Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Primal Scream – "Kowalski" (1997)

The question is not when he's gonna stop
But who is gonna stop him

Today's featured song, "Kowalski," is named after the hero (antihero?) of the 1971 cult movie Vanishing Point, which is also the name of the 1997 album that "Kowalski" was released on.

Primal Scream's frontman, Bobby Gillespie, has said that he loves Vanishing Point (which hit theaters when Gillespie was eight years old).  But he didn't think that the movie's soundtrack fit its mood nearly as well as Primal Scream's album of the same name:

The music in the film is hippy music, so we thought, "Why not record some music that really reflects the mood of the film?"  It's always been a favorite of the band, we love the air of paranoia and speed- freak righteousness. . . . I think our music suits it perfectly because it's so f*cking heavy.  It's the heaviest record we've done.

I remember seeing Vanishing Point when I was in college.  I guess I would describe it as half car-chase movie and half hippie-drug trip movie – sort of Bullitt-meets-Easy Rider, but about a hundred times better than Easy Rider.

Here's the Vanishing Point trailer:

To the extent that Vanishing Point has a plot, it's about a car-delivery-service driver (Kowalski – no first name) who is assigned to drive a new Dodge Challenger R/T 440 from Denver to San Francisco.

Kowalski, who's portrayed by Barry Newman, arrives in Denver late on a Friday night.  The car is due in San Francisco on Monday.  Given that the distance he has to cover is just over 1200 miles, all on interstate highways, that doesn't sound like much of a challenge.

Kowalski's Dodge Challenger
But Kowalski wants to drop the car off by 3 PM the next day.  That time frame requires him to average 75 mph.  (That's much tougher, of course, but hardly impossible.)

Why is Kowalski in such a hurry?  He never offers a reason, and I suspect there isn't a real one.  Kowalski – a Vietnam vet and ex-cop (he stopped his partner from raping a woman and was shunned by his fellow officers as a result) whose girlfriend died in a surfing accident – is either an adrenaline junkie, or he's a guy who simply doesn't like to be told what to do . . . or both.

Barry Newman (Kowalski)
Kowalski's first stop is a biker bar, where he loads up on amphetamines.  Speeding (literally and figuratively) across Colorado, he is pursued by two motorcycle cops.  One thing leads to another, and pretty soon he's being chased by dozens of police from several states.

Kowalski gets help from "Super Soul," a blind black DJ at a small radio station.  (Super Soul is played by Cleavon Little, who would go on to star in Blazing Saddles a couple of years later).

Cleavon Little (Super Soul)
Super Soul, who monitors police-band communications and broadcasts hints as to how Kowalski can elude the posse that's on his tail, tells his listeners that Kowalski is "the last beautiful free soul on this planet":

There goes the Challenger being chased by the blue, blue, meanies on wheels . . . the last American hero, the electric centaur, the demigod, the super driver of the Golden West!  Two nasty Nazi cars are close behind the beautiful lone driver.  The police numbers are getting closer, closer, closer to our soul hero, in his soulmobile.  Yeah baby, they're about to strike!  They're gonna get him, smash him!

Kowalski runs into some interesting characters along the way – most notably an old prospector who catches snakes and sells them to Pentecostal preachers for use in their church services, a couple of gun-toting gay hitchhikers who try to rob him, and (best of all!) a nude, motorcycle-riding hippie chick.

After a particularly narrow escape, you begin to think that Kowalski might break through the law-enforcement cordon that surrounds him.  But California police park two bulldozers across the highway Kowalski is speeding along, with blades lowered.

Kowalski seems to see the roadblock before it's too late to stop, but chooses to drive right into the bulldozers at high speed – I'm guessing Mach 1.2 or so:

(Cue the fiery explosion . . . fade to black . . . roll the closing credits.)

Vanishing Point is one of my favorite guilty-pleasure movies.  I hope you're not worrying too much about what the point of the movie is, because I'm not sure there really is one.

To me, it's about a man who didn't fit in – a loner who was too noble for this sinful world.

Adios, Kowalski!
So Kowalski strutted and fretted his hour upon the stage and then drove his 440-cubic inch Dodge challenger into two parked bulldozers.  After the resulting explosion, Kowalski was heard no more.  

Vanishing Point is full of sound and fury, and may very well signify nothing.  But is that the movie's fault?  Or is that just the way of the world?

Here's "Kowalski," which is a silly song:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon: 

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