Don’t you forget about me


There’s a Chicago radio station that I don’t much listen to, but they’re having an 80s-themed weekend. I’ve written about 80s music before, because music mattered to me more in that decade than it ever had before, and more than it ever has since. And I doubt I’m the only one who’s like that, either.

When the 80s began, I was in the final years of elementary school. Life outside of my parents’ house had never even crossed my mind. And when the 80s ended, I was a senior in college, and life under my parents’ roof was the last thing that I wanted.

The 80s were the transitional decade for me, and the music from those years makes me remember. They take me back, in the way that nothing else can. And in the center of that decade was The Breakfast Club. I wasn’t out on my own yet when the movie came out in 1985, but I sure was thinking about it. And just a couple of years later, I left my parents home and never went back.

I was mindful of all this as I watched the movie tonight with my 14 year-old daughter. The teen years of this decade will be for her what the 80s once were for me. Whatever the future holds is not yet determined, but she’ll go through all the things that I did once upon a time.And I won’t ever forget about her, that’s for sure.

Will you stand above me?

Breakfast Club

Last night, as I was writing about a now-defunct place in Las Vegas called Club Bingo, it got me thinking about other types of clubs as well. This is the way my mind works sometimes, for better or for worse. I thought of the Mickey Mouse Club, and Sam’s Club, and even about club sandwiches.

But the Club that really stuck in my mind was The Breakfast Club, the John Hughes movie that captured the zeitgeist of being a teenager in the 80s about as well as anything ever did. I remembered how, in a fit of teenage stupidity, I swiped a promotional standup for the movie from a video store, and as a result I had Judd Nelson and the rest of them perched on the dresser in my bedroom. I also had a cardboard standup for Rocky IV, which I got from a movie theater at some point. So I had Sly Stallone and the Brat Pack looking out at my room every day, at least until I went away to college in 1986. It’s very strange, the things you can remember sometimes.

When I started to think about The Breakfast Club, for the strangest and most tangential of reasons, I went onto Imdb to see what I could learn about the movie. And there were some interesting things which I had never known before. Of course, the truth of unattributed things found on the internet has to always be taken with a very large grain of salt, but it’s interesting to consider them anyway.

For example, I did not know that John Cusack was cast in the role of Bender, but John Hughes decided to cast Judd Nelson in the role instead. If it happened that way, it was a good move on his part because Bender is what made that movie work: he was intense, and stand-offish, and generally just a jerk. The rest of the ones who had detention that day were all repulsed by him, as I suppose everyone in the theater was, too. And there’s no way, that I can see, John Cusack would have pulled that off. I love John Cusack’s work, but he just seems like the anti-Bender to me.

But the edge that Judd Nelson brought to Bender wasn’t all good. Apparently, from what Imdb reported, Nelson was contemptuous of Molly Ringwald off camera, and Hughes considered firing him as a result. Paul Gleason, who played Vernor, the hardass disciplinarian who provoked Bender as much as he could, convinced Hughes that Nelson was just doing it to remain in character. So Hughes relented, and Nelson finished the movie. But he also swore to never work with Nelson again and this–if Imdb is to be believed–prevented any Breakfast Club sequels from ever being made. It would have been interesting to see what became of the different characters at some point in the future, but they’ll just have to remain etched in one place. like when Bender raises his fist at the end of the movie. Finis Bender, I suppose.

The most curious factoid that I learned–in case it’s actually true–was about the song “(Don’t You) Forget About Me.” That song is as much a part of the movie as anything else, and I can’t hear the song on the radio without thinking about the movie. There’s a symbiotic link between the song and the movie, and every movie should have something like that.

The song sounds like it could have–and should have–been sung by Billy Idol, who was a big star back in 1985. He turned down the chance to record it, and even the band that did record it, Simple Minds, wasn’t very keen on it, either. And yet the song was recorded, and it became a hit, and life was probably never again the same for Simple Minds after that. It just goes to show that things work out, whether or not we actually want them to.

And now, 27 years after the fact, I can look back at my promotional cardboard standup, and the movie that it was promoting, and the song that was made for it, and think to myself “Chicks cannot hold they smoke. That’s what it is.” That’s just one of the things I learned from The Breakfast Club. Does that answer your question?

Bridging the gaps

Think back to high school for a moment. Either it was a pleasant time of your life, or it wasn’t. But you’ll only have to do it for a couple of minutes. Just trust me on this.

First I want you to picture the valedictorian of your graduating class. Anthony Michael Hall’s character in The Breakfast Club.  The one who gave the address to the class about the future and what it holds, while you just wanted to collect the proof that you were finished, and then hit the graduation parties as soon as possible. Or at least, that was my experience once upon a time.

Now I want you to picture the star athlete of your high school class. Emilio Estevez’ character in The Breakfast Club. A football player, in all likelihood, and a basketball player, too. Perhaps even baseball in the spring, because this person only understood life when competing against someone else. The one who had every girl in the class hoping he would ask her out next. That guy.

The two people I just had you picture in your mind were quite different people, weren’t they? Each had their thing, and made sure to stay as far away from the other as possible. They may or may not have disliked each other, but I’ll bet that neither one wanted the other to get into his proverbial space.

Now imagine that those two people– the jock and the scholar–were actually one and the same. Whoa! Hold on a second. One person who gets better grades than everyone else, and is also the best athlete? Where would anyone find the time to pull that one off? A fair question, indeed.

Billy Bean was such a person in high school. Before going any futher, I have to point out that this is NOT the person who Brad Pitt portrays in Moneyball. That Billy Beane has an “e” at the end of his name, and this Billy Bean spells his last name like Jellybean or Mr. Bean. Same name, different people. Remember that.

Billy Bean, the star athlete and valedictorian of his high school class, was a two-time All-American outfielder in college, was drafted shortly after graduation, and arrived in the major leagues during the 1987 season. The card shown above is his rookie card, at a time when nobody considered that to be an important or valuable thing. You make it to the majors, you get your picture on a card. Simple as that.

Billy Bean played in the majors and the minors, and even played briefly in Japan, from the time this card appeared until 1995. After leaving the game, a story in the New York Times in 1999 “outed” him as a gay man, and after acknowledging this fact he has written a book, served as a motivational speaker, and built a successful real estate business in Florida.

The only other professional athlete of any major team sport–sorry, Martina Navratilova–to publicy acknowledge being gay was the late Glenn Burke, who I wrote about here. It would seem that gay athletes aren’t comfortable with revealing this to other players or to the general public. Society has come a long way on gay rights in my lifetime, including open service in the military and in Judas Priest, but the sporting world appears to be behind the curve in this sense.

I wonder who the first athlete to publicly come out during their playing career will be. Whoever it is will need to be very strong, in order to upset the apple cart that has always existed in professional sports. Former teammate Brad Ausmus has publicly signaled his acceptance of Billy Bean, but there’s no indication that others would do so with one of their own teammates. The fact that no professional athlete has yet taken this step during his or her playing career suggests that Ausmus is the exception, instead of the rule.

As a society, we’ve never had to reconcile a professional athlete with someone who’s open about being gay, at least not while that person is still playing the game. And that’s unfortunate. I hope that changes someday soon. And Billy Bean–who has successfully bridged the gaps between star athlete and valedictorian, and between pro athlete and openly gay man–will deserve a special mention when it does.