52 years ago today the actor James Dean was killed in automobile accident—and an icon was born. The American Teenager. The rebel. The badass (can I say badass here?) who can mumble and break your heart with a soulful look.
Elvis was affected by Dean, picking up the baton of pissing off parents and passing it on the Beatles, and possibly forward today, all the way to Kanye West. That’s a leap—but so is this: Billy the Kid was ten times the rebel, the American Teenager than James Dean was.
The point? Rebels have been with us since the birth of our country—the very core of our being is born of rebellion. How could we not celebrate rebels?
James Dean is more famous dead than he was alive. His life is the fabric of lore, part of a larger story…but the mystery of his talent, of his life, endures because we obviously still need rebels. For all of the details you can Google James Dean…
Tens of thousands of people flock to Graceland, the mother church of Elvis, every year in August to celebrate his death. Interestingly enough—thousands of people flock to Fairmount, Indiana, the birthplace of James Dean the last weekend of every September to do the same thing. In a way, it is a much smaller version of the Graceland thing—with one exception: The “festival” takes over the whole town.
Fairmount is a sleepy little farm town, surrounded by cornfields, a few miles south of Marion, another GM company town that has seen its better days. There are tons of cool cars, Mercurys cut and modified, James Dean lookalikes, food stands that sell elephant ears and deep-fried Twinkies, and sock-hops with music from the 50s blaring at every turn.
For the most part, I don’t think the festival has much to do with James Dean anymore—but a longing for a simpler time—which strikes me as ironic since the celebration is about a rebel.
From a distance, these celebrations can seem morbid, a little garish.
I’ve been to Graceland (in the winter, not in the August), and I’ve been to the James Dean Festival in Fairmount—but it has been several years ago. I have witnessed the fervor of fandom first-hand, and I’m still not sure what to make of it, other than this: People still come together to celebrate rebellion—and I think that can’t be all bad. Fairmount is July 4th in September.
What would James Dean think of the hub-bub? Who knows—he’d probably be appalled—or pissed off that his tombstone keeps getting stolen.
But I have to wonder—who are the rebels of today? Who are the actors, the singers, the writers, that are blazing new paths, all the while touching the heart of our core being--the vein of rebellion that we all share? What do you think? Is there anybody out there that qualifies?
You tell me, because, sadly, I think the rebellion has been quieted, replaced with Britney, Paris, and the media scoudrels who want to force-feed our entertainment diet with fast food instead of Rebel Without a Cause.
To borrow on a popular song I wonder: Where have all the rebels gone?
Oh, speaking of rebels, one other thing before I go, check out Stephen King’s take on the state of the short story in this morning’s New York Times (www.nytimes.com). It’s an enlightening article that shouldn’t be missed by anyone who writes and/or loves the short story form.