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"This is the most exciting day of my life...and I was pulled on stage once to dance at a Bruce Springsteen concert."
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Friday, August 07, 2009

If You Leave, Don't Leave Now

Yesterday was just a regular day like any other.

I had a fun, yet semi-cloud filled day walking on the boardwalk with an old college roommate. We don't get to see each other a lot, so we did what most old friends do- we spent part of the time reminiscing, part of the time catching up. Experiences like that are bittersweet. It's great to look back, but looking back also reminds you of how much time has really passed. That's where the sad part kicks in.

When I got home I went on Facebook to check the old status updates and immediately saw these words, "No! Not John Hughes, too! ..." Immediately, I saw red. Although the words weren't plainly stating what happened, a knot started forming in the pit of my stomach, imagining the worst. So I jumped on Google, typed in John Hughes and got back the dreaded results, "John Hughes dead at 59".

A wave of sadness rushed over me. Instinctively, I turned around and posted my thoughts about John Hughes and his sudden demise. I wrote, "(Janet) is sad John Hughes died. Now the illusion he would ever make a sarcastic, yet heartfelt teenage movie comeback one day is officially dead, too."

So, for the big question that may be on some of your minds, what made John Hughes so special? Well to me, it was so many things. For starters, he captured what it felt like to be a teenager better than any other writer before or since, (although Kevin Williamson sure did try his hardest to claim the title at one point). How a man in his mid-thirties managed to recreate those awkward moments that were so painfully beautiful is what made him a true artist. Not only did he capture a time period so perfectly, he made the portrayal timeless. Sure, those films are riddled in eighties fashion and slang, but somehow their goodness transcends any tackiness. That in itself is a gift my friends.

Not only did he have a knack for wonderful storytelling, he also had an amazing eye for talent. I'm not sure how much involvement he had in this process, but it still needs to be said that his movies made stars out of relatively unknown actors such as Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Macaulay Culkin, John Candy and so many more. Casting of those films was so precise. You knew this because when you tried to imagine the confident Ferris Bueller played by anyone other than Matthew Broderick or the lovable Duckie portrayed by someone rather than Jon Cryer you simply cannot. Go ahead, I dare you.

As if being a talented writer/director/producer wasn't enough, Hughes also had a hand in creating wonderful movie soundtracks. Suddenly songs were synonymous with moments. If I hear "If You Leave" I am instantly transported back to THE prom in Pretty In Pink. When "Don't You Forget About Me" comes on the radio I see Judd Nelson pumping his fist in the air as he did during The Breakfast Club. When The Commitments made a remake of Otis Redding's "Try A Little Tenderness" famous, it was good, but it would never suprass Duckie's lip synching in the record shop. And who could forget the usage, or should I say OVER usage of Yello's "Oh Yeah? Which was prominently featured in two Hughes films alone, Ferris and Planes, Trains and Automobiles, along with many others over the years.

There were many stories about when, why and how John Hughes unofficially bowed out of Hollywood. Some say his downfall started after a falling out with his then muse, actress Molly Ringwald. In fact, some of those same people would argue neither of them would ever be the Lennon without McCartney or peanut butter without jelly. You might be powerful on your own, but never as powerful as you were together.

Others say it was the beginning of the end when Hughes started "going soft" as he went from depicting the jaded, teenage era to the light-hearted family fare of movies like Home Alone or Curly Sue. I have to say I'm more inclined to fall in line with one of these people. While Home Alone was a monster hit, it was never one of my favorites and I never saw the big deal. But then again I think I also held a bit of a grudge. It was almost as if Hughes and Ringwald were the parents and they split up. Culkin was the new wife, or the Hagar to Ringwald's Roth, if you will. Odd comparison, but it works. Sometimes a different kind of magic isn't magical at all.

That's not to say that his death itself isn't sad enough, but to me it was more than the death of a person. Essentially it is the death of an era, too. Not that he ever would have been able to reclaim those glory days of cinema, or that he'd ever really want to, but just the possibility that it *could* happen one day was enough for me. In fact, in looking over some of my old John Hughes related blog posts, I found this one. Written over four years ago now, I had completely forgotten about it. Obviously the movie never came to fruition and even if it ever had it probably would have paled in comparison, but there was hope and on some level, hope was enough.

Since first hearing the news, my awareness of all things Hughes has heightened. Stories about a famous person always surface after they die. That's also when you discover the supposed true measure of a man. It has been refreshing thus far to read nothing but good things about the man and his work. From famous actors expressing their sadness to fulfilled fans conveying their gratitude, all in all, it seems like Hughes was a stand up, non Hollywood sort of guy. In fact, at age 59, an alleged farmer and the father of two children (another rumored reason he left the limelight), Hughes was also married to the same woman for 39 years. A 39 year marriage that not only lasted the Hollywood days, but outlasted them? This is just one of the many reasons why Hughes was so one in a million.

Some of you reading this, mainly those who were not touched by his work in the same way, might be thinking I'm crazy. To you, John Hughes was just a man who made noteworthy films some twenty years ago. It's the same mixed mentality about Michael Jackson's death. Some were appalled regardless of what he did or didn't do over the years. Then there were those who felt he was iconic and no amount of time passing could take that away from him. Others felt his day had come and gone and that his death now was not nearly as prolific had it would have been at the height of his fame and fortune. It's all about perception. But when it comes to the untimely deaths of men like Hughes and even Jackson, I always revert to what once was. Somehow, on some level, their mortality, even if unexpected, reminds me of how much time has really passed, thus bringing this post full circle.

Sometimes it's not even about the death of a life but rather, a life change. The example that comes to mind in all of this was the day the world found out Michael J. Fox had Parkinson's Disease. Not only was Fox so young, his image was synonymous with active, spunky youth. Although the optimistic Fox still lives on, the memory of what he once was would only be that, a memory. It's the fact that things would never be the same again. That's not to say that they ever really would. Looking back is pointless anyhow. But that doesn't stop the nostalgic part of me, a big part, from doing this every so often anyhow.

I don't know what it is that makes so many of us look back with fondness, but it's a popular phenomenon evidenced in pop culture in so many ways. As a society, we're always either looking back or looking forward. It's so hard to truly enjoy living and appreciating the here and now. But as the great character of Ferris Bueller once said, "Life moves pretty fast. You don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it".



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