Kind of Fonda Henry: A Punk Epiphany (and the Law of the West)

Kind of Fonda Henry: A Punk Epiphany (and the Law of the West)

Jello Biafra and Dead Kennedys - a punk epiphany - Stories and SongsIn the dog days of summer 1982, the distinguished American actor, Henry Fonda, died of heart failure at the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in LA, CA. I know this hospital well: our family members were born, nursed and died at Cedars. Henry chose an OK place to leave the body behind. On my way to lunch, that hospital name, Cedars of Lebanon, keeps coming into my mind. In the aftermath of recent Middle East battles, the image of cedar trees in that distant country conjure up a picture of a burning and shell-shocked forest.

With these thoughts in tow, I pull into a Mickey D's parking lot in search of some quick McFood. Slipping through the swelling lunchtime crowd, I mumble an order to the food droids and glance around, people-watching, here in this fast food joint. Soon, a gaggle of punks step in out of the noonday heat, perhaps for some food or maybe to keep their rainbow-dyed hair from bleaching in the Colorado sun. As I turn to go, lunch bag in hand, an iridescent adolescent taps me on the shoulder and asks, "Guess who we're playing with tonight, at the Mercury?"

I recognize Gary, a co-worker from the Mexican kitchen days. He has dyed his hair jet-black since then.

"You don't have to tell me," I quip, knowing instinctively that his band will be backing that local punk legend, Jello Biafra and the Dead Kennedys band.

"You wanna get in on the guest list?"

"Sure. Sign me up."

It's five minutes in and out of the McFood parlour. No time lost on that stop.

Most days, we live our lives in routine fashion; other days belong to the world. By 5:30, I finish dusting off some rusty COBOL programs in the confines of the Playboy Data Processing Center. At home, I settle in for the evening news and watch as Henry's face dominates the airwaves.

On Dan Rather's video broadcast, a sullen, ageing Mr. Fonda seems poised, wearing a hat once worn by the actor, Spencer Tracy. The melancholy details of this story drone on. There are the Fondas: Henry's wife, the glamorous daughter, Jane and stalwart son, Peter, meeting reporters in their hour of grief, asking for some human kindness and the private time to mourn.