For anyone who knows me or who has simply read a couple of posts on here it becomes rapidly apparent how important live music is to me. For me the perfect night out involves a group of friends, a few beers and, most importantly, a live band. This love of gigs has now crossed into my academic work but had it not been for the right film at the right time things could have been entirely different.
That film was Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.
The 1991 sequel to 1989’s “Excellent Adventure”, Bogus Journey follows the titular characters attempting to live up to their destiny by becoming the band whose music a utopian society is built upon whilst evil robots from the future attempt to stop them. I first saw this film when I was 8 years old and from the moment I saw that final scene in which a band consisting of Bill & Ted, the Grim Reaper, 2 medieval princesses, 2 aliens and 2 robots performed the KISS version of “God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll to You II” a seed was planted. Through the rest of my childhood years and into my early teens my musical exposure was limited to my parents collection of 70’s and 80’s punk and whatever latest pop fad was playing on Radio 1. I bought some bizarre and diabolical records during those years. The first single I ever bought with my own money was Lou Bega’s 1999 hit “Mambo No. 5” and it got worse with Eifel 65s “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” and, to my eternal shame, The Cuban Boys “Hamster Dance”. I was buying this crap because it was popular and easily available but it never really did anything for me, not just because it was pure garbage but because that seed planted by Bill & Ted was still in there somewhere.
When I turned 14 I was given my first Mp3 player. It held just 12 tracks but it represented freedom. Before this I would only buy CDs containing tracks I knew from the radio as I didn’t want to risk spending my limited income on something unknown. I now had the whole internet to select music from (this being a time before Metallica told us all how music piracy was bad), no longer limited to being able to afford 1 CD a week (if I spent my money on nothing else). By this time alternative music was starting to make a comeback, nu-metal and pop-punk were the trends of the day (unless you went down the RnB and hip-hop route, but that was not for me either) but with bands such as Sum 41 directly referencing their own musical heritage with lyrics like “Maiden and Priest were the gods that we praised” it was inevitable that we were soon working our way backwards down the timelines of musical history (albeit not in a time travelling phone booth) exploring bands like Metallica, Megadeth and Iron Maiden and suddenly I felt at home. That seed planted by Bill & Ted all those years ago started to grow rapidly. I started going to gigs (my first gig being the aforementioned Iron Maiden) and can trace a direct links between my ever growing love of rock music and live gigs and my current place in life, the friends I have met, the academic and career choices I have made, all of it directly links to that day when I was 8 years old and Bill & Ted tuned me into rock ‘n’ roll.
It was also around this time I revisited both Bill & Ted films and damn they were even better than I remembered them. At this point I still saw them mainly as wacky comedies that were perfectly in tune with my slightly surreal sense of humour but as I have watched and re-watched them over the years I appreciate them even more each time. I am not going to sit here and tell you how they are under-appreciated classics, the truth is much of my appreciation of them is entirely down to the role these films have played in my life. However, in so many ways these films were so far ahead of their time.
We have seen recently how the films and TV shows of 20 years ago are being criticised by the the millennial generation for containing homophobic and sexist jokes, racist stereotypes and pretty much every other form of bigotry you can think of. The Simpsons and Friends being just two high profile examples*. Now I may be a white male whose love of these films (seriously, I have a Bill & Ted tattoo) probably blinds me to their flaws but I would like to think that both Bill & Ted films hold up pretty damn well to modern standards of morality. I am overdue for a re-watch of them but off the top of my head the only homophobic slur in either film was uttered by the evil robots in order to demonstrate their unlikeability. The two main characters show nothing but respect for their girlfriends by honouring their wishes to wait until after they are married to have sex. The only potential racial issue in either is the portrayal of Ghengis Khan but given the historic nature of the character any cliches or stereotypes are ones attributed directly to the historic perception of one specific individual than of his people (if there are any scenes of references you feel I have forgotten or overlooked please do leave a comment and I would be happy to discuss it). But more than that the basic morality that flows through the film is something the world needs so much more of today. “Be excellent to each other” is more than just an iconic line in the first film its the mantra that the two lead characters quite clearly live by. At no point in the film do we see them act in a malicious manner or even utter an unkind word to somebody who didn’t very much deserve it (The guy who stabbed Ted absolutely deserved to be called a “medieval dickweed” and Satan is in fact the “ugly, red source of all evil”). Even when everything is going against them they take it all with grace and good humour, they remain calm and look to solve problems rather than get angry about them even if that problem is being murdered and sent to hell (In fact, if two guys as nice as Bill and Ted can be sent to hell surely thats proof that heavy metal is in fact the devils music?).
*For the record my opinion on revisionist analysis of old media is roughly in line with that of Bill Maher
We are now being told a third instalment of the Bill & Ted franchise could be on the horizon. It will feature Bill & Ted having reached middle age still not having written the music upon which the promised future utopia will be built. Personally I hope that it turns out that its not their music that saves the world but simply their attitude to life. If everyone was a bit more like Bill & Ted the world would be a much better place. If everybody would just “be excellent to each other” and “party on dudes” then maybe one day we will finally be able to accurately state that “The best place to be is here. The best time to be is now”