Saturday, April 25, 2015

Then Came Oggy

It's fitting that my story about how I encountered this dated television show called Then Came Bronson should sound like an episode of Then Came Bronson.

Typical Day in Bronson's Life

Only the oldest among you will even know what this show was as it only ran for 26 episodes* in 1969 and I have no idea what the producers were thinking as the ethic or premise is purely counter-culture, yet the show itself is an hour long and was on network who the fuck was sitting around their house after 10 hours grinding metal at a factory to watch a guy wander around the West on a motorcycle, when you could watch the last season of Star Trek or Bewitched or the awesome Hawaii 5-O? And the counter-culture hippies who were possibly the target audience didn't have televisions. Just a terrible idea for a television series, but it had an even worse execution as the scenarios, such as in the 15th episode where I took this screenshot from, has a summary like this:  

Bronson is charmed by Sybil who fancies herself a hippie witch and is part of a band of occultists led by cult-leader Hermes. Bronson at first is entertained by her beliefs but later recoils at her lifestyle. Ultimately, Sybil has to determine the greater meaning of the supernatural, and in the process, life...and somehow gets her VW van running again.

There's a trace of interesting potential in that premise that even Scooby Doo fans might dig, but it quickly dissolves into dull insanity and tiresome lunacy and it seems that Bronson crashes his motorcycle in every episode and the directors were either aspiring to be the next Orson Welles, or they had never watched another television show. Extreme face close-ups follow extreme distance helicopter shots, there's no predicting what will happen next. It's like a cross between Valley of the Dolls and Lost in Space. Even a pop culture historical junkie could not tolerate watching all these episodes. I fast forwarded through most of the two episodes I watched and they both were very unsatisfying. Literally, my life is more interesting.

But there's a greater topic here that I want to explore and it involves many characters and true scenarios and some interesting coincidences. For instance, the series started in 1969, which is the year my van was manufactured. So this is the kind of television show people watched the year of Woodstock and LSD. Insane. You'd have to be drunk and asleep to leave the channel on Then Came Bronson. It's abysmal.

But television is entertainment and they can't choose to air a black screen, so they go with the best option at the moment and after 26 tiresome episodes, they cancel it, but Kurt Russell and Martin Sheen and others all paid their rent with appearances in this show so that's life.

Now, the interesting detail is not only was the show from 1969, but the first time I ever heard of this show was sitting around with my buddy Ron, in La Paz, Mexico, drinking beer, smoking pot, god knows what else and I was telling him of my recent history. Allow me to enter the conversation in progress....

"No," I corrected, "I couldn't get on the ferry to Mazatlan because there was something wrong with my paperwork. I have no idea what it was."
"That sounds reasonable and predictable," said Ron.
"What's that supposed to mean?" I asked.
"It means you are like a stray dog who walks into a restaurant and barks and gets kicked out so he goes back into the alley and says, 'They say my reservation wasn't confirmed.' That's what I mean."

"I don't want to argue about that," I said through a haze of smoke. "So instead of going to Mazatlan and onward into the Mayan empire, I went to the beach and at the beach a car drove up with two flat tires. And this isn't the beach near town. It's the beach miles and miles over nothing, the end of the earth."
"So you fixed the tire?"
"I did. I had tire patches that you force into the hole and also my bike pump. They fed me fish."
"Then I drive to the other side of the peninsula and it was getting dark and a fucking cow is standing in the middle of the road."
"You hit a cow?"
"Almost. I swerved at the last second and ended up in a ditch. But I wisely drove further into the ditch and was able to find an old goat trail that the van could traverse and get back to the road."
"And the cow was watching the whole time."
"No, the cow was immediately struck and exploded by a huge semi truck driven by coked up Mexican drug smugglers."
"How do you know they were smuggling drugs?"
"I'm just speculating to give the story some detail."
"Did the cow really die?"
"Was there ever a cow?"
"So, you're in a ditch?"
"Actually, I'm on the beach, sleeping on the beach, trying to catch fish, eating cans of soup I brought from Los Angeles to trade for necklaces....and I meet a guy who wants to learn guitar, so I follow him for miles on this sandy beach road where there is nothing, and I'm sure he's going to kill me and when I get to his house I plug in and just lay waste to that guitar, like I'm possessed by Eric Clapton. And his girlfriend appears out of nowhere and she looks like she's been crying...and she stares at me as I play guitar and actually starts crying. And the guy vanishes and I'm there with this strange woman who is crying and she says, 'I was pretty once, but you probably think I'm fat and ugly now' and she lifts her shirt up and grabs her tits...'you wouldn't want me now.' And I'm fucking trapped in this dungeon miles and miles from anyone with dusty guitar amps and a drum set with this strange, half-naked woman who is crying and looks suicidal...."
"Did you fuck her?"
"No. She was appalling, grotesque. Some men rise to the occasion and take advantage of hysterical women. Not me."
"Some men try to reassure her."
"What are you talking about? It usually takes months for the women in my life to become hysterical and suicidal! This girl was crying the second I met her."
"Tell her everything'll be alright. Something tender."
"Whatever. I really tried to get away as fast as possible. I escaped through a broken window in the bathroom and fled into the night with no idea which direction I was going. I'm repulsed by hysteria."
"You're going to have a lonely life. All women get hysterical, even teenage hookers. Especially teenage hookers."
I sighed in poignant depression, "So I've noticed."
Ron tapped his joint ash on the floor. "And...does this story have a point? Those hookers I ordered will be here any minute and I need to shower."
"I thought you showered with the hooker first?"
"I do. But I like to be clean when I shower with a hooker. I'm not going to wash my ass crack with a hooker in the shower with me. What kind of impression would that make?"
"Jesus, did you lace this pot with mescaline? You are making no sense right now."
"Finish the fucking story so I can clean up before the hooker arrives."
"YES, the fucking story about you on the beach, the guitar dungeon, the hysterical woman, why you didn't go to Mazatlan. A week ago you were talking about some archeological dig in the Guatemalan jungle, 'Lost City of Gold', panthers, some insanity like that. And now you're sitting here and you look, frankly, like a speed junkie, rail thin, flesh hanging off your face, sun-burned, bleeding lips, ranting, talking a mile a minute, lying to me for no reason, babbling about half-naked hysterical women, if you steal anything from me I'll kick your ass. You know, a cocaine freak will steal your wallet and run away. A Meth head will steal your wallet and then try to help you find it...what's so fucking funny?"
"Ah, Ron, you think I'm doing speed?"
"I watched you buy cocaine to impress that hot little Mexican chick."
"But that's cocaine."
"Cocaine is speed. Don't you know your drug families?"
"I don't. Everything is so debauched. I want to scrub my soul clean. WHY IS EVERYTHING SO DIRTY AND DISGRACED?"
"Oggy, you have no idea what's going to happen to you every day, do you?"
"Does anyone?"
"You know who you remind me of?"
"Don't say Jim Morrison. Everyone says Jim Morrison and I really don't look like him. We're both brunettes, that's the only similarity.
 I look more like the Jesus on those Jehovah's Witness cartoon books they hand out."
"I'd say you look more like Gilligan, from Gilligan's Island," said Ron with deadpan bluntness.
Ron frowned as he scratched his balls, "But that's not what I'm referring to. You ever see that television show called Then Came Bronson?"
"God, no."
"It was this show on right before I went to Vietnam in 1970. It was only interesting if you had taken acid or were stoned."
"You could say that about a lot of media."
"Well, this guy wanders around the country on a motorcycle and there's no point to any of it. He meets people and gets into trouble, crashes his bike, helps people, then straightens everything out and leaves."
"Then Came Bronson?"
"Yes. It's your life. Now, it's time for you to get your hippie ass back to your van. Can you make it?"
"Does it matter?" I said as I wandered away.
Typical Day in Oggy's Life, circa 2009

That was the first time I ever heard of this television show. And after watching two episodes I can say Ron was very close in his comparison. Except for the fact Bronson was riding a Harley and I was riding a Vespa Ciao, we had similar experiences. And this is the tragedy of this show: they were actually trying to make a vaguely honest demonstration that A) riding off on a Harley is no picnic B) The world is fucked up on all sides. C) Real life is slow, vague, lacking resolution. It rains and you get wet. D) You'll probably only meet people who are loony, but that's life so accept it.

So, the producers decided to make an hour long program about what really happens if you leave everything behind for a carefree existence on a motorcycle in 1969, and they decided to be honest about it. Well, the show is an enigma because it's awful, slow, implausible, with moments of violence and unexplained fear that meld into undramatic melancholy and finally an unresolved departure. And that's what life has been like in the van. So, it's odd that I find the show at once awful and unwatchable, and yet a fair representation of life on the road.

*At 1 hour each, this is more like 50 episodes. But that's not saying much since in one episode about 10 minutes were used showing Bronson riding his motorcycle, drinking coffee, criticizing donuts, and pumping gas.

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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.