This is Gurney Norman reporting in from down across the years. They have been good years. In 1973 I fell in with a group of filmmakers that was at work on a new kind of movie. The idea was to follow the adventures of an ex-hippie along his life-path until 1988, a neat fifteen years, videotaping madly all aspects and phases of his public and personal life, and then cooking it all down somehow into a thick ten-hour epic soup of a movie to be shown as a mini-series on cable TV, which these filmmakers, in their stoned prescience, knew would have burgeoned like kudzu throughout American society by the late eighties.
We chose an old boy named David Roy Davenport as our subject. We followed the poor bastard everywhere he went until April, 1988, taping his entire life; but then he mysteriously disappeared on a backpacking trip in the Blue Ridge somewhere west of Roan Mountain, Tennessee. It has been one of the major mysteries of recent Appalachian life, poor D.R.'s disappearance. We have had search parties in the high country since April, but not one sign of our lost hero have we found.
But even as the search continues, editing of the tapes has gone on, in the hope that we can air the mini-series by April, 1989. Perhaps DR. will re-appear by then. Perhaps he is gone forever. We are looking through the hundreds of thousands of hours of tape for clues that might explain his disappearance. The segment that has been the most revealing so far was taped during one of D.R.'s sessions with his therapy group in Lexington, Kentucky.
The first time he met with the group DR. gave the people his basic life rap: born in the hills; grew up in Ohio; parents divorced; then dead; college dropout, 1967; on the road; west coast; marijuana, acid, peyote, mushrooms, speed, nervous breakdown; healed by a woman's love but not made mature by it; marriage, divorce-but-good-friends; one child who lives with her mother in Grayling, Michigan; odd jobs through the seventies; then: substitute teaching in the local elementary school, the beginnings of a calling; "non-traditional student" at the university, age 30-32; degree, job, relative stability; solitary personal life, reading Joseph Campbell.
"What's made it hard, though," he says, "is the presence of this damn TV crew all the time."
DR. looks into the camera as he says it. The camera fans around the circle, thirteen people counting Helen, the psycho-drama and sand play specialist whose clinic is the sponsor of the group.
"Why do you put up with it?" Alcoholic Annette of the long blond hair wants to know.
"I must honor my contract," DR. says. "I made an agreement."
"But it's making you unhappy, obviously," says schizophrenic Cedric.
"It's making me unhappy, I'll tell you that," says Hopeless Howard.
"I like it," says Recovering Rebecca. "This is neat. We're on TV!"
"So what's this all got to do with The Last Temptation of Christ?" asks Connie Christian. "Have you all seen that thing?"
"It's banned in Kentucky," says Crazy Charlie. "That doesn't seem right to me. You have to go to Cincinnati if you want to see it."
"Let's all go, as a group," says Weak Wilgus. "Next week. Instead of talking."
"We're off the subject a little," Helen puts in, sumptuous Helen whose powers of Manifestation Alteration are legendary all up through the Ohio Valley and down the Appalachian chain. "DR. is telling us about the problem of having his life made into a TV show."
"It's given me a bad attitude about media in general," DR. goes on. "I'm suspicious of mass anything. I listen to Bruce Springsteen sing about the working class to ten thousand hundred million middle-class fans who pay forty-nine million billion trillion middle-class dollars, and then I listen to Hazel Dickens sing her West Virginia songs and I think — thank God for Hazel. I don't know. It's part of the contradictions of American life. We are split across the cultural brow. Stories of poor people in the New Yorker next to ads for ten-thousand-dollar-an-ounce perfume. I don't trust it. I think thirteen people is the largest crowd that should be allowed. I like this. This feels nice."
After the group session the video follows DR. outside the clinic building and then stays with him as he walks alone across the grounds to the fence beyond which the Japanese are building the new Toyota plant on a field where the ancient bison fed, where Indians hunted ten thousand years ago, where Boone encamped in 1769 and helped give rise to the myth of Kentucky as an Eden.
We've studied this tape a hundred times, seeking clues. You can feel the clues in there. You can see in D.R.'s forty-one year old face the imprint of his life and years. Old hippie.
Old freak. Where are you now? Walking in the woods, alone in the high country.
And where am I? Seated here, as usual, at my desk in old Kentuck, fondly remembering all my friends of yesteryear. Everything has changed and nothing has changed. Go ahead on!