Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Big Chillax

I was down the local markets, flipping through some old vinyl and came across the Big Chill soundtrack. The Big Chill was massive film from my childhood with a soundtrack that was ubiquitous as it was instrumental to the film. The conceit of the film is a bunch of thirty-somethings spend a weekend together after the suicide of a friend* and basically act like a bunch of arseholes. The music in the film is a selection of 60's tracks which were the soundtrack to their university years and the whole thing plays like a sickening exercise in nostalgia. The pivotal music scene is all the merry middle class people dancing around the kitchen to the Temptations' Ain't too Proud to Beg. It played into that whole 80's thing that music will never be better than anything than what was produced in the 60's.

Anyhow, it got me thinking that now Gen X is asserting control over the movies that are being made, sooner or later someone will make a modern update of the Big Chill (if it hasn't been made already, I bet someone's thinking about it). I was thinking about how weird that music would be in that context - all that 90's angst compiled into a soundtrack to mid-life nausea. Do we want to see a bunch of thirty somethings dancing around the kitchen to Beck's Loser or sitting drinking whiskey while listening to Radiohead or playing air drums to Smells like teen spirit? No we don't and if anyone wanted to compile that soundtrack, it already exists - it's called the Singles Soundtrack. Matter of fact, you might as well get Cameron Crowe to direct a sequel to that film called Couples and we can watch how my generation is every bit as dickish as the baby boomers. I'm sure this will happen and it makes me think I should be working in the film industry. Shit ideas - I cater.

*Fun fact: The dead friend in the Big Chill is Kevin Costner who originally had some flashback scenes but they were edited out. As such, Kevin only appears in the film as a corpse at the funeral - his most convincing role to date (thanks for the joke that's been told a million times, Captain Obvious).



  1. I think the Grunge-stalgia industry will be upon us any second now. 30-somethings bonding together, split along Kurt/Vedder lines, lamely riffing Simpsons gags, thinking how great their Uni days were, arguing over who was into Mudhoney first. Sooooooooooo much material here...

  2. I don't think there will be such a movie, because it doesn't fit with my (our?) generation. I'm in my mid forties, which puts me over the thirty-something hump, but which does put me in the same age category as the grunge wave ( most of the musicians were my age, anyway). Three things that hallmarked us: 1. the whole "slacker" thing, which, in practice was far more of an angry, cynical bitter thing than the mass media would have it- it was a rejection of ambition more than a lack of ambition 2. Related to that- we were marked by diminished expectations from the baby boomers- as you said in your post- that 80's thing that nothing will be as good as the 60's. 3. We were consumed by nostalgia for childhood. All the ironic love for animated TV series', and plastic toys? Turns out it wasn't so ironic. The real irony was how little of that nostalgia was real, and how much was manufactured.
    What I'm getting at is that The Big Chill is "our" big chill. The whole Gen X/Slacker/Grunge thing was built on a wall of fake nostalgia for the late 1960's/early 1970's. I'm all for meta- narratives, but I just don't see how you can construct a plot based upon "Remember when we wished it was 1969, because 1989 sucked through a straw?" I actually hated most of the grunge thing because it was so filtered through a fake nostalgia. While I really was a bit of a gearhead ( First car was a 1969 Impala, second car, I slipped, and it was a 1977 Pinto, but then, I got a 1963 triumph, and a 1968 Dart to make up for it) which places me into the grunge thing, I was more into the "pig Fuck" and "Arsequake" noise/industrial/skronk type thing coming out of AmRep, Touch and Go, Earache, Blast First and so on which slowly became absorbed by grunge. Hence, by 1991, I was listening to grunge, but it wasn't quite the same thing. I remember getting into an argument with Jack Endino about this exact thing- I had no nostalgia for 1969, musically, and hated 99% of "classic rock", at the time, while he thought that punk, industrial, etc, all the post 1980 stuff was "anti-musical"- he absolutely hated 'modern' music. The argument actually got heated enough that we had to be separated ( I was doing live sound for Skin Yard that night, so it started out as a friendly conversation after a gig where I had been struggling all night with his guitar sound). Again, what I'm getting at is that Jack was passionately arguing for aesthetics that would fit someone 10-20 years older, meaning again- he was more impressed with The Big Chill than with Big Black, you know?

  3. Well, I kind of agree with you and don't agree with you. I think using Smells Like Teen Spirit in the Muppet Movie plays well to your argument - the nostalgia for childhood with a knowing wink to the market it's actually aimed at. Back when Reality Bites came out, those crazy kids were getting down to the Knack (un)ironically and indeed, the whole grunge thing was overshadowed by a larger narrative of 'real music' which harkened back to the 60's and 70's (it's no surprise Hendrix is on the Singles soundtrack and half of it sounds like 70's classic rock). However, while there is that inflection or perception of past, there is still room for a shitty movie celebrating the Generation X-er of today. At the time, it did feel incredibly angry and vital - a movement of sorts but it wasn't and even the most 'ethical' motives by musicians was voraciously devoured by capitalism. Your recent post about Everclear made me go back and listen to some recently and while I wasn't a fan at the time, there is something really raw about that music (just another overdose!?) but it still plays out like a hit in a parade of palatable rebellion for a top 40 station. That's glib to be sure but I've met people who sit around talking up the early 90's as this idyllic, amazing time. I had a great time but I was a fucked up kid, filled with rage and misplaced anger, I never want to go back. However, I'm sure those aforementioned people would love a film about them now populated with the hits of their 'yoof.' If anything, I think there's more chance of such a film being made because it buys into that pseudo-nostalgia.

  4. Fair enough- you raise some excellent points about my generation's inability to actually rebel- we start to rebel, then retreat, and accept whatever comes along.
    While you're also correct about Everclear penning radio-friendly unit shifters, I don't think that makes them any more or less valid than say, Pearl Jam. Taken just as songs, and leaving all the packaging out, most of "grunge" was basic pop song structure re-asserting itself. I think what marked Everclear, or Lit, or Smashmouth as less "artistic" and more "mainstream" was that they were more conventional in that packaging. Just by listening, I can tell that Soundgarden were every bit as nostalgic as Everclear's "AM Radio" marked them, they just weren't as plainly saying it. In a funny way, Everclear are less nostalgic, in that they're getting it wrong- what they're describing as "AM Radio" was actually FM radio- AM Radio was set up for extremely cheap Pop music, whereas FM was set up for album cuts- so if he really was waiting for Jimmy Page, he wouldn't be listening to AM. If he was listening to AM, he'd be listening for some of his actual influences- Tony Orlando, Elton John, and Paul McCartney. Meanwhile, Soundgarden are more clearly the Jimmy Page enthusiasts.
    But, really, I left out my best evidence why such a movie wouldn't get made- You and I. There are far too many music nerds. ( And science Fiction Nerds, and Gothic Nerds, and Steampunk Nerds, and TV nerds) Nerds like us are far too dependent upon new content to wallow for too long in cheap nostalgia. ( He says optimistically)
    Speaking of new content, I really do hope that you, along with everyone else in the world, get a chance to hear the new Baroness. Yes, even it has a lot of throwback moments, but it's the first Album I've heard in awhile that truly works across genres. I can see everyone from Doom Metal heads to Americana Indie folkies liking this.