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Motorpsycho Diaries By: Scott W. Johnson
Powerlineblog.com | Thursday, December 16, 2004

In 1964, the album Another Side of Bob Dylan foreshadowed Dylan's break from the confines of the folk movement and the constraints of the "protest song."  Dylan told about a bad dream in the song "Motorpsycho Nightmare."

The song starts as a story of the road, with Dylan a lost traveler seeking the shelter of a farmer and the arms of the farmer's daughter.  Not surprisingly, the farmer never does take to Dylan.  At the song's climax, Dylan blurts out, "I like Fidel Castro and his beard."  The farmer chases Dylan out of the house, threatening to kill him and shouting, "You unpatriotic, Rotten doctor Commie rat."

Dylan's song seems to anticipate the story told in the recently released Spanish-language film "The Motorcycle Diaries."  The film starts as a buddy movie, the story of two young men (Alberto and Ernesto) taking a break from their education to circumnavigate South America on a rickety motorcycle.

One of the characters alludes to Don Quixote; the motorcycle is possibly a stand-in for Quixote's horse, Rocinante.  The film seems to promise a picaresque comedy set against the scenic vistas of rural South America.  Indeed, the buddies are randy young men, and their travels partake of the kind of high jinks Dylan explores in his song.  The motorcycle breaks down; the guys seek food and shelter, as well as a lady or two.

But as the film unwinds, the fun dissipates.  The adventurers seek out a leper colony in Peru where Ernesto can apply his budding skills as an aspiring physician.  Politics intrudes; lepers and leprosy seem to have something to do with the politics of Peru and the rest of South America.  Revolution seems to promise a cure.  To my chagrin (I'm a little slow), we learn that Ernesto is, of course, "Che."  The story ends with Che's avowal of the unity of the "Mestizo peoples" of South America.

That's where the story ends, but the film has a coda.  Alberto has lived out the legacy of Che, taking up residence in Cuba.  We see the real-life Alberto, living in the paradise Che sought to introduce to South America.  How have things worked out there?  As you might have guessed, for the rest of that particular story we must look elsewhere.  We are informed, however, that in 1967 Che was killed in Bolivia "with the assistance of the CIA."

National Review's Jay Nordlinger notes that he has undertaken a "Che glorification watch." Consider this my contribution to it.  At Powerlineblog.com, we have occasionally observed that the radical Left has morphed seamlessly from the romanticizing of Communism to an alliance with Islamofascism.  "The Motorcycle Diaries" is a potent reminder that some on the Left still hanker for the romance of Communism.  Who, for example?  My favorite line in the film came as the credits rolled: "Executive Producer: Robert Redford."

Scott W. Johnson is a fellow at the Claremont Institute and senior vice president of TCF National Bank in Minneapolis.  He writes for

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