America’s Icons Of Independence
As the Fourth of July approaches, meet the bold men who blazed a trail across the USA
Mr Dennis Hopper on the set of Apocalypse Now. Photograph by Ms Caterine Milinaire/Sygma via Getty Images
No man is an island, but we Americans sure love to picture ourselves as such. In our films, literature, lore and popular imaginings, we have, since the foundation of the republic, lavished intense interest and love on the castaway, the runaway, the rebel, the outlaw, the pioneer. To the extent that rugged individualism and all its manifold qualities (self-reliance, survivalist wiles, handy intuition and devotion to an ideé fixe, a way of life) could properly be called our national obsession. In real life, though, not a lot of us get that far out of the box or escape to parts unknown. Maybe that’s because we’d rather cosy up to society, or perhaps because we’d prefer our wilderness to be taken vicariously. On the occasion of our national celebration of independence this 4th July, we namecheck a few bold individuals who have blazed impressively distinguished trails – trails that, even for the rest of us, are well worth following.
Mr Gary Snyder
Mr Gary Snyder, Kyoto, circa 1963. Photograph © Mr Allen Ginsberg/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
It is hard to think of any American artist who has ventured further and farther afield on their own than the poet, naturalist and essayist Mr Gary Snyder, a pioneer whose holistic view of nature we now call ecology. Often lumped in with his near contemporaries the Beat poets, because of artistic and political affinities, Mr Snyder was, even among that motley band of isolates and extreme individualists, radical and somewhat removed. Like his friend, the philosopher Mr Alan Watts, there is an enormous intake of Eastern ideas in Mr Snyder’s work (he trained to become a Zen monk in Kyoto in the 1950s), as there is in the kimono-style attire he favours when at home on his 100-acre ranch in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Maybe, while we’re out camping at an eco-lodge in a Visvim robe and Japanese denim this summer, re-reading Mr Snyder’s collection of Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry, Turtle Island, we’ll catch a glimpse of the legacy of this somewhat underappreciated icon.
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Mr Dennis Hopper
Mr Dennis Hopper on the set of The Last Movie, Peru, 1970. Photograph courtesy of The Hopper Art Trust
In an era when American filmmakers were hightailing their way to the hinterlands, away from the traditional Hollywood studio system to make radical, progressive art films, no one was going harder than Mr Dennis Hopper. In Easy Rider, and a series of other low-budget films with a band of collaborators that included Mr Jack Nicholson, Mr Hopper put all of that wanderlusting rebelliousness on the screen and, with its subsequent receipts, demonstrated a hunger among the American audiences for more. Style-wise, Mr Hopper was similarly forward thinking, a careful student of the cultures he came across, whether in Taos, New Mexico, where he filmed and edited Easy Rider, or in Mexico, where he shot The Last Movie. With this sensitivity and his own singular flare, Mr Hopper was able to assemble his disparate interests to become a renegade maestro of independent film and a visionary kaftan cowboy and denim shaman.
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Mr Julian Schnabel
Mr Julian Schnabel, France, 2010. Photograph by Mr Jacques Lange/Paris Match via Getty Images
The artist and filmmaker Mr Julian Schnabel, who made a name for himself by smashing plates all over his titanic, maximalist paintings, has never been seen as subdued, exactly. His films, Basquiat, Before Night Falls, The Diving Bell And The Butterfly and Miral, are vivid and miraculous, sometimes searing, often visionary. Even the home he built for himself in New York, the Palazzo Chupi, a bombastic seven-storey reimagining of a Venetian home, is utterly, fabulously over the top. But it is in his personal style where Mr Schnabel is even more aspirationally, Bond-villain decadent. Honestly, who doesn’t want to wear pyjamas all the time, to everything from an art opening to a red-carpet event?
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Mr Iggy Pop
Mr Iggy Pop in Coffee And Cigarettes, 2004. Photograph by Archives du 7e Art/Asmik Ace/Smokescreen Inc./Photo12
The uniform of all-black everything – biker jacket, jeans and combat boots – that took hold among punk bands in the US and the UK was as much a practical statement as it was aesthetic. The durability of the jacket and boots held up well in the rough-and-tumble club lives of rock musicians and they also announced – no, screamed loudly in your face – that the wearer was not a part of your suited and booted workaday world. He was other, rougher, ready for whatever. No one demonstrated this better than the great Mr Iggy Pop, both as the wild frontman for The Stooges and now as a solo star. Even in his present, sun-tanned, sun-bleached-hair days in Miami, Mr Pop looks like a wizened model, fresh from the runway of a Rick Owens show, say. Mr Owens is just one of many designers to have been inspired by Mr Pop. He even named his Stooges jacket in his honour.
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André 3000, Los Angeles, 2014. Photograph by Sipa USA/REX Shutterstock
A very strong case can be made that the greatest rapper of all time – yes, we said it – Mr André Benjamin, aka André 3000, aka Three Stacks, is also the most stylish. And, as with anyone who has great style, there is real personality and real creativity in Mr Benjamin’s outfits. He seems to express himself in ways we haven’t quite seen or heard before, weaving in personal stories and character. Recently, he has found his way into a cool-dad zone of colourful beanies, Clout glasses, denim jackets and robes, cargo pants and sneakers. It is a long way from his politically branded onesies, wigs and costumey “Hey Ya” days with OutKast. It is almost simple, everyday, but, as with everything Mr Benjamin does, the way he does it is just better.
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Father John Misty
Father John Misty, New York, 2016. Photograph by Mr Christopher Peterson/Splash News
The musician Mr Joshua Tillman, aka Father John Misty, on the other hand, has refined his way upwards, from his early wastrel days in a thrift store outfit and boots towards his present velvet lounge-singer vibe of slim-cut designer suits, satin shirts and signature Chelsea boots. As anyone familiar with his music can tell, Mr Tillman is incredibly self-aware, attuned to the signals he sends with his clothes and his performances. He knows that all of this is affectation, so you might as well create the character you really want to be playing. We happen to love the one he’s come up with.
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Mr Shia LaBeouf
Mr Shia LaBeouf, New York, 2017. Photograph by Mr James Messerschmidt/eyevine
“Shia is the source,” say the bloggers, the makers of menswear memes, the hypebeasts, the fans. They take it for granted that Mr LaBeouf’s personal style, documented by paparazzi catching him on sojourns to the grocery store or coffee shop, is the molten hot core of modern American streetwear style. The actor himself has recently claimed – and how could we doubt him? – that Mr Kanye West once came over and took all his clothes and is, in essence, plagiarising him. Wherever it may have begun, the Army Surplus look is really, really here. And in his logo sweatshirt or ironic tee, dad cap and cut-off jeans, in combat boots or clogs, Mr LaBeouf is clearly the king.
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