Born To Be Wild(ish) Revisited

Four years ago today I posted one of the pieces I have most enjoyed writing in the nearly eight years I’ve been doing this. I called it Born To Be Wild(ish) for reasons which will become clear when you read it. I reblogged it a year later, and shared it again last year as my tribute to Peter Fonda, but I would imagine that very few of you who are actively following my blog now will have seen it before. It is a piece of nostalgia, a little bit of yearning for a lost youth, and I think it speaks to many of us. So, to save having to write something new – and because I like it –  I’m sharing it again so that you, too, can take a trip down Memory Lane with me:

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 July 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:

****************************

And this is me again now, just to round things off. If you didn’t spot it, there is a link in that to another post from that year – Summer Of ‘69 – which covers some more of the background to my teenage years, and might help you understand how I grew up in those heady days – just in case you were wondering. As Numpty Trumpty always says, when he tweets about an upcoming interview (usually with Faux News): “Enjoy” 😉

 

38 thoughts on “Born To Be Wild(ish) Revisited

  1. Hi C – I enjoyed memory lane with you – and imagining you in the 60s experiencing life was a nice respite from my current workload – thanks for the splash of wild-ish – the movie clip easy rider just ended too
    and you know a movie is specula when we can rewatch it with enrichment –
    not all movies qualify

    lifestyle based on doing what you want to do, free from the constraints of regular life


    and never heard of the song I Wasn’t Born To Follow- but it seems so fitting

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I went to Camber Sands a few times when I was young and still living in Kent and SE London. I thought it was great compared with most of the other south coast beaches which are pebbly, as you must know. By the time I was dating boys with bikes most of them had Hondas or Suzukis. I loved riding pillion especially on warm summer nights. I remember being part of a dare and accompanying someone ‘doing a ton’ round the Orpington bypass! I had absolutely no fear at all and gladly got on the back of a bike and was driven at speed to the next pub by a boyfriend who had probably already drunk a few pints of beer! When I got married the first time my husband got a Honda scooter for work. He then passed his test and got a Honda 250 and I was able to ride pillion again.
    I love that song!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Such great memories! Sounds like you had a lot of fun. I was born in Dover, which was all pebbles, as you say. There was one enclosed sandy beach at Folkestone, otherwise we had to go as far afield as Camber or the N Kent coast. Sandcastles were out, as kids! Biking was more fun, anyway, as we got older.

      It’s a great song, isn’t it!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have several funny stories about this song, but the craziest was when we opened for Steppenwolf at the Bodega in San Jose, 1980 or 81. Back then if you booked Steppenwolf you got either the band, no John Kay, or for an extra $5k John came along. That was the workaround deal when they were all suing each other over who could be Steppenwolf, because there were about three versions out there. Like Styx and many others. Anyway, i was shocked to see that most of the band’s gear was held together with Gaffer’s tape, and they kept trying to borrow ours. To the point that “borrow” meant load our’s onto their truck after the gig! Excuse me, that’s not yours. I’m sure it was a drag to be the B team no John Kay Steppenwolf, but come one, guys! Anyway, great tune, grat nostalgia.
    I want a Vespa and I’m old enough to know better…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ha ha, were you a ‘Mod’, Clive? I was often at Camber Sands too with my parents – I was probably about 11 or 12 when you were there with your friends. Also … did you see the documentary last week about Dennis Hopper?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. it’s a classic song, and it seems like it was tailor-made for this movie. I can’t remember if I’ve ever watched the whole movie, but I do remember the Jack Nicholson scene in the restaurant.

    I also enjoyed your book at such a wonderful time in your life – it must have been a great feeling to be on your scooter and going out with your friends. Have you stayed in touch with any of them?

    I also enjoyed the Summer of ’69 post…

    Liked by 1 person

    • It did seem to be made for it, and is one of the most-remembered parts of the soundtrack. As I said in the piece, the movie looks dated now but it still has its moments and Jack Nicholson was, well, Jack Nicholson!

      As I think I said in a comment on one of your posts my biggest regret in life is losing touch with people. I still have one close school friend who I’m often in touch with and a few others I send Christmas cards to. A couple of others – one of whom was also in the scooter club – are Facebook friends.

      Thanks for liking and commenting on both posts, much appreciated 😊

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Robbie. Like the best rock songs this one has stood the test of time. I’ve been a pillion passenger on a motorbike but not driven one – they’re a lot less tame than motorscooters!

      Liked by 2 people

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