard.

Gene Clark kicks things off with “American Dreamer” and it echoes Hopper’s rejection of success and its trappings as he crafts a narrative of a man who once thought money would solve all his woes until he realizes dollar bills will never purchase true love or contentment in one’s soul. There’s something optimistic about how it lionizes the search for meaning, but utterly depressing in how it paints the American dream as a farce that has tainted an entire generation.

Hello People follow it up with “Pass Me By” which another soul crushing sentiment as they sing “Sitting on a high fence watching time pass me by, hoping for an answer before its time to die, which side is a side to bring a man a piece of mind, the longer I sit, the harder it is to find, Pass me by, this is my price to pay, so pass me by.” They go onto some convoluted, but sad metaphor where they compare life to a birthday cake where everyone just wants to stick their fingers in your icing and tear you down. It’s a pretty nihilistic song about desperate moments where life loses its luster and your foundation slowly crumbles in slow-motion.

John Buck Wilkin contributes “Screaming Metaphysical Blues”,  a somewhat schizophrenic song that starts out as a tribute to Dennis Hopper’s hoodwinking of Hollywood via their funding of The Last Movie and eventually devolves into an invitation to take his hand as we travel beyond space and time and espouses the ideology that we can only be free when we die and “reach the universal mind.” It’s a weird juxtaposition of sentiments, but I can only imagine that Hopper would approve of such a jumbled, but occasionally eloquent summation of the path to the afterlife.

If you heard only one track from this soundtrack, you would just pleasantly nod in appreciation of the mellow country/folk emanating from your speaker. Taken as a whole, it is a complex chorus of troubled voices trying to make sense of their individual ideologies as an era comes to close and the old comforts no longer alleviate your woes. It’s an album about the search for something meaningful when the lexicon has suddenly shifted and you have no way to make sense of it all when the highs no longer lift you off the ground and all that’s left is an endless low.