Man, I’d be nervous if I were a famous person this Summer. Scary! But for the second time in the space of two months, a celebrity death has really affected me. I think it’s because I knew John Hughes in two ways. When I was a teenager, John Hughes’ movies meant everything to me. For one thing, because the guy just got me and people my age in a way none of the other movies did. This was the way people I knew dressed and talked and felt. Molly Ringwald was meant to be Everygirl and you felt she was you. Well, you felt she was you in some fantasy, which was even better. In the teen novels I read, the protagonist was always pretty but didn’t know it. You found out because someone said it to her, “you’re so lovely!” and not because she looked in the mirror and thought so. So, you know, it could be you. Maybe you were beautiful but just somehow hadn’t realized it. I think it was the same with Molly Ringwald. She was pretty but not conventionally and she was worried about her appearance just like you were. Maybe when you dressed a bit differently and mooned over the unattainable hot guy, you really were more attractive than you supposed. And it was OK that you didn’t really fit in, that you wanted to be like everyone else but also not, because Molly was the same way, and she was just as angst-filled and confused about it as you were, but somehow, she always ended up better than all right.
Sixteen Candles, my favorite Hughes movie, is a genius mix of ordinary teenage life mixed in with utter fantasy. It’s done in such a skillful way that you didn’t look at it as fake, but rather, what might happen to you if the earth had turned slightly differently. It was you, all right, in your quirky and less-than-popular way, but the sort of things you dreamed of actually came true. I remember thinking, “this would never happen,” but not in a snarky way, rather in a, “but it seems so real – how fantastic!” way. As you might imagine, I was pretty cynical back then too, but I never sneered at these films; the details were too right to be faux.
But the best part of John Hughes movies was the music. People now like to remember this as “80′s music” but it wasn’t, at least in this country. I chose a random week in 1984, the year Sixteen Candles came out, and the top 10 singles were from Stevie Wonder, Prince, The Cars, Chicago, Madonna, Billy Ocean, John Waite, Bruce Springsteen, Sheila E., and Cyndi Lauper. The Sixteen Candles soundtrack had Oingo Boingo, Altered Images, Nick Heyward, and the Thompson Twins. Pretty in Pink had OMD, New Order, Belouis Some, Nik Kershaw, Echo & the Bunnymen, and the Smiths. Some Kind of Wonderful had Pete Shelley, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and Flesh For Lulu. The Breakfast Club famously got people in the United States to realize that Simple Minds existed. These were not artists you heard on mainstream stations, this was my music. And John Hughes made it the soundtrack to his teens’ lives, just as it was to mine. Like Molly Ringwald in his movies, for one moment, my weird music made good and was listened to by the cool kids, and it astounded me. I think this is what really made me give my heart to him forever.
That would have been the end of the post had I not one day gotten to meet John Hughes and tell him this myself. Because this guy did love music and ended up starting a label which at one point, my last label distributed. I was a peon at the time and saw lots of famous people go in and out of my boss’ office. I didn’t often get to formally introduce myself. But it was John freaking Hughes, so I did a rare thing and begged my boss to introduce me. Now, I have met a lot of famous people and I’m not bragging. Because when I say I met them, it was just that. “Hi, I’m Becca, nice to meet you, Robert Plant.” Handshake. And that’s it. Sometimes I say, “I love your record.” But it would be a stretch to say that any of these are “conversations.” They are mostly useful to look back at and say, “I met so and so! I shook his hand and looked into his eyes!”
Aside from artists I was actually working with, John Hughes is the only famous person I can honestly say I had a conversation with. I told him how much his movies had meant to me and how I had loved the music. He stood with me in my sad cubicle and discussed various things about his films and why he had chosen the artists he had. I barely remember what was said. What I do remember was how he seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say, gave thoughtful answers, and was happy that his work had had such an impact on me. Really one of the nicest people I have ever met. in fact, I still work with the boss I had back then and when I told him that Hughes had died, he immediately said, “he was the nicest guy on earth.” So true.
But the one thing I will never forget about that encounter is how as he walked away down the hall to meet with another executive, he pointed at my sweater (I just happened to wear this one – you cannot script these things!), smiled, and said “pretty in pink!”
I always knew John Hughes thought I was pretty.
Title comes from the soundtrack song with which I identified the most. It’s from Pretty in Pink.