From the Vault: ‘Dazed and Confused’ is pure, unadulterated teenage bliss
In 1969, five plucked notes on John Paul Jones’s bass would introduce Led Zeppelin to the world as the new hot thing, a group capable of assuming The Beatles’ vacated role as the greatest band on the planet. “Dazed and Confused” encapsulates an entire musical movement and gave birth to a wave of bands trying to copy them. The thumping opening bass line is one of the catchiest and most iconic in rock ‘n’ roll history, a perfect way to introduce the next six minutes and 29 seconds of hard-rock nectar. Plant’s shrieking, soulful vocals complement the yearning lyrics, while the shredding solo and piercing guitar twang replay in my ear for hours. It is truly a benchmark for the hard rock genre.
In 1993, Richard Linklater (“Boyhood”) used the same name for his ’70s-based high school hangout movie that included only the best of adolescent debauchery and hormone-fueled self discovery. On paper, the movie sounds lackluster and uninspired: several groups of rising seniors celebrate the start of summer by hazing freshmen, partying and crusin’ around in the suburbs of Austin, Texas. Linklater’s movie, however, still proves to be the greatest high school movie since “American Graffiti.” “Dazed and Confused” is a true benchmark of all coming-of-age stories.
Using my childhood friend Dylan’s dad as a reference for what high school was like in 1976, “Dazed and Confused” is apparently as accurate as a period piece can be. Obviously, not everyone was hot-boxing in the school parking lot or flirting with teachers, but the overall attitude is replicated well.
The main character, Randall “Pink” Floyd (Jason London, “The Man in the Moon”), is someone everyone knew at this time, a seemingly prototypical high schooler with nonconformist undertones and doubts about his purpose. As he struggles to decide whether or not to give in and sign a contract for the football team claiming his devout abstinence from alcohol and drugs, he questions the meaning of sacrificing individuality for an undeserving cause. It is not so much about the drinking and smoking as it is the forced submission.
Like any Linklater movie, the conversations and messages, although always engaging, sometimes seem to be vacuous and pseudo-philosophical, but actually reflect many insightful ideas, especially for a group of stoned and drunk 17-year-olds. “Pink” defines what it means to be an independent teen searching for an epiphany of what life is really about without ever coming across as pretentious or preachy.
Like any quality coming-of-age movie, “Dazed and Confused” launched the careers of some of the biggest stars today, such as Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club”), Ben Affleck (“Gone Girl”), Parker Posey (“Best in Show”) and Adam Goldberg (“Saving Private Ryan”). The ensemble cast is divided up into different groups just like any typical high school: the football players, the burnouts, the geeks and the rising freshmen. “Pink” meanders between these groups as a mediator for their vast differences.
Particularly, it is Rory Cochrane’s (“A Scanner Darkly”) character Slater that steals most of the laughs, which says a lot. While standing on top of a water tower at night, Slater looks out into the vast, single-family home scattered suburbia and ponders something always on the mind of a promiscuous teen: how many people out there are currently having sex. All jokes and immaturity aside, this brief scene is so brilliant because it actually sounds like something I heard (or said) at some point during high school. This will always be engrained in my head as the movie’s finest moment.
“Dazed and Confused” ’s soundtrack features an arsenal of some of the biggest hits of the time, like Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” and War’s “Low Rider.” But, it is Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane” that carries the film the most. The song plays in the local hangout spot for the high schoolers and acts as the perfect soundtrack to this moment. The scene seamlessly flows like it was orchestrated to the song, each development in the song oddly lining up with the characters’ movements and gazes.
Linklater’s decision to name the movie after the Led Zeppelin shred-fest likely was not done in arrogance. However, it only makes sense to me that it was; the song is the best hard rock song of all time and the movie is the best high school movie. You can play the movie during a casual group hangout or watch intently on your computer alone with headphones, staring into the characters’ souls. As “Dazed and Confused” is one of those songs that is always entertaining, the movie is pure cinematic bliss, an experience that will always lighten my day from even the most somber of depths.