Scenes & Songs is a feature focused on the intersection of music and film, or in this case, TV. Each installment intends to examine movies and shows that involve significant musical subject content, distinct soundtracks, or maybe even just an excellent song used for a specific scene.
This is a special series devoted to the first and only season of Freaks and Geeks, one of my favorite TV shows for many reasons (outlined in more detail here), especially because it used music very well. For 18 weeks I will write about the music in each episode. I’m also going to share some stories about my high school experiences. For more detailed recaps, be sure to check out the ongoing write ups by Todd VanDerWerff at the AV Club, or the 2007 posts by Alan Sepinwall.
The main plot of “Beers and Weirs” involves Lindsay throwing a party at the Weir house while her parents are out of town. Once the party begins about halfway through the episode, there is an almost constant soundtrack of six different songs, essentially a party playlist. I couldn’t really find any clips that isolate each song, but here is an overview of what happens when each one plays.
Deep Purple’s “Hush” kicks off the party. The most interesting moment to me while it plays is Millie’s arrival. She has been a long time friend of Lindsay, but with her strongly Christian and guileless ways, Lindsay is starting to feel embarrassed about being friends, or at least self-conscious. Therefore, when interacting with Millie (and also with Sam to some extent), we see some very fascinating glimpses of Lindsay trying to manage her identity. She still hasn’t become great friends with all the freaks and she’s fighting against her typical nature by agreeing to have the party, by allowing Daniel to invite “older” friends, and by trying to downplay her shock at the fake emergency that sprung her from class. Yet she makes sure to put on a front with Millie that she’s cool about having the party, even if she can’t help briefly betraying herself with a moment of genuine upset when Mille informs her she missed a pop Chem quiz. It’s probably not fair to say “Hush” was chosen as a representation of Lindsay trying to quiet the part of her that is resistant to a new lifestyle, but it is definitely compelling to see someone act one way with one group and then act another way as a reaction with a different group. I love how Freaks and Geeks nails this classic part of personal growth.
Next up is “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo” by Rick Derringer over a great long shot that captures a bunch of scenes at the party. As Bill begins drinking the real beer and Lindsay goes through another brilliant identity management scene with Daniel in her bedroom (she tries to brush off the Mathletes, thinking it nerdy, only for Daniel to express some actual admiration about it), “No One To Depend On” by Santana plays. Later, when Cindy arrives and Bill gives Sam the “dominant” speech and Lindsay searches for Daniel, we hear Van Halen's (their second straight appearance in the show) “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” which might slyly reference all the misunderstood actions and feelings on display at this party. Sam doesn’t know how to handle Cindy – Bill’s advice, even if correct, just isn’t right for him. Later Neal chooses to confess his love to Lindsay at the worst possible time: on the heels of Nick’s ill-fated attempt to get physically closer to her. I think Lindsay’s heartbreaking discovery of Daniel making out with Kim – in her bed! – is the most powerful soundtrack moment. “Maybe” by Janis Joplin is a great song and fits so perfectly over that slow, sad shot of Lindsay making her way outside. It's probably the horns and the ache in Janis' voice. The last scenes of the party are set to “Do You Love Me?” by Kiss, another good choice for its lyrics about grappling with surface appearances when it comes to romance.
The scene I am sharing here is a within-the-show performance of the Doobie Brothers or the Byrds “Jesus Is Just Alright” by Millie and Nick. It’s an excellent encapsulation of the simultaneous cringe & elation blend the show does so well. At first, I can’t help feeling a little pained on Millie’s behalf. Her playing seems horribly misguided. But then, Nick is clearly totally stoked about it and when he joins in, it becomes sweet. According to the commentary, his little lyric flub was real, but Judd and Paul liked it so much they left it in, which was the right call. And if you listen closely while Sam and Ken have their conversation, you can hear Millie and Nick continue to sing off camera. Nick even seems to be drumming something.
Besides being a great scene, this represents something I love about sitcoms because they do it well, and it’s a favorite thing because of how amazing it is in real life: the intermingling of different individuals or groups of people and the thrills that come from new connections. As the critics both point out in their reviews, this is an episode more about everyone bouncing off each other as opposed to isolated stories, which is a little odd for a brand new show since we don’t quite know anyone that well. Nick and Millie is an unlikely pair to even say hello, but they are a great representation of the true to life phenomenon of seemingly disparate people connecting.
I kind of wish I was more cognizant during high school that identity and personality are much more fluid than I believed them to be. Yet, it is almost inevitable that with classes, clubs, sports, dating, lunch, parties, etc., the limited ways we define each other with signifiers were challenged, even broken sometimes. In general I credit my high school with doing a pretty good job of offering an environment that increased the potential for mixing. I had a bunch of honors classes where I made many new, though very similar, friends and still hung around with several people from my grade school, but I also met new people by bonding over music, trying out art classes, doing a play, participating in student government, traveling to Europe, and so much more. There were a lot of “Nick and Millie” moments for me, even if I didn't always notice them at the time.
Other mentions of music in the episode:
-The rift between parents and children – important for how teens try to define themselves in new ways during the trials of adolescence – continues to develop with musical shorthand. After Sam teases his parents about going to see Paul Anka, Mr. Weir goes on a tirade about punk music, prompting Lindsay to say the classic line “Every generation is afraid of the music of the next.” Mr. Weir then defends Elvis over the Sex Pistols.
-Nick is very distraught by the death of John Bonham, which plays into his interactions with Lindsay. First, it reinforces his deep love of music with his shock at her suggestion Led Zeppelin just get a new drummer. Later, it serves as an excuse – albeit an unconvincing one – for his attempt to remove Lindsay’s bra outside.
-Music also heightens the difference between Lindsay and Neal when he suggests she play Chicago at the party. She replies that she’ll be playing Zeppelin, Foghat and Sabbath (ironically, none are heard), and Neal’s “Friday night, always a good night for some Sabbath” quip goes completely over her head.
Let’s talk about parties. Or rather, since I barely went to any during high school involving tons of kids, parents out of town, and alcohol, let’s talk about the first time I ever drank. For the first three years of high school, I never tried drinking or anything else because I was terrified of what my parents would do if they found out. Especially my mom and her fiery Italian temper. Meanwhile, one of my good friends growing up went to a different high school than me and during our junior year he began to party. We were growing apart, though we still hung out occasionally, and one night shortly after eleventh grade ended, him, I, and another good friend were spending the evening at the latter friend’s house. It quickly became apparent there was an ulterior motive when the friend unveiled a fifth of vodka and the plans for the evening: we (along with a third friend who had joined) were all going to get wasted.
I was not happy with this plan. Not so much because of my petrifying fear of getting caught. Rather, my real issue was I had my wisdom teeth removed just a few days prior and I was convinced everyone threw up the first time they drank. With a sore jaw and not fully healed sutures in my gums, it seemed like a recipe for disaster. However, my pleas to postpone were not accepted, and we began to drink. There were no shot glasses so we just poured approximations into cups. As you can imagine, the servings were generous. I still couldn’t chew, swallow, or eat normally, so with each drink, the vodka slowly burned its way down my throat as I struggled to put it down. I managed to choke back what probably would have been five or six shots, more than enough to get me drunk for the first time.
It was a little bit fun at first. Much like Bill, there was a lot of amplified goofiness, and like the party in general, there was some good music on. I know I played Smashing Pumpkins, my favorite band in high school. But it became more like Lindsay’s night as it progressed. The friend who brought the alcohol drank so much he completely passed out. We literally could not wake him up, which the third friend and I tried to do when we saw that the friend who hosted was very sick; despite his claims he wasn’t drunk, the sight of him lying on the floor in his own vomit told us otherwise. I’m convinced being intoxicated kept me much calmer than I would have been sober, though it also meant I only really put a token effort towards making sure my friends were alright. I spent the night wide awake listening to my stomach rumble, hoping the vodka would stay down.
My friend was still drunk when he managed to wake up in the morning. He was my ride, so I had to drive him to his house and then walk home. His mom saw me get out of the car and leave, so I waited out the next few days on edge, but he somehow deflected it and our parents never found out. I was glad to have tried drinking and emerge relatively unscathed, but my sick friends and the possibility of getting caught made me aware it could have easily gone differently. It was good to learn drinking wasn’t quite as scary as I imagined. It was also good to learn it wasn’t for me at that time and I didn’t try it again until I got to college.
How about you? Any memorable high school parties or good stories about the first time you tried alcohol? What songs would have you listened to then? Did you have any good Nick and Millie mixing moments during high school?
Other installments in the series:
- The Pilot + Styx "Come Sail Away"
- Beers and Weirs
- Tricks and Treats + Cheap Trick "Gonna Raise Hell"
- Kim Kelly Is My Friend + Van Halen "Ice Cream Man"
- Tests and Breasts + Love Unlimited Orchestra "Love's Theme"
- I'm With the Band + Cream and Rush
Listen to the songs from the show on this Spotify playlist: