Every time I drive through the Pointe Coupee parish town of Morganza, which I do a few times a year because of kin who live up the road in Marksville, I think about the movie Easy Rider. A derelict building still stands along Louisiana Highway 1, so sad in its appearance as to betray the fact that it once achieved movie stardom. That’s where bikers played by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, who had picked up along the way a loony character portrayed by Jack Nicholson, stopped for lunch. The meal, we assume, was OK, but the location, it turned out, wasn’t. A couple of rogue cops eyed the men and followed them to their camping spot down the river. That night the three were attacked, and the character played by Nicholson was killed. The scene, I think, was supposed to suggest the social and class conflicts of the time. (Jack Nicholson, of course, would survive –– to be seen frequently in later life sitting courtside at Los Angeles Lakers games. So much for class conflicts.)
When Dennis Hopper died last week, I was reminded of the film, which was released in 1969 but has survived through the years as a cult classic. Other Louisiana scenes were shot in the town of Franklin and in New Orleans at the Mardi Gras, which was the destination of the travelers who were in search of some sort of meaning.
Some of that meaning was apparently found at St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, where Fonda’s and Hopper’s characters had a Mardi Gras afternoon romp with a couple of women. The scene is unintentionally historic because of what is in the background. In the distance can be seen the I-10 loop then under contraction as it ravaged through North Claiborne Avenue, that in itself a true symbol of social struggles.
Easy Rider would create tension for the local Mardi Gras, as each year, for several years after, there would be rumors of hordes of bikers, including the Hell’s Angels, who were heading to Carnival. To this day some bikers do come, many parking their wheels at a designated spot on St. Peter Street, but they are searching for nothing more than a party.
Morganza never took advantage of the fame that the film brought it. The town today is as quiet as ever. Something else that hasn’t changed: Passers-through should still beware of the cops, not for brutality but for chasing automobiles whose drivers do not heed the speed limit signs. Where Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper once stopped in search of peace, traffic tickets are an economic stimulus. There is a message for all of us from their saga: While searching for meaning, there is wisdom in heeding the signs along the way.
Krewe: The Early New Orleans Carnival- Comus to Zulu by Errol Laborde is available at all area bookstores. Books can also be ordered via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or (504) 895-2266)
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