Lucky Luke and the Wild West
As soon as I knew how to read, he was with me, jumping of the pages of my comic book. He rode his horse around my room in Paris; he was my hero. In the comic books I read as a child Lucky Luke was portrayed as the world's greatest cowboy. He could outshoot his own shadow, he could lasso a whirlwind, and he could outride, outdraw, and outshoot anyone. Jolly Jumper, his horse, was also pretty unique, he was the smartest horse in the world, he could play Luke at chess, arm-wrestle him and run while asleep, incidentally he could also cook and do laundry.
Lucky Luke was a cowboy in the Wild West who traveled around delivering justice wherever he went. In my imagination he was my protector, he was my real father, not the one who disappeared shortly before my birth. Lucky Luke was from Belgium, but he lived a world away from the gray skies and cold rain that fell over Paris in the winter. Looki Loook, one day I would be with him in the great plains of the American West. He and I would smoke cigarettes at night by the campfire and we would track down the Dalton brothers, find them near the Pecos River and force them to meet their fate.
When I made my way to America in 1969, I was looking to be part of the great celebration of the late 60's. I wanted to be part of the change that was sweeping the world. I wanted to be part of the war protests, the feminist revolution and the consciousness revelations. In my quest Timothy Leary and I crossed paths, we fell in love and soon he was arrested and imprisoned on a trumped up charge for possession of 00,1 grams of marijuana. I then travelled around seeking support for him and working tirelessly towards his release from prison.
During the fall of 1974, Dennis Hopper got in touch with me and invited me to come to Taos to speak about Timothy's plight. I flew from New York to Albuquerque with thoughts of Billy the Kid, Jesse James and Calamity Jane swirling in my mind. When I got off the plane, two men in cowboy boots and cowboy hats greeted me at the gate. We walked swiftly towards the exit of the small airport. I stepped out into the New Mexico crisp air, my eyes bathing in the flawless turquoise sky. My friends had a dark gray 1969 Mercedes with light tan leather interior. "We are driving you straight to Taos where Dennis Hopper in expecting you." I slipped a Bob Dylan cassette into the car's tape machine and we were off. One of the guys rolled up a fat joint and we passed it around to each other. Soon I felt pleasantly cocooned in the back seat of the car. New Mexico was a movie playing outside the window. Just like in the Lucky Luke comic books there were red mesas growing out of the earth, there was big sky reaching forever into the distance.
When we came to Santa Fe, at that time, a small dusty town, we stopped at the La Fonda hotel, it was just as I had imagined it in my dreams, red tile floors, deep leather arm chairs. Beautiful dark-skinned women with shiny black hair and long colorful pleated skirts and turquoise jewelry sat at the bar. We walked through the hall of the hotel and to my surprise we entered a French Bakery, cases filled with croissant, chocolate éclairs and authentic baguettes. The place was hopping with interesting looking people; I sat down with my two companions and ordered a tasty crepe with spinach and Gruyere cheese. The guys were not very talkative; they asked me about Timothy Leary and how his life was in prison.
The road to Taos gripped me deep in the heart, the Rio Grande meandering below the highway. The cottonwood trees still lush and green waving in the wind, the tall golden grasses on each side of the riverbanks. I was falling in love just like that, love at first sight with a land, a place, a love that was unexpected, strong, and deep. I was in love with the rock formation on the side of the road, the red and pink striations in the stone. The light was different here, brighter; it seemed to turn up the intensity of color in the landscape.
My escorts parked their car next to an old movie house in the center of Taos. There were hippies everywhere on the street and inside the cinema, a curious mix of hippies and cowboys waiting for me to arrive and tell them about Timothy Leary's imprisonment, their very own martyr in the cause of the free use of drugs.
Dennis Hopper was on stage, my very own modern Lucky Luke transformed into Easy Rider. He was magnificent in his brown snake cowboy boots, his washed-out jeans, and a leather vest with a red bandana tied around his neck.
As I walked to the stage he fired his gun in the air and put it back in his holster. He lit a cigarette that he left dangling on the corner of his mouth. This is the American Far West as they called it in France and the man waiting for me on stage was a real life Lucky Luke. I looked at him adoringly, dizzy from the altitude and high on the good dope we had smoked on the road.
Someone lifted me up and deposited me on the stage, Dennis gave me a great big bear hug and said ,"listen everybody, this is Timothy Leary's wife," then he shoved a bottle of Jack Daniels in my hand and I took a long tasty swig. The crowd was cheering out of control "Free Timothy Leary" more people were firing guns in the air. I too, joined in yelling "Free Timothy Leary," as the frenzy grew stronger and stronger. By now I had forgotten my speech, I just smiled from ear to ear, delighted. Easy Rider, Lucky Luke, and Timothy Leary from the Moody Blues song, the line between fact and fiction was completely blurred in my mind. Inside this musty, smoky theater, amongst this pandemonium I felt at home. I had found my place and my people.Tweet