On the last day of school every year, I dig out the film Dazed and Confused, a wonderful story set on the last day of school in 1976 in Austin, Texas, and let its warm rays cascade over me. The music, the images, the theme, and the style all mix up in a beautiful melange...so much so that at various points throughout the 103 minutes of this absolute gem, I well up and, by the end, I'm usually crying.
It's not from laughter nor is it from bong smoke getting in my eyes. It's from a deep sadness so compelling that more often than not it is overwhelming. I find myself getting up from in front of the television and going outside to breathe the clean, crisp summer air...sucking it deeply into my lungs...hoping that my mind, body, and soul will be soothed. And I will remember that time clearly...and feel like I am there again.
Most of the time it is not soothed and I find myself left with a deep yearning that goes unfulfilled nearly every day of my life. The simple reason for all of this is the titanic melancholy I feel at peaking back into a world that is long gone and has been dead for way too many years...just like all those endless, youthful summers that were eternally magical...always...
The film was released in 1993 and did bring about a brief wave of 70s nostalgia but that was soon lost to new trends, ideas, and really fucking awful lifestyle choices. And that nostalgia was mostly filled with pretense although some bands like Oasis and Paul Weller sought to make a point of injecting Bowie, Zeppelin, and T Rex dripped style into their music and largely succeeded. Every year that goes by puts more and more distance between us and that wonderful world that Richard Linklater, the film's director, and writer, showed us. What is this world like?
It's a simple place filled with people and laughter. The women are gorgeous in their hip-hugging jeans and long beautiful hair. The men are extremely cool in their muscle cars, t-shirts, jeans, and chucks. There is no Facebook, no texting on cell phones, no iPods, nor DVD players. There's hanging out and actually having a live conversation while driving in a car and listening to an 8 track player as opposed to sitting in front of a computer. There are drive-in movies and drive-in burger joints. There's pot smoking in the bedroom and quick sprays of air freshener as the parents unexpectedly knock on the door.
Most of all, there is a lot of fun.
This fun reveals itself in a myriad of ways...a primary focus of which is to party with beer and pot. Looking at that the partying that goes in the film through the lens of 2010, the melancholy bubbles up and overwhelms me. In today's culture, this sort of behavior is either insanely surpassed by a whole host of unhealthy drugs like Chrystal Meth or is massively derided by narrow-minded people who view any sort of drug-taking as being The End. In some ways, the latter group is right. People smoke pot and drink these days for all the wrong fucking reasons. This is likely due to the fact that people are so much more stupid now than they were 35 years ago....Mike Judge's Idiocracy nearly complete and 500 years early:)
The dichotomy between today and 1976 is presented quite eloquently in the character of Wooderson (below, left), the first major role for Matthew McConaughey. It is my view that he is Linklater's answer to Joseph Campbell's mono mythical hero. Wooderson conveys universal truths about his place in history and transcends his own role in his culture while building new meaning regarding the relationship between the two. He is a Campbell archetype and he fits this role perfectly.
Stylistically, this is eloquently conveyed when he walks into the Rec Center with Randy and Mitch. The Tarrentino slo-mo backed with the choice track, "Hurricane" by Bob Dylan drives the meaning of this world home. The Rec Center was THE place to be back then.....even up to the summer before my senior year (1984). Every town had one filled with pool tables, Foosball, and later Tron and Missile Command. Sadly, these are all gone now as people just stay home in their little cyberpunk pods of entertainment. There is no face to face conversation or checking out girls or boys in person. Instead, we have match.com and instant messaging via Twitter. Oh boy...
Every time I watch this film...every single time...my mind drifts back to my friends' older brothers and sisters who lived through this age. As a 9-year-old in 1976, they were the coolest people (next to my dad and John Lennon) I had ever seen. But it wasn't just them. Even my mom, age 30 at that time, would not stop playing Dreamboat Annie by Heart and Rumours by Fleetwood Mac. Those records are also mixed up in my 70s dreamwarp Monet haze. When I listen to them, I think of Dazed and Confused and when I watch the film, I think of those records even though there were songs from either album in the film. They are inexorably tied together.
All of the characters in the film exemplify this haze but none more so than Wooderson. He's in his 20s but he still hangs out with teenagers. This would never be allowed to happen today (in our hyper fearful and giant leap of paranoia culture) as he would immediately be considered "weird" and possibly a pedophile. He parties quite a bit...getting his "third wind" for another round of drinking and pot smoking at 4am on the 50-yard line of the high school football field. Again, if this happened today he would essentially be considered a gun-running drug dealer who wants to destroy us all. In short, Wooderson would be labeled a loser by the narrow-minded ass hats who sadly define our socio-cultural context today...his actions...deplorable.
But he does all these things, though, throughout the course of the film while working for the city and contemplating a return to college....just like most of the people I knew back in the day. As he speaks of himself earlier in the film, one gets the sense that he generally has a handle on his life...he parties hard but works hard as well. Unlike the youth of today, he doesn't feel like he is entitled to anything.
Sadly, the youth of today imagine themselves as Vinnie Chase (Entourage) or a cast member of The Jersey Shore, and their idea of partying and fun is done within the framework of these images. It's empty...hollow...monumentally selfish...devoid of any real passion...completely lacking in the important elements of deep soul...music..and love. In short, it is nothing like the world of Dazed and Confused where people got ripped but it meant something. Ironic that the youth of today are far more "dazed and confused," than the youth of 1976 who honestly wasn't either at all.
We see wisps of the World of Wooderson here and there. A great example of this would be the voice of Kelly Jones and his music with Stereophonics. The Subways and the Stone Temple Pilots are two other bands that seem to have shining hints of this forgotten world. For the most part, however, it's gone. Our society has moved on and that wonderful culture that truly meant so much to me and many others is effectively dead and buried.
For the most part, people just don't live, love, and party like they did in the film Dazed and Confused...like they did in the 70s. Either they are too square, too uptight, too boring or the exact opposite...too wild, too crazy, and far too out of control. Far too infrequently, I see a ray of hope.
On this rare occasion here and there, I'll sit with some friends...a few of the women in hip-hugging jeans...have a conversation that's actually in person...listen to some great music (playing actual vinyl!)...and remember...if only for a few, fleeting moments....that wonderful world. If I'm lucky, I might actually feel like I'm back there. Most times, though, someone will pull out a cell phone and look at their texts.
Rest in Peace, Wooderson. At least I will always remember you.
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