At the time of writing this post, I have two daughters who are both in their teenage years. All throughout their lives, they have been encouraged to ask my wife and I about anything that is on their minds. We have always believed that having open communication channels is important between parents and children. We want our girls to feel comfortable talking with us. I believe that they are comfortable talking to us because they are always asking us questions. “Where did you and Dad meet?” “Where did you go on your first date with your first boyfriend/girlfriend?” “What jobs did you have when you were a teenager?” And on and on it goes. Their questions always seem to match their own experiences at the time. But one of the questions that I have the most trouble answering is one of the most basic of them all…”What was high school like for you, Dad?”
The fact of the matter is that I can’t remember all that much about my high school years in specific terms. What I do remember is the more general feeling of doing not much of anything at all. I hung around a lot with my friends. That was really it. I sat for hours in school hallways with my back against a locker as kids copied my homework and we talked about what was on TV the previous night or who was having a party soon. I went downtown on Friday nights and hung around the main street in town with the other kids, leaning against telephone poles or else sitting on the stone fence that fronted St. Paul’s Church, listening to the sounds of Trooper and April Wine blasting from car stereos as guys drove round and round in a loop through town. Sometimes, if we were feeling adventurous, we would travel to the mall and play video games at the arcade, stopping for a burger before heading home. But, truth be told, nothing out of the ordinary happened at all during my high school years. In fact, if anything, the feeling I had was that I was like a puzzle piece that didn’t quite fit. So, for me, high school was a time spent preparing to leave Glace Bay. To answer my daughters’ question, what I remember most about my highschool years was simply putting in time in the belief that there was something better somewhere else. I had no real idea at the time what that “something better” might be but I knew for sure that it wasn’t going to be found there in Glace Bay.
There have been a lot of movies made about life as a teenager. However, there have been very few that seemed able to replicate that feeling of nothingness that I experienced as a teen. None of us went on secret spy missions. No one found treasure. None of my classmates were secretly vampires or monsters who revealed themselves when the moon was full. There were no UFOs or celebrity encounters or riots or anything. There were drugs for some, alcohol for others, fights for a few and sex for many but none of that for me. I abstained from it all, not because I felt above it, but more because I was simply too introverted and nerdy to be invited to partake or to force my way in. So, I hung out. I was a friendly nerd among jocks and cool kids and tough guys and fashionista girls. That was high school for me. One of the very few movies I have ever seen that captured what that sort of high school experience was like was Dazed and Confused.
Dazed and Confused was directed by Richard Linklater. It was his first feature film. Dazed and Confused was set in the 1970s in a small nameless Texas town on the last day of high school. It starred a bevy of young actors who would go on to become big stars such as Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, Renée Zellweger, Adam Goldberg and a host of others. The storyline revolved around one teen…the captain of the football team…who has been recruited to play at a prestigious college, which makes the whole town feel a sense of pride as they take his accomplishment as reflecting on them all. As part of his recruitment, he is asked to sign a pledge of good conduct by the end of his high school year. This pledge includes a promise to completely abstain from drugs and alcohol. So, as Johnny football hero deals with the peer pressure from his town and ponders whether or not to sign away his freedom to live as he pleases in return to gridiron glory, the rest of his graduating class prepares for their last day in the safety net that high school provides. They all know that when tomorrow comes, they will no longer be high school kids but will, in fact, be part of the real world. Dazed and Confused follows this band of jocks, cool kids, misfits, stoners and lovers during the entirety of those final twenty-four hours, as each faces the prospect that the future is there now, knocking at the proverbial door. There is not a lot to the plot of this movie, just as there was not a lot to the real life experience of being in high school for me. These kids hang around a lot and talk a lot. They start the day at school and end the day at a party in a park. They drink. They do drugs. They fight. They make out. But, most of all, they simply are who they are, all together, one last time. The movie has a really great soundtrack that is filled with many of the top classic rock tunes of the 1970s. The reason I chose “Slow Ride” by Foghat as the song for this post is because that song is the soundtrack to the closing scene in the film. In that scene we learn what Johnny football hero has decided to do, as he drives away with a few of his closest friends down a road that leads off into the future. I won’t spoil the ending for you if you haven’t seen the film, but the choice of a song like “Slow Ride” was purposeful by director Linklater and speaks to the nature of life being a journey, rather than a destination.
Even if you haven’t seen Dazed and Confused for yourself, you may be aware of the famous catch phrase uttered by Matthew McConaughey’s character. McConaughey plays a character who has graduated a few years prior and has chosen to still keep hanging around the high school scene as if he has never left and gotten on with life. He spends the movie doling out advice about the real world that he feels is wisdom. At one point, he says, “Alright! Alright! Alright!” in his slight Texan drawl that McConaughey has become famous for. That catch phrase has been associated with him throughout the remainder of his career. He even ended his acceptance speech with it when he won the Best Actor Oscar for the movie Dallas Buyers Club. That iconic line came from Dazed and Confused. ***FYI, if you haven’t heard this speech, it is one of the better Oscar speeches ever given. McConaughey did a super job. You can watch and listen to it here.
If my two daughters end up reading this post, then I am sorry that your Dad wasn’t a more exciting person when I was your age. But the truth is that, unlike the movies, in my real high school experiences, I never once snorted cocaine off of the stomach of a bikini-clad Paris Hilton lookalike while poolside, nor did I battle aliens or develop a computer programme that almost started a nuclear war or build a robot sex slave in my basement. What I did was watch a lot of television. I hung out with friends doing nothing in particular. I listened to tunes on my headphones in the dark after everyone else had gone to bed. I vacationed with my family. I was a nerd. I was liked by many but loved by no one. I got through it all. And so will you. Real life isn’t often like it is portrayed in the movies…unless it is like it is portrayed in a movie like Dazed and Confused.
The link to the video for the trailer for the film Dazed and Confused can be found here.
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