He was the kind of kid that could get away with murder. He didn’t come from privilege. He wasn’t dynasty or royalty. His mother was a domestic, his father was career military. He couldn’t buy his way out of a sticky situation, he could never bargain his way out of a losing argument. Not that he would ever have a need, because he would make sure he would never put himself in that situation to begin with, or at the very least, try not to get caught doing it. He was slightly spoiled, a budding criminal, charming with the ladies but slightly reptilian. He was my best friend. He was my best friend until I graduated high school, and I caught him red handed stealing money from my room. Although he denied it, I’m sure he was getting funds to get a month’s supply of Purina Monkey Chow. He and I went down different roads.
The year was 1985. Summer. In a matter of days I’m starting my Sophomore Year in high school. So far, we held these truths to be self-evident: The food court at the Mall was choice to meet girls and English Leather helped seal the deal, HBO was probably the best thing ever made since Atari, and parents relied on us to program their VCR’s. Or rather, our parents relied on us to program our VCR’s that we let them use on occasion.
“Hey. See if you can come over on Saturday,” he whispered into the phone with a sort of excited glee. “I just taped this really cool movie.”
“Really,” I replied with half interest. “Which one is it?”
“Ever hear of the Breakfast Club?”
How do I know this? Let me throw out a few examples: When you hear the first few chords to The Beatles’ Twist & Shout, is the first thing you think of is four young lads from Liverpool tearing the roof of some German club, or is it a completely unfettered Ferris Bueller leading the entire city of Chicago in a sing-a-long? Ever have a craving for a Cap’n Crunch sandwich? Can you say any of these lines without laughing about the context or completing the line that follows? Betcha can’t:
Besides….MoeLAY really pumps my nads!
Up until this time in the mid-Eighties, Teen Dramas were relegated to the Cliche Siberia that was the after-school special; secular parables that didn’t require a high level of coherence to view, just a set of eyes to watch the pretty lights of a State Farm Insurance commercial. For all the good they presumed to bring, one would be hard pressed to find anyone that grew up in the Eighties that actually remembers any of those shows. Not because they weren’t memorable, because they weren’t. Thank heavens for VH1 coming to the rescue on this item. If it weren’t for them going, “Hey, you aging farts, you remember THIS little nugget of your past? Of course you don’t! Neither do we! In fact we don’t give a rat’s ass if you remember this or not! It’s of no relevance whatsoever! We’re just taking up space so we can pimp our website! Please come to our website! You’ll have to use a computer to get there! You do have a computer, right? Grampa!?” I don’t think any one of us would give it a second thought.
Then, from out of the west comes John Hughes, slowly putting daylight between him and National Lampoon. From 1984 to 1988 (my high school years), he systematically laid out the framework of what the teen drama should be, and for the years that followed, has been used as the Gold Standard. Without Ferris Bueller, there would be no Scrubs, there would be no embracing whatsoever of metafiction either, for that matter. John Hughes’ Shermer, Illinois is in direct correlation to Kevin Smith’s Leonardo, New Jersey, and therefore, accounting for at least 70% of Smith’s New Jersey Saga (Clerks to Dogma).
Did Hughes have an agenda? Not really. Was there any deep message in every film he made? Was he keen to propaganda? Far from it. With the exceptions of his earlier works and later writing gigs, his work had more to do with the current social strata and how we aligned ourselves with it. Was it important on the grand scale? Not in the least. Was it important on the personal level? You better believe it. We, as his target audience, were not used to this type of observational commentary. With his films, we were never lectured to, the morality wasn’t frosted over in that Brady Bunch-ish type of way. We took away from it what we wanted. We were all of us brought into the fold. He knew us. All of us. He knew our dreams, desires, fears and hang ups.
A common hiccup I’ve noticed among some writers–myself included–is when we write dialogue, it more often than not tends to sound like two people, one voice. It’s the result of not properly fleshing out your characters. It sounds awkward and rushed and in the worst circumstances, can ruin a perfectly good idea. Hughes wrote as if he walked a mile in every pair of shoes we owned since we were Fourteen. All of us, from the loner to the jock to the Homecoming Queen, he knew that at the end of the day, we are all human, we are all flawed, and with the possible exception of the invisible social strata keeping us in place, we all wanted the same thing. That’s where the true nature of comedy and drama lay. In the simplest of terms, and the most convenient of definitions, he saw us as he as we were, not how he wanted to see us. John Hughes made it work, made it sing.
And we all listened.
The year is 2008, and in a month or so, I’m going to receive word that I’m going to be a father. At the time a few things are certain: the job that I worked at was horrible, the apartment I was living in was feeling more like a prison, the town that I was living in was feeling more like a ghost town the longer I stayed, and my friend of so many years ago, the one who introduced me to the Breakfast Club, was found dead in his one bedroom apartment. Survived only by his cat. The papers didn’t elaborate on cause of death. They didn’t have to. I could only speculate, but I had a pretty good idea.