all right, all right, all right
I just watched “Dazed and Confused” again for the tenth time, and was struck again at how well Richard Linklater painted the tiny dots that created a portrait of American adolescent life in 1976. That movie was targeted for a particular swath of people roughly my age, and once you get past all the awesome dialogue (and the pants), you’re left with one of the few historical documents from that largely forgotten era.
I was nine years old in 1976 and my brothers Kent and Steve were graduating high school – making them the exact age as the main characters. When I watch this movie, I imagine Kent tooling around Cedar Rapids, IA in his orange VW Beetle playing Dr. John and Foghat, though I’m sure he’ll puncture my romanticism. Linklater’s Texas was a good bit more languid than Iowa anyway, given that Iowa winters last eight months, and the drug usage was probably more lonely.
Either way, I count myself among the last people that will ever know what the 1970s felt like – the barefoot, uncaring summers, the grisly images from Vietnam courtesy of Walter Cronkite, being stuck in enormous cars with no air conditioning, and most of all, the immeasurable freedom of being young and benignly forgotten. I remember my parents’ parties filled with red wine spilled on yellow shag carpet, and then seeing the depression set in the next day, a sadness that cried out for pills that were still ten years away (but in the meantime, a valium would do).
These are not things I experienced directly. But the overall sense, the timbre, the smell of the era? Absolutely. I’ll be among the last ones standing, to tell of this decade called “the seventies”, when so much seemed to happen, but then again, not really anything. We could point to how ugly the fashions were, but even those have been recycled and spit out again. When I was at Carolina, you could evoke laughter by parting your hair down the middle; now that look has come and gone twice. Do they even throw 1970s parties anymore?
“Dazed and Confused” also does an incredible job of showing the carefree happenstance of teenagers with nowhere to go, and all night to get there – something we carried with us all through college. Can any of you remember when you’d be late at a party, having a fascinating conversation on a porch, and you’d catch the pink and purple light of the sun rising? Sure, you’d have “things to do that day”, but not really. Do you remember what it was truly like to have absolutely no schedule, when you’d find yourself in Wrightsville Beach or New Orleans, with about fifteen bucks? Or just on a strange girl’s couch?
These are the things we gave up in order to have a real job, or to actually chase our passions, or to have kids. Perhaps we stopped for other reasons: fatigue, the inability to sleep on floors anymore, sobriety, or the epiphany that your fate was somehow slipping through your fingers. I was waxing romantic about it tonight when Tessa abruptly said “Oh honey. We stopped doing it because it was SO BORING.”
And she’s right. 49 times out of 50, those nights would be dreadful wastes of time, not meeting anyone, spending money on crap, getting more self-involved, not kissing the Jenny you liked, and running out of fucking gas. But that 50th night? I’ve had five or six of them, many of them with people reading this right now, and it almost made it all worth it.
The 1970s were a different era, and like our endless college nights of the 1990s, there’s no going back. There are too many helmet laws, drinking age requirements, cell phones and lawsuits to recreate anything similar. But one thing we have to remember: somehow, in a way that doesn’t erode our stomach lining, our kids will have to know the infinite horizon of nights where we don’t know where they are, where they don’t know where they are, and the only touchstone is a faint violet sunrise to remind them the world still spins.