A sad coincidence that only one week ago when we paired our first soundtrack album on VINE-YL, I mentioned John Hughes and his immortal soundtracks from the Eighties. We posted the pairing, hopped on a red-eye to North Carolina, and by the time we got our bearings, John Hughes himself was dead. In a macabre way, it’s just par for the course in this ghoulish summer of reckoning, in which so many unique, offbeat, but affecting cultural icons have been swiped from the grid, to be replaced by a new set of tone-setters, trend-makers, heroes and artists. Or maybe we’re just all getting old.
In memory of John Hughes we go back to the well this week with another soundtrack, one of his best. I was first impacted by Pretty in Pink as an eleven year old hanging out with my buddy Daniel Scearce at the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club pool in the summer of ’86. We had just finished sixth grade and were looking forward to the move away from elementary school to the lofty realm of a celebrated private school, unfettered access to pornographic literature and hot post-pubescent girls in uniforms. Musically, I hadn’t yet formed any kind of canon or criteria and had been buying everything from Nena’s “99 Luftballoons” to Toto’s “Rosanna/Africa” to Paul McCartney’s “Spies Like Us” theme song to the Pointer Sisters’ “Goldmine” to Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” (All on 45, which I wish to God I could locate now, all played on a brown Fisher Price record player in my bedroom.)
Pretty in Pink changed all that. It cleared the way for my entry into seventh grade, into new friends and lockers and free time to dick around talking about MTV’s “120 Minutes” from the night before and Sony Walkmen headphones brazenly projecting songs full of nonchalant bad words: Violent Femmes, the Pixies, Black Flag, R.E.M, U2, the Feelies, the Pogues, the Ramones, Edie Brickell and New Bohemians, Run DMC, Whodini. That Christmas I got my first CD player.
Pretty in Pink, though, was the gateway drug. I first heard it booming from a jam box inside the concession stand at the edge of the pool. High school kids would work there in the summer. It was the easiest job imaginable—slinging Chupa Chup pops or crushed ice fountain Cokes or bland, oily hot dogs (still remember that smell!) through an aluminum window towards small, pruny, chlorine-reeking grabby fingers. As soon as I heard the Psycedelic Furs' title track, I was hooked. Not just on the soundtrack, but on the Furs themselves. Soon after, I went out to Record Bar and bought their latest, Midnight to Midnight, on tape. It provided the theme music to many driveway skateboard antics centered on an improperly graded and wholly unsafe wooden ramp.
Those were salad days, to be sure, and it would be a little while before my research of the album would lead me to appreciate other bands such as the Smiths and Echo and the Bunnymen. But I managed in that crucial summer to cast off the delicate mantle of childhood or nerdhood or whatever it was that might have stifled my entry into the world of wannabe adults. I entered high school with a lot to learn, but at least I could grasp the contours of the conversation.
Over the last few years, there has been a slow, systematic, determinedly insistent groundswell of sentiment for the films of John Hughes. Perhaps its because many of us simply started recalling the favorite films of our youth; perhaps because channels like Flix and TCM started screening the films again. Perhaps it's just because today, with the studios’ obsession with family-friendly entertainment and intolerable dreck aimed at high school students grotesquely turning their struggles into smug cartoons, we just realize how good, sharp, true, well-written and heartfelt John Hughes’ movies really were. Nothing today comes close to his level by a country mile.
A year ago, I had the pleasure of attending an outdoor screening of Sixteen Candles at the Hollywood Forever cemetery . It was by far one of the most popular films of the series that summer, and the crowd was as large as any I could remember in all the years of the event. Long Duk Dong was there. So was the busty "Lumberjack" he got together with, Deborah Pollack. She sat right behind our group, laughing along enthusiastically with her friends in lawn chairs. Everyone in the crowd was as high as a cat’s back--the aroma of green heavily perfuming the air--and having the time of their lives.
At the end of the movie, when the parade of cars leaves the wedding and Samantha is left alone in the church to find Jake Ryan poised in front of his sports car waiting for her, there was an audible gasp from the hundreds in the crowd, as if everyone was watching it happen for the first time, all over again.
A special moment from a special, enduring film—just one of a handful of ordinary masterpieces in a career that may not have been fully appreciated, but will continue to be celebrated and admired for many years to come.
P.S.—Some Kind of Wonderful rocks and so does Lick the Tin’s cover of "I Can’t Help Falling in Love (With You)" on its soundtrack.
ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK PRETTY IN PINK, 1986, A&M