Episode 314: “Dazed and Confused,” Eels, Jim Gray

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(clockwise from left) Deena Martin, Parker Posey, Marissa Ribisi, and Chrisse Harnos
Photography by Anthony Rapp                                                                                                                        (clockwise from left) Deena Martin, Parker Posey, Marissa Ribisi, and Chrisse Harnos

Author Melissa Maerz takes us behind the scenes of Richard Linklater’s cult film, “Dazed and Confused.” Also, Eels frontman Mark Oliver Everett dishes about the band’s album, “Earth to Dora.” And the renowned sportscaster Jim Gray talks about his most memorable interviews.

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  • 'Alright, Alright, Alright': An Oral History Of 'Dazed And Confused'

    The teenage coming-of-age story is a time-tested favorite in Hollywood. But compared to the plot-driven, low-stakes drama of John Hughes films like 1985’s “The Breakfast Club” or 1986’s “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” 1993’s “Dazed and Confused” seemed a bit radical, says author Melissa Maerz.

    Maerz recently spoke with Doug Gordon of WPR’s “BETA” about “Alright, Alright, Alright,” her new oral history of director Richard Linklater’s classic film. She interviewed Linklater and nearly the entire cast for a comprehensive look at what made the period piece feel so timeless.

    Maerz suggested “Dazed and Confused” was groundbreaking in part for its lack of plot.

    “I think ‘Dazed’ showed that most of the time being a teenager is not dramatic. Most of the time it’s kind of boring, and you’re kind of waiting around for something to happen,” she said.

    That portrayal of average, aimless, boring teenage life is a big part of what has endeared people to the film for nearly 30 years.

    On the last day of school in 1976, a bunch of Texas high schoolers blow off parents and expectations to celebrate summer and ponder the future. And it feels like everyone you know is there.

    Mitch is an incoming freshmen getting hazed and initiated. Darla is a senior doing the hazing. Pink is a jock questioning his commitment to football. Slater is a mystic pot-head. Wooderson is a creepy guy in his mid-20s who’s still hanging around.

    “You’re not really watching for the story, you’re watching to hang out with these people,” suggested Maerz. “And I think a lot of people know a Wooderson, a lot of people know a Slater. I mean, these characters feel familiar to people. So I think that contributes to some of the longevity that the movie has.”

    For Linklater, “Dazed” was a hinge point in his career as a director. After making the 1990’s acclaimed “Slacker” for less than $23,000, “Dazed and Confused” was a decidedly more Hollywood affair that many saw as a glorification of teenage life in the 1970s. Maerz said that wasn’t Linklater’s intention.

    “I think he would say that he discovered in the process of making this movie that it’s impossible not to glorify the era that you’re putting on screen,” she said. “I mean, he even has a character in ‘Dazed and Confused’ say outright that the ’70s obviously suck.”

    Maerz suggested that although Linklater was trying to model the boredom of his own Texas upbringing, putting it on screen automatically glorified it to the viewer.

    I think it’s very hard to make an anti-nostalgia movie about the ’70s and not have it be something that makes people nostalgic,” said Maerz.

    Part of that nostalgic effect comes from the chemistry of the young cast, which included future stars like Matthew McConaughey, Parker Posey, Ben Affleck, and Renee Zellweger.

    Maerz said Linklater created an intentionally fun, laid-back atmosphere while filming in Austin.

    “Well, he was so smart, he sent out a letter before they even got to Austin to start shooting that basically said, ‘If you don’t like your character, change it, you know, bring in something that’s real from your life.’ And I think a lot of them got really into bringing their own experience to these characters,” she said.

    There was also the time spent off camera, just hanging out.

    “And there was a blurring of the lines between who they were behind the scenes, you know, creating chemistry together, partying together, having this great time in Austin, and what was happening on the screen,” Maerz continued. “And you look at the movie, it’s really clear that chemistry is real. It almost has kind of a documentary type vibe to it. It feels very natural.”

    Maerz described Linklater as being a kind of coach on set. He had a knack for finding something inside each actor that inspired them to give their best performance.

    Posey was encouraged to improvise during filming, which resulted in a very funny moment, and one of Maerz’s favorite lines.

    Posey’s character Darla is hazing some incoming freshmen, and shouts a line she once performed in a Bertolt Brecht play, which had accidentally been mistranslated from German to English.

    “It’s so great. It feels so high school,” said Maerz. “It does not feel like Brecht at all.”

    One of the film’s most memorable performances is delivered by a young McConaughey in his first Hollywood role. He played Wooderson, who was originally supposed to be in only a few scenes, but he became a much larger part of the film after Linklater encouraged McConaughey to improvise as well.

    Wooderson is in his mid-20s, but still hangs out with the high school crowd and likes to flirt with underage girls.

    “If you look at the original screenplay just on the page, his character is not only a very small character, but also just kind of a much darker, sadder character. Just kind of seems like a pure predator, somebody who you want to stay away from,” Maerz described.

    But Maerz said McConaughey brought a charm to the role that caused Wooderson to evolve.

    “Which makes it so much more complicated,” she admitted. “Like, he’s still a really creepy guy, but you can see how people are attracted to being around him.”

    In addition to great performances from the actors, “Dazed and Confused” is memorable for its soundtrack. Classic rock was just starting to make a comeback in 1993, and Linklater put it to good use. From montage features to background accents, music became an important character in the film.

    “I have to say, I think ‘Tuesday Is Gone’ is one of my favorite songs in the movie because it is so filled with nostalgia,” said Maerz. “Like, you see these kids in this party already nostalgic about this night that’s not even over yet. And you hear that song playing like, oh, ‘Tuesday is gone with the wind.’ It really feels accurate for that scene.”

    But Maerz’s favorite scene happens on the high school’s football field after the big party and features an exchange between Jason London’s character Pink, Wooderson and Don, played by Sasha Jenson. Maerz thinks it perfectly encapsulates why “Dazed” has such an enduring nostalgic appeal.

    “Jason London gets up, and the camera kind of pans around him while his friends are behind him,” she described.

    “This whole movie, these kids have not been thinking about anything beyond what’s going to happen that night, how they’re going to get beer, how they’re going to get to the party,” continued Maerz. “And this is the one moment when he’s really taking a step outside of himself and thinking about the future, how he’s going to look back on this night when he’s an adult.”

    “I think it’s a really powerful scene, especially since that character is based on Richard Linklater, and Richard Linklater is the one filming the scene as an adult, looking back on his teenage years. It’s just a really layered scene,” she said.

    Maerz suggested people keep coming back to “Dazed and Confused” because they can personally identify with the film’s characters.

    “You know, I talked to a lot of people who went to high school with Linklater in Huntsville, Texas, and everybody thinks there’s a character based on them,” revealed Maerz. “And not even in Huntsville. You know, people in the world at large really believe that there are characters who are exactly like them in high school, and I think that shows you why this movie is so personal for so many people.”

  • Eels' New Album 'Earth To Dora' Finds Band Cautiously Optimistic

    Mark Oliver Everett (also known as “E”) is the founder and frontman of the indie band, Eels. He is the core of a rotating group of musicians that creates a unique spin on pop music in the vein of John Lennon. His songs are often personal and explore the dark side of the human condition.

    To that end, Eels have just released their 13th album, “Earth To Dora.”

    The namesake Dora is the band’s former lighting director. She was feeling down so Everett tried to cheer her up with some optimistic texts. He realized their texts back and forth would work well as song lyrics and might cheer up listeners.

    Everett told Steve Gotcher of WPR’s “BETA” that when he thinks about his life over the last couple of years, “the songs usually start as a message to myself, and I think it’s first me trying to cheer myself up and then, hopefully, once they become songs and they’re on a record, they can also serve to cheer some other people up, too.”

    The hopefulness is there coming out of the gate with the opening song, “Anything for Boo.”

    “That was inspired by a real romantic situation I was involved in that didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped it was going to turn out,” Everett said. “So it was kind of a fantasy about that situation turning out the way I hope that it would. But unfortunately, it remains a fantasy. But it’s still probably my favorite song on the record for some reason. I just I like the hopefulness in it.”

    Eels have premiered a new video for what they describe as “the feel-good hit of the feel-worst year”: “Are We Alright Again.” This one-take video focuses on an Eels fan (played by actor Jon Hamm) who’s finding consolation in the band’s music. “Are We Alright Again” is the only song that was written during the coronavirus pandemic.

    “It was written in the early days when the pandemic first got really bad,” Everett said. “It was me just having a daydream about what it might be like when it’s all over and thinking about how nice that would be. And I was kind of secretly hoping, well, by the time the album comes out, maybe it’ll be more of a reality and not a daydream. But of course, that didn’t turn out.”

    Everett said his objective for the “Earth To Dora” album was to make it sound timeless.

    “I wanted to just make it flow like a nice playlist of old-school, singer-songwriter songs with kind of traditional instrumentation,” he said. “I wanted it to hopefully have like kind of a timeless quality where if you heard it in five or 10 years, you wouldn’t go, ‘Oh, that sounds like 2020.’”

    So what does Everett think 2020 sounds like?

    “A lot of crying and agony,” he said.

    “Earth To Dora” is like a concept album about the development of a relationship and then the problems that occur as the relationship grows. Everett said the songs were written at different times and they’re not all about the same relationship.

    “But then I sequenced it in a way so if some listeners want to, they can listen to it as if it is all about one relationship,” he said. “There is a certain arc to the sequence where you could sort of follow a storyline.

    Some songs on the album are about Everett’s efforts to learn lessons. One example of this is “Who You Say You Are” which he describes as “kind of a song about songwriting and saying, ‘Hey, man, maybe you should be a little more cautious about who you write songs about and make sure they really are someone that deserved it.’”

    He points to the track “Dark and Dramatic” as a memo to himself that points out that by this point in his life, he should have learned to pay more attention to the red flags that show up early in a relationship.

    Everett said he hopes “Earth To Dora” can lift people’s spirits and bring them some pleasure.

    “Or if one of the sadder moments on the album makes them feel better in that misery loves company way, any of that, I just hope it can provide any comfort,” Everett said.

  • Sportscaster Jim Gray Reflects Back On A Life Of 'Talking to GOATS'

    You can’t cover so many historic moments in televised sports history without having a few stories to tell. Renowned sportscaster Jim Gray has his fair share — including one where he was the story — and relives them all in his memoir, “Talking To GOATs.”

    The acronym in the title standing for “greatest of all time” isn’t hyperbole. Gray recounts his coverage and relationships with the most transcendent athletes of nearly every popular sport, including Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Tom Brady, Hank Aaron and Michael Phelps.

    When questioned which one of these interviewees is the GOAT of the media interview, Gray doesn’t hesitate.

    “It’s got to be Muhammad Ali,” Gray told WPR’s “BETA.” “He was just so much fun and so creative and he’s beyond legendary and iconic. His name will withstand the test of time. What he stood for in the ring and achieved and what he stood for outside of the ring and the principles and everything that went on in his life. That’s why his name’s on top.”

    Not only has Gray interviewed the best athletes in sports, but he ha’s also been on the sidelines, dugouts and ringsides for some of the most infamous moments in sports history.

    Take for instance the night of Saturday, June 28, 1997. Gray was covering what was then being billed as “The Sound and the Fury” — a rematch of boxer Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield’s heavyweight title fight from the previous fall. After that night, the fight would go down in lore as “The Bite Fight.”

    “It was a much-anticipated rematch because Holyfield had unexpectedly — at least to the public, not to him — beaten Tyson in that fight,” Gray recalls. “There was a lot of anticipation for it. It was a worldwide huge spectacle. That’s what Mike Tyson brought to the ring. It was a train wreck that everybody had to see. But nobody, nobody had ever suggested or would have even thought that he would bite off another man’s ear lobe.”

    In the midst of the third round — as a retaliation for Holyfield’s head-butting tactics — Tyson bit his opponent’s ear. The fight was paused and Tyson was docked 2 points and warned that if it happened again, he would be disqualified. The fight didn’t last much longer before Tyson chomped on Holyfield’s ear again. This time, referee Mills Lane immediately ended the bout.

    This caused complete pandemonium. Gray jumped into the ring to interview Lane about stopping the fight. Then, he rushed back to the locker room to snag the first post-fight interview with Tyson.

    “The police got in the ring and it was chaos and they finally got (Tyson) out of the ring,” Gray said. “So he was extremely agitated still, you know, he’s a fighter and he still had all this pent-up energy and wanted to fight.”

    Still, Gray managed a frank and honest interview with the heated Tyson. Gray, who has a long relationship with the fighter, always respected that moment and argues that no one in sports is as honest and open in an interview than Tyson.

    “He’s one of the last honest athletes. He will tell you what is on his mind and what he is thinking and he will do it without any reservation or trying to spin. He’s not trying to curry favor. He will tell you exactly what it is,” said Gray.

    This wouldn’t be the last bizarre sports incident Gray was front and center for. He was working as an NBA sideline reporter at the Palace in Auburn Hills, Michigan on Nov. 19, 2004, for a regular season game between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons. This game would later be dubbed “The Malice at the Palace.”

    “The game was basically over. The Pacers were going to win the game. There was a little skirmish out on the court, a hard foul, bit of an altercation that transpired between Ben Wallace and Ron Artest,” Gray remembered.

    The Pacers’ Artest laid down — almost Zen-like — on the scorer’s table right in front of Gray. It was at that moment that a fan launched their drink on Artest.

    “That set off the volatility,” according to Gray.

    Artest would sprint into the stands and accost the supposed violator, leading to several players entering the seats and a severe black eye for the NBA.

    “He had a natural reaction. Really, it was a human reaction to want to respond to that. The problem is you can’t do that,” says Gray. “You can’t be an NBA player in the stands and beat up the very customers who are paying for your game. And then if you do, if you make that decision, you better hit the right guy.”

    Gray also opened up about the time he found himself in the sports spotlight when he aggressively interviewed MLB pariah Pete Rose. Rose was famously banned from baseball and its Hall of Fame for gambling on games. However, he was able to take part in the “All-Century” honors due to the fact that it was being run by Mastercard as a fan event during the 1999 World Series.

    “It was actually his hall of fame moment and he got a rousing ovation. The significance of it was he hadn’t been on the field for 10 years since signing away his own banishment from the game of baseball for betting on baseball,” said Gray.

    Unknown to Gray was the magnitude of the pageantry of the moment TV audiences were experiencing. He was on the field and said it felt more subdued from that vantage point. Then, NBC cut to Gray’s interview with Rose where he pressed the freshly honored player about his inability to fess up to his gambling.

    “There was an abrupt change of tone and timing from the beautiful symbols and warm feeling that everybody is having about their childhood,” said Gray.

    “It became very controversial. There was a tremendous amount of blowback and tumult and agita. For me, the reverberations of that interview struck a chord with a number of fans,” he continued.

    Gray admits that he went back and watched a replay of the telecast to see the interview in context. After watching, Gray would work with NBC President Dick Ebersol on making a televised apology — not for his questions or editorial choices, but for misreading the mood of the audience.

    “You have to ask questions to ascertain information. But it does cause you to revisit that you’re having the same experience everybody else is because it would have changed if I’d have been watching television,” said Gray.

    It’s because of his steadfast commitment to getting answers that Gray has made a lifelong career out of reporting and breaking epochal sports moments. It’s why three-time Academy award-winner and Los Angeles Laker court-side fixture, Jack Nicholson — who Gray calls a “Lakeraholic” — befriended the journalist and nicknamed him “Scratchy” for his insistent digging for answers.

    “We just became very well acquainted throughout the course of my years broadcasting all of the NBA games on NBC and CBS and then ESPN and ABC. I just got to know him well over the years. And so, one night he called me after I’d done some interviews and he said, ‘Got a little scratchy with those people tonight,” recalled Gray. “It just kind of stuck. I like having a nickname from Jack Nicholson. So, it’s taken on a life of its own over the course of time.”

Episode Credits

  • Doug Gordon Host
  • Brad Kolberg Producer
  • Adam Friedrich Producer
  • Steve Gotcher Producer
  • Steve Gotcher Technical Director
  • Melissa Maerz Guest
  • Mark O. Everett Guest
  • Jim Gray Guest

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