Dazed and Confused
A decade after first watching Dazed and Confused, I still find myself trawling through rails in vintage shops with only the costumes of the cast in mind. And as soon as I spot an item that even slightly resembles something one of them might wear, I hear Steven Tyler’s voice in my head, singing loud and clear: “Sweeeeeeeeeeet emmooooooooootioooon”. I now work at a place where I spend the majority of my day prowling the internet for “content” – projects and series created by artists, photographers, illustrators and filmmakers.
I’ve been doing this for a few years now, but what’s struck me of late is how many people are curiously tapping into that Dazed and Confused vibe. Think photographs of sun-kissed, gap-toothed kids lounging on the bonnets of cars, or naked teenagers streaking into forests or leaning on lockers, or incredible lo-fi illustration created by a man with two kids that looks like it’s been drawn by a stoned fifteen-year-old. Tavi Gevinson’s Rookie, the utterly game-changing site for teenage girls, is dripping with content inspired by films and TV shows, like this, most of which were made way before most of the readers and fans were even born; stuff like Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, or Paul Feig and Judd Apatow’s Freaks and Geeks, or My So Called Life. These are all lo-fi, casual, nostalgic films of teenagers doing nothing and making it look cool.
Ten years ago I was at a predominantly white private school in the city of Bath. My friends and I had just got out of the whole “drink as much as you can until you puke, and repeat” phase and were entering stage two of pubescent binging. That being, drinking in a house with your best friends for hours before marching into town and promptly getting ID’d before retreating back to said house, where my friend Rupert lived. His parents had allowed him to dominate the basement where we would gather, without fail, every Friday, to drink whatever we could find and more often than not, either watch Dazed and Confused together or at least talk about it. I don’t remember the first time I watched it, but I do remember thinking that those tough girls who cover the freshman girls in ketchup bore a striking resemblance to the sixth formers I feared so badly. I still stand by the notion that nothing is more terrifying than a seventeen-year-old girl.
My favourite part of the film is when Slater walks past Kevin’s house and, stoned, trips over a tiny shrub. I don’t know if that bit was even written into the script. The parts we collectively agreed on were when the nerd explains his Abraham Lincoln sex dream to his moosey friend (Adam Goldberg). Or pretty much anything Don’s character says, particularly when he starts signaling to that teacher to go and make out with him as she teaches a class. Or any part of any scene where Kevin’s parents try to bust his party. But we all truly loved the bit at the end of the film where the gang lay entangled in the middle of their school playing field, drunk, stoned and wheezing with laughter.
Once the get-pissed-in-Rupert’s-basement thing got boring, my pals and me graduated to a place called Bathwick Hill, a National Trust piece of land that looked over the city. There we would reenact what the guys in the film did, spending our evenings in a small group of six or so people, laughing and getting wasted. In my head I’d be like, “Wow, we are so like the guys in Dazed and Confused.” When I got my first car, an old four-door electric blue Corsa, I used to roll down my windows at traffic lights and blare out Foghat to be like the guys in the film. To think about that now makes me cringe and shudder to my very core.
We eventually all learned to drive and would spend endless hours crammed into third-hand Renault Clios, curling around the hills of Bath on our way to house parties. The best parts of the night always seemed to happen while making our way to the party, much like in the film. On one particular occasion when we all piled out, it was at least 45 minutes before we realised that we had left our friend Cameron in the boot.
In retrospect, I realise that my teenage years resembled those of the group of friends in Dazed and Confused way more in the sense that not much actually happened. The film’s director Richard Linklater takes us on a fruitless voyage with a weird group of teenagers who seemingly have an eventful night but, actually, do almost nothing. The people I speak to about the film – a lot of different people, and often – agree that this is an enormous part of its appeal. Our own teenage years, like those of the characters in the film, were sort of magical but also kind of dull.
It also only occurred to me much later on that I watched this film about a year before my hormones starting developing and I started behaving like the characters in the film (I was a late bloomer). It makes me wonder what the hell I was getting out of it before. How could I relate so strongly to something I had so little in common with? I read a piece on Criterion about the film by Chuck Klosterman and he totally nails it: “Dazed and Confused is not a movie about how things were; Dazed and Confused is a movie about how things are remembered. This film doesn’t illustrate what it was actually like to be in semirural Texas in 1976, but I’m sure it evokes how that time and place must retrospectively feel to anyone who was actually there.” Part of me feels like rather than unpredictably creating my own memories and carving out my own adolescence, I was just trying to make it as much like Dazed and Confused as I could, so that I could look back later and feel as nostalgic as the film had made me feel.
Tedious as our teenage years actually were, I think the friends who I spent those years watching Dazed and Confused with, and getting wasted with in that field, have taken more away from the film than they probably expect. One of the best aspects of the group in the film is that they are all totally different. In my school, you’d never get a stoner kid like Slater hanging out with a die-hard Jock like Fred (arguably Ben Affleck’s finest role to date), or a bunch of girls willingly hanging out with Matthew McConaughey’s sleazeball character David (a performance that was uncelebrated for ten years until everyone remembered that he’s awesome).
That notion, though, is something I keep coming back to when I find myself in a city: meeting people and sparking brief, honeymoon-style friendships. The groups I admire are the ones you see in pubs sometimes, huddled and laughing, that look like they have been picked at random out of a box of humans and placed around a table together. My own friendship groups are, and hopefully will remain, a bunch of freaks whose only thing in common is a shared humour and, most importantly, a weird, nonchalant squidginess that words can’t really describe.
After years of figuring out what it is I like, what I do, what I listen to, and often wondering why it’s different to everyone else, it’s all become clear now. When friends would talk about musicians like Jamie XX or Bibio, I would just keep quiet. When I have to go into clothes shops, I just hate everything. Almost everything I bring to the content meetings at my job that I am visibly excited about is somehow related to the 1970s, or teenagers, or psychedelia, or drugs. Did Dazed and Confused give me this love for corduroy and howling guitar solos, or did it just show me that I wasn’t alone? Now I feel like all those years when I was trying to fit in and hating the line-up of nearly every festival were wasted, I should have been spending my time concentrating on what I know and love, which is basically everything to do with Dazed and Confused.
Photograph by Dazed and Confused, 1993