Left of Center – Suzanne Vega (1986)

She didn’t really hit big until the following year with “Luka,” but Suzanne Vega caught my attention with this gem from the “Pretty in Pink” soundtrack. And while Luka certainly brought her that attention, it might actually be my least favorite of her songs (I’ll take “Left of Center” and “Solitude Standing” any day of the week).

But that’s not really the point of this post – if anything, this is simply the medium to get me talking about John Hughes, specifically his use of music in his movies. Quite simply, Hughes was simply masterful at finding some up and comers – especially in the Alternative or New Wave fields – and then using them to fully complement the angst he had on the screen.

And, for my money, he did it nowhere better than in “Pretty in Pink,” a top three soundtrack for this guy (“The Big Chill” and “Garden State” are my others – scores are a different story…).

It’s very easy to focus on the hits from this movie – OMD’s “If You Leave,” and The Psychedelic Furs’ “Pretty in Pink,” or even New Order’s “Shell Shock.” Don’t get me wrong, I love them all – and Hughes used each in a spot that makes perfect sense to me. But, to me, he’s never used a song as well as he did with New Order’s “Elegia.”

And that’s where I actually have to admit something, so if you’re still reading, well, you’ll learn something about me. For the longest time, in my head, I’ve thought Hughes used “Elegia” during the scene where Duckie sat in the rain after unloading his soul and love for Andie as she was about to go out with Blane.

Yet I was wrong about that – in fact, I have no clue what song that is playing in that scene. But I was SO convinced that it was “Elegia” playing there. It makes perfect sense that it would play there! Yeah, no clue what made me mis-remember that for so many years. (In reality, it really is used well, just not until much later in the movie, when Andie is crushed over Blane blowing her off).

Perhaps it’s that I always associated with Duckie? I really don’t know. And that brings me to another issue. Trust me when I tell you that I had my Duckie moments in high school. And there was absolutely an Andie to that Duckie – and man, was I unfair to her. It took me a REALLY long time to realize how shitty that actually was. Perhaps if this article would have existed back then, I would have understood this better (or maybe I wouldn’t have, who knows?) And this the crux for me:


Instead, a generation of American male teenagers, me included, saw themselves in Duckie—charming, quirky and overlooked. Duckie belonged an elite gang of best friends “Pretty in Pink” screenwriter John Hughes made the beating heart of his ’80s teen filmography—Cameron Frye in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” Farmer Ted in “Sixteen Candles” and Watts in “Some Kind of Wonderful”—characters who embodied the pain of being young and not yet able to be honest about your own desires.


And yes, I also saw myself in Cameron and Watts – and yes, I know that says incredibly horrible things about my angst at the time…

“If you want me, you can find me, left of center off of the strip.”

Perhaps that line from “Left of Center” is really what I’m trying to get to with this post? Perhaps it’s about coming to terms with being so in love with somebody and projecting the world upon them and how absolutely unfair that can be. I know for a fact that I was rotten in this regard – and I have worked hard to atone for that. I wish that I would have been more willing to stand off on my own rather than trying to be somebody I wasn’t – but that was high school in a nutshell for me. And my 20s.

Incidentally, if you’re looking for it on the soundtrack, you won’t find it, as it wasn’t included. You’ll have to go to their “Low Life” album, or, if you really prefer, you can click here for the 17 minute extended version of it.

 

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The Power of Music…

I’ve always been amazed at how strong a tie I have to music. From the very early days of The Beatles and The Bee Gees, to my XX years (and if you’re from the Pittsburgh area and even remotely close to my age, then you know exactly what I’m talking about), I have always been shocked as to how songs can trigger memories from the playing of their first note. Now, let’s get real, I’m not going to even attempt to say that all 3,818 songs in my collection have me reminiscing, but a vast majority do just this.

Music has acted as many different things to me – a release, certainly, but at times it has also been therapeutic. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it’s helped to contribute to some tough times as well. It never fails that when I’m going through something, there’s a lyric out there that seems to get it just right.

The way that we each listen to music is absolutely amazing to me – you and I can listen to the exact same song and hear so many different things. You might be a bass person or a guitar person, while I’m firmly in the voice and lyrics “camp.” On top of this, many times I’m not even hearing the actual song, but focused on the memories I have attached to the song itself. For many of the formative years of my life, these lyrics were coming in the form of songs from The Smiths, U2, The Cure, REM, Echo and the Bunnymen, INXS, a-ha and New Order. Add in a more than healthy dose (okay, obsession) with John Hughes’ movies, and you’ll understand why it is that I don’t think about the tribute to Ian Curtis that New Order’s Elegia is, but rather the strain that Jon Cryer’s Duckie is feeling as he pines away for Molly Ringwald’s Andie in Pretty in Pink.

Growing up, I was influenced greatly by the music that my mom and dad were listening to.  Being in Albuquerque with my mom meant Eddie Rabbit and Gerry Rafferty and Leo Sayer and Air Supply (oh, what a cheesy, cheesy video) and Exile (and I can assure you that I had no idea what they were singing about, but I definitely knew it was just… dirty…), whereas when visiting my dad in the summers the music steered more toward The Beatles and Seals and Crofts and Barry Manilow and Jim Croce. (Go ahead and chuckle, it really doesn’t matter to me…) Either way, there always seemed to be music playing. But it also seemed to be their music, if that makes any sense. It was music that they had chosen to listen to, not me.

 

Picture me belting out I Write the Songs with a set of these bad boys on. Now picture it being 7 am and my dad just getting to sleep after working the dead shift. Yeah, that didn’t always go over well…

Until I heard Supertramp’s The Logical Song, that is.

There was something about this album that just flat out clicked with me. I remember begging and pleading with my mom to buy me the album – and then begging some more. I finally got a copy after a good report card and still remember that day like it was yesterday. There were two Pizza Huts in the Albuquerque area and one was a lot further away from where we were living – but this was the one that had songs from this album on its jukebox. I bet you can guess which one we ended up going to.  Getting the LP wasn’t enough, though – we couldn’t listen to it in the car, so we had to get a copy on 8 track. (I know that I just lost some of you, but there’s a pic below on the far right of an 8 track tape).

When I returned to Greensburg that summer, my dad had a copy of the album already ready to go for me. I swear I wore grooves in to it. It was mine.

Fourth grade found my mom remarried and a cross country trip to upstate New York in the passenger seat of a U-Haul truck. It was also one of the toughest years of my life. I was certainly old enough to know that this wasn’t a good situation for anybody – and I retreated in to Bob Seger’s Against the Wind as well as an even unhealthier dose of Breakfast in America.  I listened to both over and over and over again, falling asleep to them every night only to wake up several times as the tape clicked over to the next “program” – until I would finally reach over and turn the thing off.

It was at this time that a particular song started to stick with me. At first, I must admit that Lord is it Mine was by no means my favorite on the album, but fast forwarding on an 8 track wasn’t the easiest thing to do, so I tended to listen to everything front to back anyways.  It was during this time period, however, that I truly became obsessed with this song. And it was during this time period that I truly started to doubt. I was eight.

I woke up this morning and did what I typically did – I turned on my computer and started to listen to music on shuffle while I got myself going. I can’t tell you the last time I have heard anything from Breakfast in America, let alone Lord is it Miine, but it came on this morning. I haven’t been able to get the song – or that year out of my head.

The power of music is a mighty strong thing…