First, if you’ve not yet heard the most triumphant news (or just want to revisit this most momentous occasion for air guitar), please watch the announcement video. I’ll wait.
I was genuinely taken aback at how much 5 digits could mean to me. 8.21.20. After a decade-plus of talk, after slow but unsure movements in the right direction, Wyld Stallyns have finally put a date on their most illustrious return. Is it joy or mere nostalgia that I feel?
“Be Excellent To Each Other.” It’s a simple principle. Indeed, it’s so simple that a California-slacker-metalhead-dum-dum could grasp it. Rather, a pair of such personages could grasp it. And that’s the heart of Bill & Ted: their mannerisms and naiveté are the joke, but their authenticity and wonderment are the joy. I’m loathe to reduce these characters’ cultural staying power to one characteristic, but I am confident that at least one essential component of their continuing power is their joy.
It’s easy to be cynical about the state of music these days. You don’t have to try. “There’s no good new music these days” is barely tempered by the thought “There is good new music—it’s just that nobody (else but me) knows about it.” “All the legends are dead or dying” is the declaration of despair, but so is the hollow satisfaction in realizing that many legends live on, albeit only in decades-long greatest hits tours so lavish they revel in the display of style over substance.
In times such as these, nostalgia seizes us, and we reciprocate by holding on for dear life. Is this why I care so much about Bill & Ted 3?
As Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure opens, we find a band who love music so much that they devote everything to it, despite not knowing how to play their instruments. Flunking History class is most egregious because it would break up the band. The bonds of shared music are the bonds of friendship. By the end of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, Wyld Stallyns have attained musical proficiency, but their real achievement lies in the family and friendships that accompany their musical ascendency. “God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll To You II” plays the outro—again, the music is the bond, and the bond is celebrated via music.
But that was 1991. Now, with film #3, Bill & Ted are you and me (just as they were then). The song that would change the world—their destiny—never has materialized, and their world falls apart. “What went wrong?” “Why am I here, like this, with more years behind than lie before?” “Has the music died?” Cynicism and despair come so easily. Yet we know, whenever we revisit these characters, that at their heart they represent joy.
Improvisation, No Fadeout
Dum-dums though the titular duo be, the real joke—the gleeful exuberance of the characters and of their franchise—lies in the abandoned tenacity that allows them to overcome the obstacle of time itself, to defeat even death itself, to assemble a team of compatriots, ascend to heaven, and return with the gift of rock ‘n’ roll. Bill & Ted are no mere protagonists; they are heroes, and their heroism is both driven by and cemented in their love of the music.
And heroes must face the music. “Face the music.” “Face the facts.” Again, cynicism and despair come so easily. But these are not our only idioms. “Face a challenge.” “Face front, true believers.” This is the language of heroes, and connotes the positive direction of our energies. Whatever lies behind, we face the future. We face the possibilities. No song is ever finished. Another note can always be played. Some will burn out. Some will fade away. But anyone can jam.
“Be excellent to each other.” “Make sweet music together.” “Face the music.” And…