Over the holiday weekend, I revisited the movie Shampoo with my gal-pal. I’d watched this years ago, probably during my college years and probably drunk enough that I thought the thing was set and filmed in roughly 1971 or so. Turns out it was filmed in ’75 and set in ’68, making it a period piece at the time it came out.
That means that not only were the fashions in Shampoo supposed to be highly laughable even to its initial viewers, but the music (selected, it seems, by Phil Ramone and buddies) was cleverly chosen to represent the “sixties.” And I think they did a great job of it–during the Nixon election party, we hear a classy Tijuana-brass type version of an early Beatles song, and the shift to a hippie party afterwards is accompanied by a shift in Beatles music–this time by the abrasive, hard guitar sound of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” signalling the changes wrought in the mix-sixties that took rock and youth culture past the point where it could be used as simple evening wear.
We also hear snippets of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” by the Beach Boys at the movie’s start and end. It feels a little forced: one of those typical, Pavlovian book-ends they often do in movies to hammer home a conclusion (“Remember this song from the beginning, fair viewer? Clearly we’re concluding now!”) but it does serve to contrast nicely with all the brash hippiedom we’ve heard throughout. If the Beach Boys are the older, more innocent brothers of the Beatles, then they are wary enemies of neighborhood toughs like Hendrix and Jefferson Airplane and pretty much every other band we heard in the film. Here, Brian Wilson’s sonorous voice champions an idyllic and wide-eyed America that Warren Beatty’s hairdresser somehow has at his core, even though he’s at the same time deceitful and sluttish. He’s full of that yearning, and the simple American dream of starting his own business, but he fritters it away somehow in endless entwining lies and affairs (though, admittedly, every other character seems busy doing the same).
However, what really really bugged me about the movie was the original music by Paul Simon. In one of the few touches of the movie that remind you of the then-present 1975 (the others being Nixon and Agnew on television and the foreshadowing of a Vietnam casualty), whenever there’s a poignant moment for Beatty’s character to be, say, riding a motorcycle and thinking about the meaning of it all, we hear soft guitars and Simon’s gay-ass voice singing bee-weep bee-woos and crooning us softly. See, this scene is poignant, man! Just as poignant as if we had Clapton here to hold that one bluesy note and then do a soft little noodle.
That’s one of the things that annoys me so about Woodstock-era rock, and the softer or rootsier rock that followed in the early and mid-seventies in this country. It’s as though all that came before was classic but dated, and somehow rock had broken past those silly trappings such as hooks and into a bright dawn where we let it all hang out into the true and serious meanings of real life. Simon even throws his own “Feeling Groovy” into the soundtrack earlier, seemingly in a deliberate contrast between his earlier, “goofier” work and his modern “deep” stuff.
Urg. Anyway, Paul Simon was great when he was writing songs for the Cyrkle, and even pretty good with Garfunkel on them there folky songs. But his solo career is perhaps only slightly better than a wet fart wrapped up in a baby seal hide and stuffed into your dead grandmother’s vagina.