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From Yellowjackets to The Beatles: Get Back - get back to your tribal roots

My schoolmate yelped and recoiled as if bitten by something.

Given the time and place - 1990, biology class - being bitten by something was likely because, back then, we were still slicing up small animals to see how they worked.

But my friend hadn't been attacked by a kamikaze frog, his theatrics was a physical reaction to reading in a music magazine (as I said, biology class, not chemistry) that radio station Triple J would soon by coming to our insignificant speck on the map.

In December 1989, when the Sydney-based national youth network began broadcasting from regional centres, even farther-flung communities such as ours were able to listen in, too. We caught those willow-the-wisp transmissions with the same boombox aerials, up until then, had been delivering us a steady stream of top-40 hits from any commercial FM concern we might stumble upon, not to mention the local AM station's 24-hour rotation of Eagle Rock by Daddy Cool.

It's not that we didn't have affection for the mainstream, we just knew there was something more, something different, out there. We knew this because we bought Rolling Stone, NME and Melody Maker from our - come to think of it, now - extraordinarily well-stocked newsagentsand, even more acutely, because we'd been watching Rage on ABC TV since 1987.

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Before Rage - a weekly, religious experience far more profound than anything found at church - there was Rock Arena, also on the ABC. I can still remember the night it screened the ethereal film clip to Birthday by Bjork's band The Sugarcubes.

For a certain cohort, the shift Triple J generated across our cultural landscape was seismic. This one act of broadcasting acumen generated a new breed in the bush; kids who had access to the kind of influences which would set many on a trajectory out of reach to the previous generation.

Apologies to Miles Davis, but, for us, it was the birth of cool (and apologies to everyone else, because we Gen-Xers still think we're cool. Please let us continue to do so, it's all we have).

It was also the birth of a powerful new tribe - the alternative rock crowd, a bong-ponged, flanneletted super nova of conflicted consumerism, nihilism and, ultimately, futility.

Good times.

We are all members of one kind of tribe or another.

From music to sport, from prison to politics, from the blackboard to the boardroom, tribalism is at the very heart of who we are, and storytellers have been milking the concept for centuries.

Whether we're a Capulet or a Montague, a Jet or a Shark, the last of the Mohicans, or a man called Horse, we're inescapably tribal, precisely why new Showtime series Yellowjackets is so deliciously addictive (that, and the fact much of it is set the '90s).

Christina Ricci plays Misty Quigley, perhaps the most unhinged of the Yellowjackets characters. Picture: Paramount+

Christina Ricci plays Misty Quigley, perhaps the most unhinged of the Yellowjackets characters. Picture: Paramount+

With lashings of that wonderful period alt rock (Smashing Pumpkins, Liz Phair, PJ Harvey) Yellowjackets is a gore-ridden, guilt-free pastiche of middle-aged Gen-X angst informing a plot which, among many others, borrows gleefully from Alive (plane crash, cannibalism), Lost (plane crash, weird stuff), Lord of the Flies (deracination, survivalist brutality) and Mean Girls (teenage nastiness, social climbing).

Streaming on Paramount+, Yellowjackets is the story of a New Jersey high school girls soccer team forced to survive in the Canadian wilds for 19 months after its flight goes down. Using flashbacks, we watch the girls of 1996 go fully tribal in the woods and see what damage this has wrought on the women of 2021.

Juliette Lewis brings middle-aged Gen-X angst to the gore-ridden plot. Picture: Paramount+

Juliette Lewis brings middle-aged Gen-X angst to the gore-ridden plot. Picture: Paramount+

As the media sniffs something not quite right about the celebrated survival story, those who emerged from the ordeal to pursue lives varying in terms of success and realised potential (did I mention the Gen-X existential angst?) must revisit their gruesome past and the pact that has kept them quiet for a quarter of a century.

As with a Heathers-esque tone which swings from self-aware satire to slaughterhouse sanctity, the casting of the adult team-members (Christina Ricci, Juliette Lewis, Tawny Cypress, Melanie Lynskey) and their younger selves is impeccable, some of the middle-agers played by actors who came to prominence around the same time that plane was ploughing through the trees.

Lynskey's whip-smart teen-turned-disgruntled-housewife Shauna Sheridan is our linchpin, the versatile New Zealand actress again showing why countryman Peter Jackson plucked her from obscurity to star alongside Kate Winslet in Heavenly Creatures, released all the way back in 1994.

Then there were four

Jackson, like Lynskey, has come a long way since Heavenly Creatures and this week another of the director's passion projects is realised with the streaming release of The Beatles:Get Back on Disney+.

The most anticipated "found footage" offering since the Blair Witch sequel(which should've been burnt at the stake), Get Back is a three-part special following The Beatles as they make their penultimate studio album, Let It Be, released in 1970 (Abbey Road was made after Let It Be, but released beforehand).

Kiwi director Peter Jackson curated almost 60 hours of unseen footage to create The Beatles: Get Back. Picture: Disney+

Kiwi director Peter Jackson curated almost 60 hours of unseen footage to create The Beatles: Get Back. Picture: Disney+

Jackson was given access to almost 60 hours of unseen footage filmed during Michael Lindsay-Hogg's 1970 documentary, "Let it be", and the Kiwi's curation of the new material seems to, at least partially, dispel the notion The Beatles were in their death throes while making the album. Even though they were. George did quit, after all.

Beatles fans are as tribal as Springsteen zealots or those poor old goths who adored The Cure so much they thought they might just die, and, indeed, the rock and roll dichotomy of the late 20th century can be conveniently established with the simple question "Beatles or Rolling Stones?"

But The Beatles was one of the few cultural institutions which transcended tribalism, somehow finding a way to appeal to occupiers of almost any strata.

The Beatles perform an impromptu concert on a London rooftop in 1969. Picture: Disney+

The Beatles perform an impromptu concert on a London rooftop in 1969. Picture: Disney+

This super power shines on a gloomy January day in 1969 when the Fab Four hold that impromptu concert on the rooftop of Apple Corps headquarters high above Savile Row in London's fashion district. Below, passers-by in bowler hats and plastic raincoats and miniskirts are transported when they hear the Liverpudlians play live for the first time in more than two years.

"What would you like to see The Beatles do now?" two young women are asked in the doco.

"A show. A live show," they answer.

The tribe has spoken.

This story Get back to your tribe: From Yellowjackets to yellow submarines first appeared on The Canberra Times.