One of the all-time great sci-fi and fantasy illustrators.
“I’m not a number, I am a free man!” It’s a line that would, right now, only be spouted by idiots who may still be frolicking in parks or on beaches, as they wilfully flout the distancing rules because it doesn’t allow them the satisfaction of a proper high-five. But in the late-60s, the phrase was shouted on a weekly basis on television by a man running for his life from a huge gelatinous white ball on a sandy estuary beach in Wales, while sporting a rather natty jacket with piped lapels.
He was ‘The Prisoner’ (as played by Patrick McGoohan), and now that we are all prisoners, surely there are some lessons we can glean from No 6’s time as a grudging guest of The Village?
‘Easy Rider’ was the 35mm celluloid Woodstock; it was the reckless hippy gypsies’ manifesto of endless asphalt ribbon. Of course it has dated, the fact that the road trip was funded by smuggling cocaine from Mexico has lost its romance, as has the whole – in retrospect grotesque – glorification of drugs. On the other hand, Peter Fonda’s film was the first to portray LSD as a horror show. Either way, people my age watched Fonda on the edge of our seats, wanting to be him; to feel that liberation through wind and speed across America’s boundless space, to be by that camp fire. But we didn’t want to be attacked by club-wielding rednecks, we didn’t want the bad trip, and certainly didn’t want to be gunned down on a lonely road.
In this way, Fonda was the cautionary tale in all that summer of peace and love. He took the 1960s dream out of the comfort zone, away from Haight Ashbury, Sunset Boulevard and Greenwich Village, out into real America – where it twisted into nightmare.
They climbed inside. Ringo took the copilot’s seat, and Mike sat behind.
Laura put on a headset and flipped switches, and the instrument dials glowed.
“Fuel’s almost max.” She bit her lower lip. “Listen, I know this was my idea, but tell me again why it isn’t stealing.” She activated the starter.
“Taking this aircraft for personal gain would be ‘stealing,’ ” Mike said, shouting to be heard over the sudden roar. “Taking it for the purpose of helping someone else is ‘commandeering into the service of the people.’ Besides, you have to perform a solo for your license anyway, and we’ll pay for the fuel and flight time. Eventually.”
“I’m not even sure we’ll be able to find Dad!” Laura shouted as the Beechcraft taxied across the field toward the grass runway. “I won’t be able to help you interpret the eye’s projection and fly the plane too!”
“We accept your offer,” Mike said. He took the eye halves from his coat, screwed them together, and pushed the sphere into Ringo’s right socket.
Ringo blinked. If he concentrated, he could see and hear what Jeremy saw and heard. It was unpleasant, but he would put up with it.
“Two barks warm, one bark cold,” Laura said. “Got it?”
Ringo barked twice.
“Lassie should have been a Doberman!” Mike yelled.
Laura revved the engine. “This is against the law!”
“All laws, both of nature and of man, have been suspended!” Mike cried.
“Haven’t you heard? Buddy Holly is alive and well on Ganymede!”
The Bonanza roared down the runway and rose into the February night.
© Bradley Denton