I wanted to talk a little about this documentary that I found yesterday. It’s about a rock band called Halyx, created by Disney in the early 80’s, featured at it’s California park for a single summer engagement, and then never heard from again. While it’s weird enough that Disney thought to create a “rock band” in the truest sense of the word in the early 80’s, the real payoff is that the entire production was presented as “Star Wars meets rock and roll” complete with costumes and special effects.
As a lifelong geek of course was was annoyed at learning about this now, and not back in the summer of 1981 when Halyx was playing the stage beneath Space Mountain in Disneyland (only having been 7 years old at the time, and on the completely opposite coast notwithstanding). What irked me more was that apparently aside from a few grainy reels of video and memories of those involved, nothing of Halyx’s performances remain. As stated in the documentary, no one saw the value of keeping master tracks around beyond their usefulness back then.
What you need to understand — especially if you’re too young to remember an age before Disney dominated the entire planet — is that a “Star Wars-like rock band” in 1981 was a complete anomaly not just for Disney, but almost anywhere. As the documentary states, the only legit comparison would have been KISS, with their make-up and on-stage theatrical performances. Disney, on the other hand, was a bastion of wholesome family entertainment. The only musical acts present in their parks were barbershop quartets and inoffensive revue-style shows that families could bounce in and out of in between rides. Halyx on it’s own was unique; Halyx of and at Disney was Twilight Zone-level stuff.
The thing that really got to me after I finished watching this documentary, though, was how thoroughly invested in the project everyone was. Today we might not blink at the idea of a guy in a 7-foot fur suit playing bass on stage because we have musical subgenres like “nerdcore” and “filk”, but Halyx was completely un-Disney and there was no guarantee that it would last more than a single performance: if the audience wasn’t into it, the executives would follow suit. It was a complete crap-shoot yet everyone from the music division folks who created the idea to the performers who were asked to do some really bizarre things on stage seem completely proud of what they accomplished that summer.
I can’t stop thinking about how creativity is viewed in 2020 because I honestly think that if Halyx was created today (without the benefit of this documentary) it would get so much backlash that those involved couldn’t help but feel that it was never worth the grief. I can’t say why there’d be backlash because I’m constantly in awe of the dumb shit people find to criticize at levels usually reserved for war-crimes. There’s a lot of value in outrage, as “status” is the second most valuable currency in the Internet era (the first being actual currency, naturally) and it is so easy to get views by throwing creatives and their works under the virtual bus in exchange for likes and follows. A person doesn’t even need to believe the outrage they’re peddling so long as they can do it convincingly; the appetite for being angry about entertainment is so bottomless that whole swaths of the Internet will take whatever they can gather to satisfy their feelings of perpetual anger.
What I’m left with after watching this documentary is a sad feeling. On one hand, I’m sad that things didn’t turn out so well for those involved. On the other hand, I’m sad that we’re never going to live in a time where something like Halyx can happen again as unironically as it did in the summer of 81. We won’t have a period where folks can say “this sounds really stupid, but let’s do it, believe in it fully, and do it exceedingly well” and to have that passion recognized and welcomed without ulterior motives waiting in the wings. There’s a very high level of innocence in the story of Halyx, and I really miss that even though I didn’t know they existed until yesterday afternoon.