"Do you ever get the feeling that everything in America is completely fucked up?" -- Mark Hunter/Hard Harry
As hinted, in a post I made almost a year ago, I also have a desire to toss some verbal masturbation out into the intarwebs, about my other favorite movie from the late 80's: Pump Up the Volume.
I was slightly less impressionable when I saw this movie. I was in the Tenth Grade, as opposed to the Seventh, but the impact it made on me was no less significant. More importantly, just like Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure/Bogus Journey, Pump Up the Volume drove home another point that seemed part of my basic personality as a teen. It reminded me that sometimes, if you want to do what's right, you've got to break some rules.
As I'm writing this, I am finding myself having a hard time reaching a decision. What was more important to me: The music, or the movie itself? I'd say that they are equally important, however . . . without the music, the movie wouldn't be what it was. The music would stand on its own, without the film.
For those who have not seen the film, it's about a high school student, Mark Hunter. He's relocated to Arizona from New Jersey with his family, when his dad accepts a job as the commissioner of Hubert Humphrey High. I'm sure there's some joke to be made about a high school named after Hubert Humphrey, but I'm not versed in the 60's political climate. I'll refrain. I'd just fuck it up.
But I digress.
Mark, who had plenty of friends back home in Jersey, finds it impossible to meet people in Arizona. He becomes shy, and withdrawn. Yet, in a stroke of inspired genius that can only occur in the mind of a 17 year old boy -- he decides to use the shortwave radio set that his parents bought him to "talk to his friends back home", to launch a pirate radio station. He assumes the persona of Happy Harry Hard-On. Hubert Humphrey High. Happy Harry Hard-On. I really don't have to point out the synergy there folks, do I?
Harry goes live, every night, at 10pm. Because of the sensitive position he's in, with his father's job, he uses a modulator to change his voice. He talks about everything, and anything. At first he's just waxing philosophical on the trials of being a teenager, but then something happens.
All of his fellow classmates, begin to view Hard Harry as a latter day prophet of sorts. They look to him. They listen to him.
I just stepped away for 10 minutes or so, and walked back with the intention cutting off the synopsis, and just hitting the salient points. As I said, I believed that the music was more important. However, in the process of writing this, I've come to realize that I was wrong. The music would have never had the impact on me that it does, if it weren't for the movie.
Enough of the introspective After School Special.
Mark/Harry decides to take on the issues of corruption at the school. The expulsion potential "trouble-makers", and "undesirables" during the first week of school--while keeping their names on the roll, so the school would get more money from the state. Principal Cresswood, the mastermind behind this nefarious plot, truly believed she was doing it for the good of the school. It's one of the oldest debates on the polarity of good and evil. Both sides truly believe they're right.
It begins, when Mark/Harry lifts a memo from his father's home office, and discovers that a girl named Cheryl has been expelled, because she is pregnant. That begins the influx of trust from his classmates. Teenagers rarely believe that anyone is fighting for them. Then, out of the blue, during a time when radio was king, comes a voice that speaks to them.
Mark/Harry begins to take phone calls and letters from his listeners. One day, he receives a letter signed, "I'm Serious".
The letter reads as follows:
Do you think I should kill myself?
And here, the shitstorm begins, my faithful few readers.
The next day, in his creative writing class, Mark is informed that one of his classmates killed himself the night before.
I'll do my best to quote his following broadcast monologues:
"You see I never planned it like this. My dumb Dad got me this short wave radio set so I could just speak to my friends back east, but I couldn't reach anybody, I thought I was talking to nobody. I imagined that nobody listening. Maybe I imagined one person out there, anyway one day I woke up and I realized I was never going to be normal and so I said fuck it, I said so be it and Happy Harry Hard-On was born. I never meant to hurt anyone, honestly I never meant to hurt anyone. I'm sorry Malcolm. I never said "Don't do it" I'm sorry . . . anyway I'm done, stick a fork in me it's been grand. This is Happy Harry Hard-On saying sayonara, over and out."
At this point, there is a dramatic pause:
Off the air: "What am I doing? Fuck it!"
On the air: "You hear about some kid who did something stupid, something desperate. What possessed him. How could he do such a terrible thing. It's really quite simple actually. Consider the life of a teenager. You have parents, teachers telling you what to do. You have movies, magazines, and TV telling you what to do. But you know what you have to do. Your job, your purpose, is to get accepted, get a cute girl friend, and think up something great to do with the rest of your life. What if you're confused and can't imagine a career? What if you're funny looking and you can't get a girl friend? You see no one wants to hear it, but the terrible secret is that being young is sometimes less fun than being dead.
Suicide is wrong, but the interesting thing about it is how uncomplicated it seems. There you are, you got all these problems swarming around your brain, and here is one simple, one incredibly simple solution. I'm just surprised it doesn't happen every day around here. No now they're going to say I said offing yourself is simple, but no, no, no, no, it's not simple. It's like everything else you have to read the fine print. For instance, assuming there is a heaven who would ever wanna go there, you know. I mean think about it, sitting on this cloud, you know it's nice, it's quiet, there's no teachers, there's no parents, but guess what? There's nothing to do. Fucking boring. Another thing to remember about suicide is that it is not a pretty picture. First of all, you shit your shorts you know. So there you are dead, people are weeping over you, crying, girls you never spoke to are saying, "Why? Why? Why?" and you have a load in your shorts. That's the way I see it. Sue me. Now, they're saying I shouldn't think stuff like this. They're saying something is wrong with me, that I should be ashamed. Well, I'm sick of being ashamed. Aren't you?
At this point, Mark/Harry takes a call from a student who is dealing with his emerging homosexuality, and the bashing that goes along with it. I want to desperately go into it, however I'm already writing to an arrogant length.
One of the ideas that keeps being repeated, over and over, is that Mark is waiting for something. For someone. For a voice to come out of the darkness.
It's at this point, that I notice I've skipped over the entire relationship with Nora, "The Eat Me Beat Me Lady," -- hey, it was the late 80's -- but that's okay. What's important, is what Nora says to him, as he decides to shut the show down:
No, no the world is fucked up just like you said. Don't you see that you're the voice, you're the voice we're all waiting for."
It's a theme that has been repeated over and over again through the decades, most recently with Green Day's American Idiot -- but that's another post in itself (oh, did you see what I did there? If not, read my preceding post from last April: http://pfftspace.blogspot.com/2011/04/lessons-from-great-ones.html ).
Long story short, the FCC is called in because people have started recording the shows, and broadcasting them across state lines. They bring out trucks to triangulate his location. So he does the logical thing. He shuts down.
No no, that would be boring. He wires his broadcast set up into his mother's jeep, and makes a mobile broadcast station. HA HA! TAKE THAT YOU LOUSY FCC BUMS!
The obvious chase ensues, and Mark/Harry is forced to broadcast without his voice modulator in what is what I consider one of the finest climaxes of American cinema:
"Okay this is really me now, no more hiding. Listen we're all worried, we're all in pain, that just comes with having eyes with having ears, but just remember one thing it can't get any worse, it can only get better. I mean high school is the bottom. Being a teenager sucks, but that's the point, surviving it is the whole point. Quitting is not going to make you strong, living will. So just hang on and hang in there. You know I know all about the hating and the sneering, I'm a member of the why bother generation myself. But why did I bother coming out here tonight and why did you? I mean it's time, it begins with us not with politicians, the experts of the teachers, but with us, with you and with me, the ones who need it most. I believe with everything that's in me that the whole world is begging for healing, even the trees and the earth its self are crying out for it, you can hear it everywhere. It's the same kind of healing I desperately needed and finally feel has begun with you. Everyone mix it up, it's not game over yet, it's just the beginning, but it's up to you. I'm calling for every kid to seize the air. Steal it, it belongs to you. Speak out, they can't stop you. Find your voice and use it. Keep this going. Pick a name, go on air. It's your life, take charge of it. Do it, try it, try anything. Spill your guts out and say shit and fuck a million times if you want to, but you decide. Fill the air, steal it. Keep the air alive . . . TALK HARD!!!!"
"Talk Hard," was the final snip of dialogue from a lead in the movie. The ending fade, as the credits begin to roll, were of pirate radio stations going on the air all over America.
I've already written to the point where it's just obnoxious, so I'll simply leave you with a list of my favorite tracks from the movie:
"Everybody Knows," by Concrete Blonde -- this is a cover of a Leonard Cohen song, and well.. it's amazing.
"Why Can't I Fall In Love," by Ivan Neville
"Wave of Mutilation (U.K. Surf)," by The Pixies -- this one is amazing. "Wave of Mutilation," was originally released on the album Doolittle. It was fast, distorted, and everything The Pixies were great at. The U.K. Surf version, is slow, heavy on the reverb, and extremely mellow. It is the *perfect* song for the scene it's in -- shortly after Mark learns of Malcolm "I'm Serious" Kaiser's suicide.
"Kick Out The Jams," By Bad Brains ft. Henry Rollins -- this song is a cover of a Blue Oyster Cult song, which is a cover of an MC5 song. It's pretty fucking awesome.
Those are just a few. You can listen to them all at http://listen.grooveshark.com
In closing, this is probably the most important film from my youth. It's why I waited almost a year to write about it. I had no clue how to tackle something of this personal magnitude. I'm still not sure the job I did was worth a shit.
I should add, that Christian Slater played the role of Mark, and this is his finest role ever -- however, it is Christian Slater, and that's not saying much.