blowing through the jasmine of my mind

4/20/08

thewooderson13.jpg

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people roughly my age, and once you get past all the awesome dialogue (and the pants), you’re left with one of the few historical documents from that largely forgotten era.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.

0 thoughts on “blowing through the jasmine of my mind

  1. Neva

    Ian – it’s impressive how you can make me wax nostalgic for two different decades at once. Interesting how they are interconnected for me in a lot of ways. Music is one reason. Seems the music of the 70s and 90s are intertwined. Perhaps b/c even though the 90s had great music we were just as likely to be hearing/playing “classic rock”. I have as many great 90s memories surrounding Led Zepplin songs as REM for instance.
    Also, given than my Mom was just in her 20s back in the 70s she was really into the music of that day and that made a huge impact on my love for music – especially 70s music. I just have to hear the first few beats of Carole King’s “I hear the earth move under my feet…” to be transported to the times of maxi dresses, chunky wooden necklaces and shag carpet and a sense of total innocence about the world. See the movie Ice Storm for the best depiction of this I’ve seen.
    The irresponsible college days of the 90s were amazing for the potential that they held but for that reason could never last. The idea that your real future was out there and maybe tonight you’d find it. And, as you say, many nights you didn’t find anything and actually lost things, but the fun for me, honestly, was in the the comradery of the experience and all the rehashing the next day. God we would laugh and laugh about our nights together and that was even better than the nights themselves. The universal belonging that came from telling the stories of your experiences together was really the best part and the part I miss (definitely don’t miss the sleeping on floors bit).
    This was a great “blast from the past Ian” and another example of why I click onto this site each morning!

    Reply
  2. CM

    being stuck in enormous cars with no air conditioning
    Heh, and cars with no FM radios, and a big clunky metal GM seatbelt in the back, hoping “Disco Duck” would come on the radio again…ok, so I was a little younger than you.

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  3. chip

    I love “Dazed and Confused”. An amazing number of people who went on to big careers were in that movie (Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey (sp?), Renee Zellweger among others.

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  4. Neva

    You know it just dawned on me that Dazed and Confused is like the American Graffiti of it’s generation. AG was filmed in the 70s to depict the 50s. Both have lots of soon to be famous actors. Maybe Ian, you need to write our generation’s tribute movie to the late 80s and early 90s – would be perfect for debut in 2009? I know I’d like to see it!

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  5. flaco

    I had my last “70s” night drinking with cohorts at the Ashland, Mass reservoir. It was spring 1988, but it was the last of the feeling you describe.
    Back to the actual 70s, I remember riding in the back of our giant POS ford station wagon with a large hot transmission hump in the backseat floor. The back window was actually held in place by some sort of sticky tar. For some reason I also flashed to seeing poorly treated animals as we lumbered the POS ford through Lion Country Safari.

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  6. Lindsay

    Yeah, my brother Ash was a senior in 1976. Doesn’t seem like a forgotten era, but perched right between hippies and disco, it is.
    Only one gripe with the entry (and it may be a little unfair): “Things we gave up in order to have a real job, or to actually chase our passions, or to have kids” has too many “ors” to be universal.

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  7. CM

    Neva, there is a movie about kids getting ready for a party for every other decade. American Graffiti is the one about the ’50s, Dazed and Confused is the one for the ’70s, and “Never” is one about the ’90s (Greg Araki directed it, an indie film). Still plenty of room for Ian to do more, though!
    I wrote a screenplay about the ’70s, focusing on how divorce was kinda the exception rather than the norm, and it seemed like other people’s disease for most of the decade…until it happened to you…still have to get that thing out there.

    Reply
  8. neva

    Interesting CM. I looked this up and couldn’t find it – did you mean the movie “Nowhere”? It looks like what you might be referring to. Will have to rent it. Again, lots of folks actors who have since become famous.
    Strangely enough by googling “Never” I was routed to a site about The Never – a band from Chapel Hill. Small world huh?
    Okay, time to get some real work done :)

    Reply
  9. Mark C.

    I have to quote here – ‘Tessa abruptly said “Oh honey. We stopped doing it because it was SO BORING”‘
    I can relate to that one statement more than all the movies in the world, there is nothing like a spouse to ground you. Mine does that when I go on political or philosophical rants, but still, same thing.
    Ian huge fan from UNC days and love the blog, although I am too jaded to really get the whole Obama thing. Hey, maybe we can get a beer and stay up all night talking about it! Except, I need to work tomorrow, damn it.

    Reply
  10. Piglet

    Have you ever really looked at a dollar bill, man? There’s some spooky stuff on a dollar bill, man. And it’s GREEN.

    Reply
  11. michelle

    Enormous cars with no air conditioning… I think that has to be one of the most vivid memories of being a kid. I was five years younger than you, Ian, but I remember the feeling of the backs of my thighs sticking to the vinyl seats, and how I was always afraid to touch the huge belt buckle because it was always searing hot. The smell of old french fries between the seats. And the endless battle for the front seat.

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  12. CM

    Neva – Yep, sorry, “Nowhere.” I knew something was off… ;)
    It was a pretty good movie except the ending kinda sucked in my humble opinion.

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  13. Wayne

    Not only did we have the enormous car with no A/C but we had the misfortune — for me at least — of having an in car 8-track tape player . I can still here the sounds of Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash and Freddy Fender reverberating in my head when I make that same lonesome trip to visit my grandfather in Robeson County in southeastern NC. Every time we took that drive as a kid, it seemed like we would never make it there as we wound ourselves through towns like Denton, Troy, Aberdeen, Raeford & Red Springs. I couldn’t believe that my parents had the gall to force us pre-personal radio/headphones to listen to such drivel. Now as an adult, the drive from Lexington to Pembroke takes about 2 hours and the last time I went to visit I found myself listening to a CD chock full of Johnny Cash and Conway Twitty. Oh the irony!

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  14. emma

    Love this entry. So many things I want to say. I’ll be back to really comment tonight. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. It is getting me through a particularly tough day in court.

    Reply
  15. Caroline

    I still say FAH Q regularly.
    Um, can I change the subject a minute here? Has anyone seen the documentary “Love Me, Love My Doll”? I watched it last night on BBCA and I was riveted. Totally gross and weird and also tragic.
    Ian, can you please watch this and do like 400 posts on it? It’s that fascinating.

    Reply
  16. CM

    Caroline, I just looked that up – wow, that is weird. I wonder if there are females into this sort of thing, too.

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  17. emma

    Reminds me of old high school nights when after I had snuck out of the house, I found it much harder to sneak in the house at the same time my Dad was going outside to get the morning paper.
    Reminds me of my first car – the 1973 Oldsmobile Cutlass. It would hold seven people comfortably. No A/C. No FM. I carried a little portable FM radio that sat in between the driver’s and the passenger seat. If the car had seat belts, they were only lap belts.
    I watched this generation pretty closely. I have siblings who graduated in 1980, 1977, 1973 and 1974. And as Michelle mentioned the endless battle for the front seat – it got so bad between my sister and I that as soon as I finished my homework in the afternoon or after dinner, I would gather my books and put them in the front seat the day before in an attempt to get the front seat.
    As Neva mentioned, into college, the comraderie of laughing about the adventures of the evening before was as much a part of the fun as the evening itself. Even today, when our college group gets together, there is inevitably one or two old stories (some that one of us may have forgotten or that one of us may have embellished) told that send us roaring in laughter.
    What makes me a little sad is that the teenagers that I know do not have that kind of free time. Things are so competitive in high school, they start worrying about class rank in 8th or 9th grade. Their free time is spent volunteering, doing Science Olympiad and other extra curricular activities. I don’t know if this is a bad thing or not, but doggone it, they are going to have to have their days filled with responsibility when they get older. It really is a shame they can’t spend the “evening with nowhere to go and all night to get there.”

    Reply
  18. Matt

    Great entry. These posts are the reason I’ve read this blog for 5 years (not because I enjoy being a pain in the ass).

    Reply

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