Dennis Hopper’s Taos Memorial

By: Bill Whaley
4 June, 2010

Even the printed program for Dennis Hopper’s funeral at the St. Francis de Asis Church in Ranchos de Taos reflected the spirit of the occasion—right day, wrong date (June 1 instead of June 2). The oft painted and much revered Church, a sacred but living place of worship, where Father Bill McNichols serves as spiritual guide, was about two-thirds full for the Dennis Hopper doings. The front pews were filled with friends and family, colleagues and associates from Los Angeles and Taos and Taos Pueblo.

The service began, as we entered. Jenny Bird’s angelic tones (“Ave Maria” and “Just a Closer Walk with Thee”) filled the nave and engulfed the Church. You can count on Jenny’s voice to stir your heart and synthesize so many separate traditions in this amalgamated community. Father Bill prayed and welcomed the celebrants.

And, truly, the next three speakers, Dennis’s grown children, expressed their love and became the face of his legacy. Henry Hopper’s dramatic readings from Walt Whitman (“Leaves of Grass”) and Rainer Maria Rilke (”Letters to a Young Poet”) reminded you so much of Dennis. Daughter Ruthanna Hopper read from a Celtic book of wisdom and touched us with her repeated avowals of love for her father. And Marin, the oldest daughter, read from Matthew, reminding us of Jesus, and once again of the sacred place wherein we sat.

But it was Brother David Hopper, who caught Dennis and the times, the spirit of Taos and the Easy Rider years on the wing by reading Kris Kristofferson’s famous tune, “Pilgrim.” David noted that both Kris and Dennis were thirty-three in 1969 when the singer dedicated the song to the filmmaker. In retrospect, it is difficult to think of a more prescient commentary on Dennis’s life, especially the way we saw him. (Below we re produce the lyrics as a reminder and, truly, the finest epitaph, one could imagine, for the “walking contradiction” that was Dennis Hopper.) David’s recitation was interrupted with sympathetic laughter and his reading applauded. Read that song, think of Dennis coming home, and it will make you cry.

After Robbie Romero’s “The Prayer Song,” Father Bill asked Henry to read a brief Homily in the form of Dennis’s curator’s statement, written for last last year’s Harwood exhibit. Both Henry and the crowd were moved by the actor-artist’s s account of growing up in Dodge City, Kansas. Father Bill personalized the service and introduced the non-Catholics to the liturgical forms. He led the crowd in General Intercessions, The Lord’s Prayer, and Prayer of Commendation. Almost everyone was responding in unison by the end: “Lord Hear Our Prayer.”

At the end of the service, Jenny Bird led the congregation in an acapella version of “Amazing Grace.”

Grace and graciousness were Dennis’s signature in his very public return to Taos during the last year. He was touched by being named “Honorary Mayor” and touched the community by lending his name and curating the reunion art show last year at the Harwood. As the sages will tell you, regardless of how you live, it’s how you spend the last months of your life and how you die that counts. Now he rests in a simple pine box at Jesus Nazareno cemetery on Espinoza Road, ready for the long journey home.

Lord Hear Our Prayer.

*At the services, we enjoyed seeing Dennis’s longtime loyal assistant, Satya (de la Manitou), another survivor, who directed traffic in an impromptu imitation of Emily Post. (We’ve forgotten Satya’s real name.) You can see this sixties-seventies satyr on You Tube offering advice to gamblers playing the ponies. He looks like a refugee out of The Godfather or The Sopranos.

Here’s the Kristofferson Tune. Read it and weep and laugh. It’s perfect.

Pilgrim

See him wasted on the sidewalk in his jacket and his jeans,
Wearin’ yesterday’s misfortunes like a smile
Once he had a future full of money, love, and dreams,
Which he spent like they was goin’ outa style
And he keeps right on a’changin’ for the better or the worse,
Searchin’ for a shrine he’s never found
Never knowin’ if believin’ is a blessin’ or a curse,
Or if the goin’ up was worth the comin’ down

CHORUS:
He’s a poet, he’s a picker
He’s a prophet, he’s a pusher
He’s a pilgrim and a preacher, and a problem when he’s stoned
He’s a walkin’ contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction,
Takin’ ev’ry wrong direction on his lonely way back home.

He has tasted good and evil in your bedrooms and your bars,
And he’s traded in tomorrow for today
Runnin’ from his devils, Lord, and reachin’ for the stars,
And losin’ all he’s loved along the way
But if this world keeps right on turnin’ for the better or the worse,
And all he ever gets is older and around
From the rockin’ of the cradle to the rollin’ of the hearse,
The goin’ up was worth the comin’ down

CHORUS:
He’s a poet, he’s a picker
He’s a prophet, he’s a pusher
He’s a pilgrim and a preacher, and a problem when he’s stoned
He’s a walkin’ contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction,
Takin’ ev’ry wrong direction on his lonely way back home.
There’s a lotta wrong directions on that lonely way back home.

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