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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Episode 15 – I Ran at Bakersfield


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[James Dean - Drive Safely]

Episode 15 – I ran at Bakersfield

This is the Dreamtime podcast - occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour weekly show.

Sometimes you write the show, and sometimes the show decides to write you. This is one of those shows. This Saturday is September 30th, 2006. Fifty-one years ago, on September 30th, 1955, James Dean died.

I didn't remember that until a few days ago. The date – and the accident – used to be a lot more important to me some 30-odd years back. In the early '70s, I spent the good part of one Fall season driving back and forth between Northern and Southern California, down the Grapevine on Route 5 from Los Angeles, through the San Joaquin Valley and back to the college I was in the long, slow process of leaving.

There was a girl in Los Angeles. There's always a girl somewhere in every story. She was in the long, slow process of leaving me too, but I didn't know that then. So every Thursday I would take the Volkswagen, loaded with whatever passengers I could find who were willing to pony up $10 bucks for a roundtrip to LA and back and leave around 11 or so at night to go stay with my girl over the weekend. On Sundays, I'd make the reverse trip… 350 miles back.

On one trip back – by myself that time – I detoured off 5 after passing Bakersfield and headed west on Highway 46, pulling off at the intersection of 46 and 41. It was a little before six pm on September 30th, 19 and 71.

Sixteen years earlier, Dean's Porsche Spyder flew over the road I had just traveled, bearing down like a freight train on the downgrade to a bump-in-the-road town called Cholame. At the intersection of Highways 46 and 41, Dean would collide with a Ford Tudor, driven by a 23-year-old with the unlikely last name of Turnupseed. It was 5:45 in the early evening. The sun was just setting.

Turnupseed would survive the accident and live for another 40 years. He would never speak publicly about what had happened. Dean's one passenger also survived. Dean lived for a few moments after the crash, but was pronounced Dead On Arrival at Paso Robles Hospital.

Rebel without a Cause would premiere about a month later.

We all make pilgrimages. In 1988, Dylan, with an entourage of 15 in tow, visited the farm that Dean grew up on, in Fairmount, Indiana. "It was 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning,” said Marcus Winslow, one of Dean’s cousins. “He'd had a concert in Indianapolis, and he came with a bus to Fairmount. He came out here for a few minutes. ..."

That was probably the morning of July 16th, 19 and 88, the morning after Dylan finished a show at the Indiana State Fairgrounds during what would become the first year of the Never Ending Tour. As an aside, Dylan mentions in the liner notes of World Gone Wrong that the Never Ending Tour actually ended three years later in 1991, to be followed by a succession of others, including The Money Never Runs Out, The Southern Sympathizer and the Why Do You Look at Me So Strangely tours.

No word on what the current one is called, although I’m holding out hope that its name is The Search for Rejection tour in honor of Modern Times.

In 1955, Bob Dylan was 14 years old. Like hundreds of other teenagers he would see Rebel multiple times, and bought Rebel's iconic red jacket… just like James Dean’s.

During the 1963 cover shoot for The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, Dylan reportedly wanted to create Roy Schatt's 1954 photo of James Dean walking down West 68th in New York City. The Freewheelin' photo that would eventually be the cover uses Jones Street in Greenwich Village, a one-block street connecting West 4th and Bleeker, as its backdrop.

At least one other Don Hunstein photo from the same session has surfaced. Used as the cover art on The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan Outtakes bootleg, the picture also features Dylan's girlfriend at the time, Suze Rotolo, braced on his arm as he strikes an even more Dean-like pose.

We all emulate our heroes.

On the 50th anniversary of Dean's death, the state of California put up a sign at the intersection, naming it the James Dean Memorial Junction. If you travel about a quarter of a mile west, you'll find a memorial put up in 1977 by a Japanese Dean fan. It's engraved with Dean's name, date of birth and death, an infinity symbol, and what was reportedly Dean's favorite quote, "What is essential is invisible to the eye," from The Little Prince.

Back in the early `70s, none of that was there to see at the junctions of 41 and 46, just a lonely, dusty patch of California road. I sat on the hood of my car for awhile, watching the sun go down. And I got back in the VW, pulled onto the road, blinded then by the explosion of the sunset's glare, not able to see a thing.

And a car came out of the sunset light, engine screaming, horn blaring, swerving inches from my left bumper, and then gone.

I think it was a silver Porsche. It looked like a Porsche. But except for a lone, dark patch of rubber from its braking, there was nothing left to see.

I had stalled the VW in my fright. I started it up again and drove on. In a year I'd be in the Army, and on the road that would eventually lead me here, in my kitchen in New Hampshire, looking out the window at golden Fall light, writing this, in the year of our Lord, 2006.

[Rebel without a Cause theme]

This has been Fred Bals with the Dreamtime podcast, occasional commentary on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour weekly show and occasionally commentary on other dreams. I'll be at Podcast Expo in Ontario, California on September 30th. If you're in the neighborhood, come by and say hello.

I'll be the guy wearing the red jacket... just like James Dean.

The opening Gig Young interview with James Dean on automobile safety and the closing Rebel theme were both taken from the beautifully produced Rebel without a Cause 2-disc DVD set. If you haven't seen Rebel - or haven't seen it in awhile, go watch it. The background music - provided tonight from the PodShow Podsafe Music Network. Check it out at ' The artist is nezecus.

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