Born To Be Wild(ish)

Do you ever find yourself looking back at earlier versions of yourself, and wondering about how different life was? As we get older, we have a lot more to look back on and while some might contend that we should always look ahead, and never look back, I think we can learn from our past. As I said in my post Summer of ’69 that was a momentous year for me. It was also the year that the movie Easy Rider first graced the screen – in June in the US, a little later in the UK – and it opened up the eyes of impressionable teenagers around the world to a way of life that was very different from our normal, humdrum existences.

If you haven’t seen the movie I’ll try to avoid spoilers, suffice it to say that it doesn’t end well! But for most of us at the time, that wasn’t the point. What we saw in the film was a lifestyle based on doing what you want to do, free from the constraints of regular life. Sure, it was fuelled by an illegal drug deal at the very beginning, but did we care? I know I didn’t! The concept of road movies hadn’t really been explored much until then, and the idea of watching 95 minutes of two guys riding motorbikes around was very strange to my parents: “what’s it about?” “that sounds boring” and “you aren’t old enough to see it” being just some of what they said. It was rated ‘X’ in the UK, which meant that you had to be 18 to be allowed into the cinema, but I somehow managed to raise my short, just-turned-16 frame enough to get past the prison cinema guards. Or maybe they were just glad to take anyone’s cash that they could!

I have the movie on DVD and occasionally dust it off for a viewing. Mostly, it now looks incredibly dated, a real period piece. But there is still much to enjoy in it, especially the scene accompanied by the Byrds’ song I Wasn’t Born To Follow, which is such a joyous expression of youthful freedom.

At 16, we all have dreams of what we want our lives to become, and a release from a late 1960s Britain, with economic troubles putting a real dampener on all the Swinging 60s stuff that had gone before, was incredibly appealing. We all wanted to do it! If you have read my Summer of ’69 you’ll know that I spent that school holiday working to earn the cash to buy my first motorised transport. This was where one of life’s major lessons first hit home: I was never going to be able to earn enough to buy a bike like Peter Fonda’s! So, with reality dawning rapidly, I adjusted my ambitions – another early life lesson – and bought myself a secondhand scooter, a Lambretta Ld to be precise. It wasn’t even the most recent model made by Lambretta, but it was mine! In case you’ve never heard of it – and you can be forgiven for that – this is what it looked like:

The same colour as mine!

The same colour as mine!

Suddenly, a whole new world opened up for me. I could go anywhere I wanted, without the need to consult copious bus timetables, and I really took advantage of this new freedom. I joined the local scooter club, called the ‘Saints’ for reasons no one actually knew, and as well as club nights we went on group outings. We often went to a place called Camber Sands, which was pretty desolate, although it did afford a lovely view of the nuclear power plant under construction at nearby Dungeness. But that didn’t matter to us – we enjoyed the camaraderie of the ride, the wind (and rain, lots of rain) in our hair, and as long as someone had remembered to bring a ball we had a game of football on the sands when we got there. I have been thinking about this post for some time, and it feels very poignant to be looking back at my own youth, and happy times, when the sea has just claimed the lives of five young men who had gone to the very same place to have a good day out. As I said, we can learn from our past: that could have been us. There was never any sign of a lifeguard there, and apparently there still isn’t, 47 years on. It always takes a tragedy for something necessary to be enacted, sadly. In our innocent youth, we don’t really think about potential dangers, do we? Life is for living, we’re young and it is all stretching out in front of us. Why worry?

The ultimate fashion item, c.1969!

The ultimate fashion item, c.1969!

Going back to buying the scooter and becoming part of the local ‘scene’, where the cool kids hung out – as if, in my dreams, etc. – it amuses me that despite the fact that what we thought we were looking for was a freedom from normality, we rapidly adopted a style that became our new normal. If you had a scooter but didn’t wear one of these (look left), you were nobody!

I didn’t quite manage to copy Peter Fonda’s crash helmet either. Although it wasn’t at that time illegal to ride a bike without wearing one, we prided ourselves on being a responsible scooter club, so I bought myself another fashion accessory, just like this one:

Stylish, or what!

Stylish, or what!

But we were happy, that was the most important thing to us. We may not have been like Wyatt and Billy in the movie, but we had a sense of freedom, and I felt that every single time I got on the scooter, even if I was only using it to go shopping or to go to school. In those moments, the world was all mine, and I felt a kind of invincibility. Admittedly, I didn’t feel quite the same way the day I came off it and embedded a stone in my arm, but that was just another life lesson: don’t be a prat! Looking back, through what are probably very rose-tinted spectacles, I do feel a sense of loss, the loss of the innocence of youth. I hope my 16 year old self would have approved of the way my life has developed: I may not be riding the breeze on the open road, but I’ve learnt to recognise how to find the best in life, and to enjoy it.

And finally, for anyone feeling short changed by the edited version of the song in the opening video, I leave you with a full version of what is still the best driving song I know:

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25 thoughts on “Born To Be Wild(ish)

  1. Really enjoyed that. Clive. I smiled with recognition as you described recalibrating your ambitions from owning a bike like Peter Fonda’s down to your very own Lambretta. And there is something sweet abut how you describe you and your fellow Saints on the road to freedom and Camber Sands with the wind in your hair — well at least the edges peeping out from under your responsible helmets!

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  2. Reblogged this on Take It Easy and commented:

    I hadn’t been planning on mining the depths of my previous posts again, but this one popped up in Timehop this morning, from a year ago today. Having re-read it, I realised that it reminded me of an important time in my life, when I was balancing teenagers’ love of life, and the freedoms the 1960s gave us, with approaching adulthood. So I thought I’d share it again, for those of you who weren’t around here a year ago.

    As I said at the time, the post was a follow up to an earlier one from 2016, Summer of ’69, which became a kind of trilogy when I posted All Right Now in my short lived (but hoping to be restarted) series of #SaturdaySongs. I hope you enjoy this little trip down my memory lane 😊

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  3. I didn’t see Easy Rider until my late 30s although I knew what it was about and the sentiment. It is a classic that I’ve watched a few times since.
    I see it as a coming of age movie not of individuals but of society. Our right to be free-spirited – it seems in your case your scooter expressed it for you and for me it was my first car. The chance to have my own space and freedom to go where I wanted to go with the radio turned up loud.
    I loved your post. A kindred spirit just a few thousand kilometers away!

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  4. Great post! I love the way you write too. By 69 I had the love of Independence and freedom that wheels afforded me. I was able to buy a Triumph Spitfire with inherited money. Gold and sexy. I had long blonde hair and felt sexy driving that car! (The gold and sexy was about the car. Lol) I could go where I wanted to go and didn’t have to tell my parents. I was in nursing school and lived in the dorm. What sweet freedom. I miss my Spitfire still but there’s no way I could as easily get in and out of it now that I’m 65! Lol

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    • Thank you! Very kind of you to say that. I never owned a sports car and would never manage it now! But those days of youthful freedom were great, though we probably didn’t appreciate them as much at the time as we do now. 20:20 hindsight is a wonderful thing!

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  5. Ah, Clive, the late 60s and early 70s…here it was bell-bottom pants, “grannie” glasses, long hair and beads! I had a friend who had a somewhat similar scooter and still remember my first ride with a duplicate of that white helmet! Still, I can’t resist, speculating that you were the (real) Angels in contrast to the Hell’s Angels who rode those huge Harleys! (Lol!) It certainly was a time of throwing off parental and societal restraints and doing things with personal freedom! Great memory, great iconic song! Loved it….Jo

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  6. By purchasing that scooter, you had a valuable lesson in reality and compromise. You could also say common sense. I was nineteen when I was bitten by the “freedom” bug. I wanted out of a couple of commitments, and took the plunge and left a relationship, which wouldn’t have turned out to be good for me. For me, it has always been a struggle between freedom and security. Security usually won out, but I have managed to have many moments of freedom throughout my life. It feels good!

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    • It does feel good! I tend to equate freedom with the upper tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need. Without the lower tiers, such as security, it isn’t possible to feel real freedom. They all have their place in our lives.

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