Soundtrack to American Dreamer

During the post-production of Dennis Hopper’s surreal and unjustly-forgotten South American anti-imperialist western, The Last Movie (which would prove disastrous for his career upon release, yet go on to become a cult classic and one of Hopper’s own proudest achievements), the actor and director was the subject of a sort of loose, biographical documentary, filmed around his Taos, New Mexico home as he wandered the desert, got wasted, and philosophized about life (see tag line: “I’d rather die fighting than die getting fat”). American Dreamer would share in the fate of The Last Movie and quickly disappear into obscurity, but among the film’s remains lays a beautiful acoustic soundtrack, featuring original compositions courtesy of Hopper’s personal acquaintances, such as John Buck Wilkin and Chris Sikelianos, as well as better-known performers such as Gene Clark and gonzo-mime-band The Hello People.

The album itself is relatively short, as are the individual tracks of which it is composed. Gene Clark’s contributions may be the crown jewels of this collection, though they only consist of two pieces, each less than two minutes in length. His “Outlaw Song” is particularly powerful, a stark anthem of personal revolution against the “rational lines that all men draw.” The following number, a hushed performance of the country blues standard “Easy Rider” by Chris Sikelianos, is majestic American folk music in the best Jack Elliott tradition. You can hear Hopper and others laughing and interacting with Sikelianos in the background, giving this one that grace of intimacy that is so hard to find in recorded music.

John Buck Wilkin was a friend of Kris Kristofferson’s who was introduced to Hopper just prior to the filming of The Last Movie, in which he would appear and perform. He scores three songs here, which are basically hit-and-miss. “Screaming Metaphysical Blues” recounts the Last Movie expedition, and while it has some topical charm, it suffers from a case of weak songwriting. The driving “Look at Me, Mama” is much better, accompanied by some righteous picking and boasting a solid chorus. The record closes with a reading of Fred Neil’s “The Other Side of This Life” by The Abbey Road Singers, which is not some long-haired religious choir as one might expect from the name, but rather a heavy acoustic rock-and-roll ensemble, with a singer who vaguely reminds me of John Kay, of Steppenwolf fame.

Like the film which birthed it, the soundtrack to American Dreamer has never been re-released on any modern format, but the record is definitely worth tracking down if you’re into Gene Clark or even just eccentric American folk music. If you’re lucky the vinyl also includes a pretty wild fold-out poster of Dennis Hopper toting a rifle and a joint that’s almost worth the price of the album itself. Like they say, peace and love, right?

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“American Dreamer”

:) Original | 1971 | Mediarts | search ebay ]

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  • Anonymous

    Makes me want to go and seek out The Abbey Road Singers.

  • Jason

    Speaking of Gene Clark, here’s an interesting YouTube interview from the 80’s:

  • mark

    Ah! I can hear Dennis Hopper’s wheels spinning in the ditch!
    Evidently, he and Peter Fonda had very different conceptions for the music for Easy Rider… the fact that the five Byrds had split (with Gene’s departure), also contributed to the stew. Peter Fonda was a friend of Roger McGuinn’s and Hopper was closer to Gene Clark… It was McGuinn who contributed to Easy Rider (and tried to capitalize from the association with the Byrds release of Easy Rider). Dennis was very interested in the correlation between music and the graphic image offered by film… I have heard that American Dreamer was a continuation of the experiment begun with Easy Rider without the voice of Fonda chiming in.
    Anyway, I have always enjoyed this film and its sound track – especially the Gene Clark contributions (that may be listened to on Gene’s compilation album, American Dreamer on cd) … stellar!!!

  • cpr8405

    I bought The American Dreamer” cd about 2 years ago at Amazon. Though i’m not sure if it’s actually a bootleg(it’s listed as an import), the sound and packaging are just fine, and it includes the mini poster of Dennis slinging a semi automatic rifle and smoking a joint! Definitely worth the $14.99 I paid and as of 2/24/2013 is still available at Amazon.

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