Near the holiday weekend one of our cable channels offered-up a kind of festival of “Teens-out-of-control!” movies from the 50s and 60s. “Rebel Without a Cause” and “The Blackboard Jungle” made the list of course, but there were also some grade B and lower potboilers like “Hot Rods to Hell” (1967), which is highly recommended for those who like their dialogue over-cooked and served with ham. The old poster art for “Hot Rods” teases that the movie is a “One way ride to excitement!” (nothing comes back from this ride, especially star Dana Andrews’ career) and featuring “Fast Cars, Faster Girls, The Faster the Better!”
That all sounds pretty hot and fast, but a customer review on Amazon observed that “the “juvenile delinquents” in this film are pikers compared to the drug-addled, sex-obsessed, and gun-toting mutants that appear in films these days.” Too bad because viewing the film myself I thought the punks in “Hot Rods To Hell” were really trying, especially a young blond woman who would sit and ride in a Corvette like she was in a parade making “joy ride” facial contortions as though there were a wire connected from the car’s gas pedal to her forehead.
I’m not exactly sure when it was that movies started utilizing “drug-addled, sex-obsessed and gun-toting mutants,” but we’re all familiar with the stereotyping. And while sweeping generalizations are convenient for creating entertainment representations of rebellious youth, they’re just about useless when anyone stops to really examine the young people in question. What’s impressive is that we all know this, but we still tend to categorize young people generation after generation. Parents have respect for the individuality of their own kids, but will sometimes talk about “kids” as a collective entity with a set uniform and patterns of behavior.
I did not attend the Electric Daisy Carnival at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum, but I think it’s safe to say that out of the estimated 200,000 young people that did there will be both some outstanding citizens of tomorrow… and maybe a few young people who want things to always be “faster” albeit without souped-up Corvettes. That there may have been drugs present for that second group and that those drugs may have been ingested without any real thoughts of rebellion of any sort, still doesn’t bring us to terms with the death of a 15-year-old girl at the “Daisy” event.
But perhaps it does create a moment in which we might reflect on the promise of youth and where life takes us later on. Ann Powers, pop music critic for the LA Times, observed in a July 3 Calendar Section piece that “the wild abandon of pop-loving dancers from teeny-boppers to hippies to mosh-pit punks has recently taken a back seat to far more studied moves.” Powers then cites all the of mechanized choreography of music shows featuring production-intensive acts like Lady Gaga and Beyonce, and carefully broaches a suggestion “that a carefully tended trip among loving companions, set to music also designed to break down defenses and heighten sensual awareness, can be sublime. It’s always a risk, one that can change you for the worse—or for the better.”
Without everybody having to drag out their scrapbooks of long-haired memories, I would agree with Powers that spontaneity and tribal gatherings have a real place in what we might call the ultimate interior decoration of one’s psyche. Music will always matter to me and specific moments involving music are very much a part of how we got here, wherever and whatever “here” might be. Banning raves won’t stop that process from taking place, even if it relocates it geographically.
It is always a tragedy when the promise of youth is stolen by drug overdose or any other misdirected energy. But I’m wondering if one of our reactions can be not to ban the expressions of youth and young energies, but instead to recommit to the values we brought with us out of the mosh pit. Or the festivals, concerts… moments of our own youth. If the music did open us up, what did we take in? Are we still working with it, using the experience and insight to guide us?
Last week’s Mirror headlined the fact that students at Santa Monica-Malibu schools have raised $10,000 for music and arts programs that were cut by budget shortfalls. They did that by selling lemonade. The week before, kids could be seen on street corners in our area bouncing soccer balls in their exuberance and pride over the World Cup. Expressions of youth energy need to be safe as well as free in the poetic sense. But they could also be viewed in terms of their potential inspiration… to us. We’ve got work to do, and we owe it to them and to ourselves to once again “fervently embrace the beat” as part of Powers’ article suggested. The Gulf, the politics of obstruction, the economy or lack of one, the cloud hanging over higher-learning… all good reasons to sit and pout. Or to get up and once again feel the promise of tomorrow in the thrall of the life force we felt back then. In finding the energy to deal with everything we need to take of right now, I say we party like its 2099.