But there are probably amoral people who take equal pleasure in the long closing shot of Electra Glide in Blue. There sits dead Officer Wintergreen firmly in the middle of the highway, forever mounted as a stuffed trophy of bad existentialism. His only crime? Trying to be nice to a bus full of hippies that he pulls over for speeding. Wintergreen lets the mangy creeps off the hook as penance for the excesses of his fellow officers, but the driver takes off without getting his license back. The cop hops on his motorcycle and tries to flag the guys down, and is rewarded with a shotgun blast out of the back window.
Four years passed between the release of Easy Rider and Electra Glide in Blue. Wintergreen should have known that times had changed. By 1973, there was nothing mellow yellow about hippies in a bus. Those guys were all lean green, and probably hauling a stash of coke the Rolling Stones needed backstage by midnight.
The line used to be pretty clear between these two kinds of people. Now it's getting blurred. Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) has always struck me as an aging amoral lean green hippie type. I might have been wrong. By my reading, Daschle recently said that he considered cocaine use to be a far more pressing issue than rape. As a good feminist?just as Sen. Daschle certainly is?I'm all for the death penalty in cases of rape. It has never occurred to me that coke use should be treated just as harshly. The world may be a better place if more drug dealers ended up like the guys in Easy Rider, but it's also better when the courts take care of these things.
Still, I'll concede Daschle's point. We've seen how the rape problem can be stemmed in Thelma & Louise. Coke use is more complicated. If Daschle will go along with easier access to concealed weapons, I'll certainly consider supporting the wholesale assassination of coke dealers. I'm not so sure about Daschle's insinuation that we assassinate coke users. It's a fine idea to enforce long prison sentences on anyone who's caught using cocaine. The death sentence, however, is too much of an esthetic judgment. We all want to kill people who use cell phones and keep lawn ornaments in their apartments. That doesn't mean we would be right to legislate a few new death penalties.
Besides, you'd never get the support of the media. The vast majority has already done cocaine. Heck, there were people all over the news back in the early 80s talking about how harmless coke was as a drug. The experts said nobody got addicted, much like we still hear today about marijuana. The press corps will never get behind any serious attack on people who might have used cocaine. Even I've taken the stuff. In my case, however, it wasn't for pleasure. It was more like public service for the crime of hanging out with music industry people.
This was a while ago, too?though not as long ago as I wish it were. Like I'm sure Bill Clinton did, I took cocaine in the mid-80s. That puts me at an embarrassingly late age to be taking anything. In my defense, the stuff was still fairly easy to find back then. This was back in the days when popular acts on 120 Minutes would often play Manhattan clubs in exchange for bags of white powder.
You couldn't catch me today in the hotel room of a sleazeball tour manager. It's a long story of how I got there then. It's one of those friend-of-a-friend-of-a-coke-whore situations. Anyway, I was appalled at my surroundings. The tour manager was exceptionally creepy in that typical tour manager way. He had the gold chain and the permed hair and the permed mustache. The guy was likely slumming in the alt-rock scene until he got the chance to hook up with Jefferson Starship. Naturally, he brought along his shining monument to all that made him persona au gratin: The big rock candy mountain was prominently displayed on the bureau.
Like any fairly hip person of the 70s and 80s, I knew that cocaine was the devil's drug. Taking it was the only way I knew how to show my disdain. I took a hell of a lot of it, too. The tour manager had to go off and deal with some errant groupies. I grabbed an envelope out of the hotel bureau and put a very substantial amount of cocaine in there.
Note that I never admitted to actually doing cocaine in the mid-80s. That wouldn't make sense. Christ, I was already an adult by then. I simply took cocaine. The case could be made that I used it, though. I gave the envelope to my friend-of-a-coke-whore. He, in turn, ingested some of the powder into his nasal passages. This enabled him to stay awake so that we could hit the road first thing in the morning. That was very useful.
Today, of course, I would never do such an underhanded thing. I've gotten way too comfortable in expressing my hatred. The last person to offer me cocaine was given a short lecture on how it's the preferred drug of pathetic audio salesmen who hang out in swing clubs. The guy wasn't amused by the comparison. This might not have mattered if he hadn't just hired me for a job two days before. There's a shining six months on my resume.
I'd like to think that today's kids are buying into a similar fine mindset, but I don't really have any idea. This summer has left me frankly baffled by the current youth culture. It's strange times when my two favorite films of the summer were about teens and drugs in the sodden 70s. It's even stranger when both of these films were the two biggest bombs of the season. Dick probably never had a chance, since no one could buy the idea of a president being offended at the idea of a young girl wanting to have sex with him. Besides, the ending is just too sad. Richard Nixon is forced to resign after two teens inadvertently play a major role in Watergate. The two gals look at each other and say, "Now no president will ever lie to us ever again."
Detroit Rock City doesn't touch on anything so poignant. The most tragic thing in the entire movie is actually the four drug-addled heroes. They're your typical young idiots of 1978: They're expert with bongs, but can't drink brown liquor. They brim with confidence, but can't speak to girls. And they believe in rock 'n' roll as represented by a massive marketing device called Kiss.
But at least they don't do cocaine. This is because they have high moral standards. These standards are best represented by their simple core belief that disco sucks. The contrast is made clear early on in the film when the foursome pick up a stranded disco gal on the highway. This leads to a culture war waged in the confines of a Volvo, and it's the funniest musical debate since those drooling psychos went at it in Mother's Day. The disco floozy promptly sets the tone by claiming that Kiss will never make a record as good as Donna Summer or the Village People. Nobody in the car is coherent enough to realize that all three acts were on Casablanca Records.
One of the idiot teens should be reminded of this, however, when he later sneaks backstage at the big Kiss concert. There, he discovers a hot tub area full of writhing gals in bikinis. There's also a weaselly looking guy. My first thought was that Can't Stop the Music is no longer the final cinematic tribute to Neil Bogart. But Mr. Weasel actually serves a more evil purpose, as foreshadowed earlier in the Volvo.
The disco floozy further taunts the kids that Kiss will even make a disco record some day. "Kiss would never make a disco record!" cry the disgusted teens. A contact high then dissolves further discussion, and that's the only way a potsmoker will win a debate this millennium. The joke, however, is on the idiot kids. The audience knows that Kiss is only one year away from "I Was Made For Loving You."
Blame that guy in the hot tub. He's probably Gene and Paul's coke dealer and spiritual adviser. (Gene Simmons serves as producer, so the film makes it clear that Peter and Ace are peripheral to the '78 Kiss experience.) The character's even billed as "Incredibly Lucky Guy In Hot Tub." "Incredibly Lucky" certainly sounds right. Being Kiss' coke dealer in '78 would have been like being Bill Gates' pool guy in '98. You can get rich off the tips.
There's a reason that Detroit Rock City is set in 1978. Really cool teens are already snorting glue while listening to the Ramones. Kiss is in the midst of their solo album implosion. And it's time for four dumb teens to start growing up. Their betrayal is right around the corner, so it actually feels vitally important that these retards are able to sneak into a big sold-out Kiss concert. But they're only winning a small battle when they finally make it into the auditorium. More importantly, the epic quest for tickets proves that these four losers have a shot at actually becoming upstanding young men.
That, incidentally, is your box-office poison. The two best films of the summer were about teenagers learning about morality in a world gone crazed by amoral adults. That's in stark contrast to the big hit American Pie, which was about nothing in particular (in contrast to, say, true teen-sex moralism like The Last American Virgin). At least the amoral Teaching Mrs. Tingle also bombed. There might yet be a decent battle worth fighting for the hearts and souls of young Americans. I just hope that antidrug fanatics like Tom Daschle don't go throwing out the teens with the bathwater.