I bought my ticket to see Ghostbusters on Tuesday for two reasons. A) I wanted to make absolutely certain that I had a ticket; and B) I wanted to make absolutely certain that I’d go.
I wanted to make sure that I’d go to something I absolutely wanted to do. It seems like such a strange phenomenon: to need to force oneself to do something necessary, no matter how frivolous. But in the “adult” world with families and jobs and other pressing demands for time, it is all too easy to let the necessary frivolities slide. Concerts, movies, events. The act of leaving the house at night to partake of something enjoyable often becomes a chore. It’s easy to get my daughter to sleep, throw myself on the bed and turn on the television. Something’s on. A hockey game. The World Series. If nothing else, there’s always Turner Classic Movies. All I need is to see Robert Osborne introduce some third tier Joan Crawford flick and I’m hooked.
It is easy to not make decisions and commitments. It comes so naturally to all of us. Our lives have become so… comfortable that we don’t need to exert any effort to remain perfectly placid.
Or so we think.
During my very first therapy session last winter, my therapist questioned what it is, if anything, I do for myself. What decisions do I make that purely benefit me? I had no answer. I wasn’t pretending to be the greatest husband and father in the universe, devoting all my waking hours to the care of my family. That wasn’t the point. I was plenty selfish of my time. But I participated in nothing. I floated from idle chore to idle writing time to idle video games. I’d stopped making active decisions.
So this week I made the active agreement with myself that I was going to see Ghostbusters on the big screen. I go balls out when I fucking cut footloose.
Background: I quote Ghostbusters at least once a day. It happens unconsciously, in paraphrase and directly. Cats and dogs living together… Ray, when someone asks you if you’re a God… Back off man, I’m a scientist… a couple of wavy lines… That’s right, this man has no Dick… Tell ‘em about the Twinkie… and so on and so forth. I hold three movies sacred. The Empire Strikes Back, Casablanca and Ghostbusters. There are a dozen or so demi-sacred movies. I’m just saying, there are tiers worship. …four feet above the covers! So I’m saying I’ve seen Ghostbusters a few times, including four times in the theater when I was only six years old and still had to hide my eyes every time the Librarian Ghost goes “RAWR!” That was your plan? Get her!?
I got to the theater early-ish to make sure I could get my seat. Left side of the theater, mid-distance from the screen, two to three seats into the row. By the time the movie started, only the front section of seats remained a viable choice for parties of more than two. The seats were filled with people wearing Ghostbusters tees and hoodies. After all, if you’d even botheed to figure out when and where the revivals were playing you were clearly a fan. There was no real publicity, just social media buzz from the Ghostbusters Facebook page driving these screenings on each of the three Thursdays before Halloween.
The theater darkened. The Columbia woman filled the screen, the grainy film stock usurping the screen from the digital perfection of the ads and trailers beforehand. I sat with my bag of slightly buttered popcorn and Cherry Coke, more self-medications, a permanent smile of my face, laughing with the crowd at the same jokes I repeated daily…. shocked to notice anything new. (There’s a Stay Puft ad painted on the brick building next to the Ghostbusters’ office… it’s no wonder Ray couldn’t help himself.) This is catharsis. Laughing in unison with the crowd even before the gag. This is why we make an effort to do something frivolous. This is therapy. Take the time to do what you love. Return to a moment in your childhood when you had nothing to do but enjoy being six (even if you didn’t know what that meant at the time). Even if it’s watching the same movie, listening to the same CD or reading the same book. These frivolous activities have meaning as long as we make the choice and the effort to participate.
I first introduced the concept of “synesthesia nostalgia” in my rumble-worship about movie soundtracks of the 1980’s. Catch up here. In the wake of this rumble I wanted to compile a list of my favorite soundtrack moments from the Me Decade. In order to qualify for the list the movie soundtrack moment must:
A) accompany a memorable scene from an 80’s movie;
B) contain contemporary ’80’s music — either reconstituted (but still representing the ’80’s) or written exclusively for the film;
C) not be played only during a static credit crawl. I’ve allowed opening credit tracks (see #10 and #7) because the set up for a movie can be infinitely more influential than anything that takes place while everyone’s deciding whether or not to take their leftover popcorn home with them.
11. National Lampoon’s Vacation – Opening Credits
Song: Holiday Road by Lindsey Buckingham
I wanted to include Iggy Pop’s opening credits from Repo Man here to be “edgy.” I just couldn’t shake the Griswolds though. “Holiday Road” is such a recognizable stalwart of the 80’s soundtrack pantheon that I couldn’t deny Lindsey Buckingham the credit he deserves. He certainly doesn’t get enough love for being a vital cog in Fleetwood Mac (damn you Stevie Nicks for stealing his thunder). I’m sure a mention in this rumble will certainly put his confidence over the top. Opening credits? Sure. But as far as I can recall this song plays through every second of the entire movie.
10. Back to the Future – Too Damn Loud
Song: The Power of Love by Huey Lewis and the News
The Power of Love appears early in Back to the Future when Marty skates to school after blowing the amps at Doc Brown’s. It then reappears, perhaps less memorably… perhaps more, here when Marty’s band, the Pinheads, audition for the Battle of the Bands and a bespectacled Huey Lewis proclaims the song to be “too darn loud.” A short scene empowered by the song’s repeated appearance in the movie and the trilogy as a whole.
9. Beverly Hills Cop – The Cigarette Truck Chase
Song: The Neutron Dance by the Pointer Sisters
One of my favorite opening scenes to any ’80’s movie. Axel Foley. Cigarette truck. The Pointer Sisters. Movie magic. A perfect blend of synesthesia nostalgia. Fun wiki fact: the Russian government misinterpreted the song, believing the lyrics to be about nuclear war. I’m not sure but this might also have been the first R-rated movie I ever saw. Bonus points for that. And the banana in the tailpipe. And Harold Faltermeyer’s Axel F. And Rosewood. And Taggard. I love this movie so damn much.
8. Caddyshack – Opening Credits
Song: I’m Alright by Kenny Loggins
Dancing gopher. That’s really what this is all about. Nobody can listen to this song and not think Caddyshack and the gopher. Kenny Loggins was the Grandmaster of Ceremonies for the 1980s and this is his happy funtime anthem. Unfortunately I can’t get a clean embed to the actual movie footage. Instead here’s a fan video of the dancing gopher… since that’s really all we really want anyway.
7. Flashdance – The Last Dance
Song: What a Feeling by Irene Cara
Regrettably I have no choice but to place this song in the countdown. Like it or not Irene Cara’s anthem is dripping, oozing with synesthesia nostalgia. This is the epitome of the concept itself. Movie and music are inextricably linked in form and memory. Still it pains me. Jennifer Beals has really aged well though, hasn’t she? The guitar solo at around 4:30 just kills me a little inside every time I hear it. I doubly cringe because now I must also think of Jennifer Lopez too. Urgh. What I would give for this song to be erased from our collective memories.
6. Better Off Dead – VanFrankenBurger
Song: Everybody Wants Some by Van Halen
I can’t really vouch for the song. On it’s own, it’s just not a very good Van Halen song. And then you have to get into the question about whether Van Halen was really a decent band rather than just a fascist conglomerate. I’m not prepared to go there. I am prepared to laud the awesomeness that is Better Off Dead. This is the best scene in Better Off Dead and it just happens to involve John Cusack doing a Dr. Frankenstein impersonation with a few pounds of raw ground chuck that turns into he and she burger patties singing Van Halen and it’s suddenly the best that Van Halen has ever sounded.
5. Footloose – Chicken Race
Song: Holding Out For a Hero by Bonnie Tyler
I’ll spare you another Kenny Loggins anthem. It would have been easy to pick just about any clip from Footloose and call it iconic. What moment in that movie isn’t strikingly noteworthy for one reason or another? I challenge you to find one menial, tedious moment in the whole film. Trick challenge. There isn’t one. But if we’re downplaying all the more awkward musical/drama moments, the scene that rises above all others is the Chicken Tractor Showdown. Pure teenage stupidity played for thrills and set to Bonnie Tyler?? Movie magic while the theme for Footloose just makes me think of ratty sneakers in close-up.
4. Fast Times at Ridgemont High – Phoebe Cates
Song: Moving in Stereo by the Cars
We could be more subtle about the reason for this scene’s infamy, but why bother? Any male knows this as the Phoebe Cates scene. It might not be immediately obvious but there’s a song playing when she exits that pool. And whenever men of a certain age hear this song by the Cars, they’re 90% more likely to experience a spontaneous erection than, say, men of any other age. It might not fit the other criteria for true synesthesia nostalgia, but there’s true potency in those subliminal messages.
3. Say Anything – Boombox
Song: In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel
This is by far my least favorite entry in the countdown. Not because I don’t love the song… or the movie… but because I hate being predictable. There’s no way to exclude “In Your Eyes” because no 80’s movie moment is more iconic than John Cusack standing outside Ione Skye’s window with that boombox. I miss the days where it was socially acceptable to haul a 20 lb. apparatus for blasting treble-heavy tunes on your shoulder. Maybe this should be #1 but I prefer it here. In the middle. Fun fact: the original working title of the film was …Say Anything… instead of Say Anything…
2. Ghostbusters – The First Call
Song: Cleanin’ Up the Town by the Busboys
What else did the Busboys do? I dunno. Don’t care. Their song begat the Ghostbusters into this world on their first honest paying gig. This is enough for three for four lifetimes. The best Hollywood movie of the 80’s has to have a killer 80’s soundtrack. While Ray Parker, Jr. got all the press (good and bad – shame on you for stealing Huey’s beat) the Busboys cranked out the real hit. Is it a great song? Without the movie, nobody remembers the band or this song. At the same time, what could have replaced the song? The whine of Ecto 1’s siren has become one with the jazz-fueled piano riff. (For the record, they put out a pretty decent record called Minimum Wage Rock & Roll.)
1. Top Gun – Beach Volleyball
Song: Playing With the Boys by Kenny Loggins
So you wanted “Danger Zone” did you? “Danger Zone” is a great track. I’m pretty sure I’ve tested all of my car stereos by cranking it up to 11. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some “Danger Zone” but when you hear the song what scene in Top Gun comes to mind? Maybe my experience has been warped somehow but I don’t think of anything other than F-14s flying around and landing, taking off and landing like I’m at some Blue Angels festival in the glowing dusk sunlight. There’s no scene attached to the song. And yes, I know I included the song from Caddyshack because of the dancing gopher… but that’s different. That’s different because there wasn’t the greatest homoerotic beach volleyball scene in history slapped dead in the middle of the movie backed by yet another killer jam from Kenny Loggins. The man really was a god among boy scouts.
Before I sold my Volvo I found a plush travel case filled with mixtapes in the trunk. They were labeled Stuff #1 through #7. Sonic time capsules of plastic and ribbon. I’d poured hours of energy into selecting tracks, ordering, pressing play and record at the same time, swapping CDs in the old Kenwood 6-CD stack system that jammed every time I selected the tray CD while the changer swapped discs. The gray Maxell cassettes each held a 90-min cross-section of my high school life between 1995 and 1997. Old songs mixed with new, whatever had hooked me at the time. The ink on the cardboard had faded or streaked. Most song titles had been rendered completely unintelligible. I’d been someone else then – a pimply-faced kid that thought 21 was an impossible age, that worried he’d never get laid, that had just begun discovering bands like the Allman Brothers, Velvet Underground, the Clash and the Cure. Sometimes I envy that kid. The world of music at his fingertips. As odd as it sounds I envy the time he spent compiling all those mix tapes, pouring over track lists, planning, stacking media in the order it was to be recorded. The mixtape is an archaic concept that our kids won’t know anything about — having grown up in the era of digital music and the playlist. There’s nothing wrong with the playlist; drag and drop, compile, re-order. It’s the perfect, efficient means to an end. For the ultra lazy iTunes even creates playlists for you. Don’t get me wrong. I support the playlist because it has improved the quality mixtapes. Without the playlist I could never compile my yearly list of my top 50 songs of the year. It just wouldn’t be manageable over four cassettes, never mind the constant reordering. On the other hand, there are teenagers all over this world that are eventually going to clear out the back of their first cars in ten years, and I can tell you what they’re not going to find: they’re not going to find a box of cassettes containing seven mixtapes, a Terminator X and the Valley of the Jeep Beets (that belonged to Bill Pesce) and a Ghostbusters soundtrack. They won’t find those time capsules left by their younger selves. Playlists will be deleted, erased, left on old computers and iPods. So what did I do when I found that travel case? I threw the entire thing in the garbage because I’m pretty sure one of those mixes contained “I Swear” by All 4 One. That’s the downside to time capsules; your younger self was probably also kind of a douchebag that you’d probably rather forget.
Kids today wouldn’t understand why we’d willingly listen to music laced with imperfections. The pops, the crackles, the static hiss when needle meets vinyl. Digital music is brushed free of all imperfection. Nothing but perfectly reproduced digital audio downloaded right to your iTunes library. The digital music revolution has done great things for remastering and other technical wizardry of which I’m probably grateful, but not particularly aware. But therein lies the greatest flaw in all those perfectly aligned zeros and ones: benign and unholy imperfection. Consider your favorite writers, authors that reach a balance between logical progression and unpredictable improvisation. The greatest novels, like the greatest jazz compositions follow logical and regular musical patterns that frame illogical solo improvisation. Consider the music of Coleman Hawkins or the inimitable Thelonious Monk. Consider Colson Whitehead. His novel Sag Harbor was, at its heart, a standard coming-of-age story, but the details of his protagonist’s experience leapt off the page in vibrant three-dimensional color and shape because life, like the protagonist’s experience, doesn’t rise steadily until reaching an ultimate and resolving denouement. Life is chaos, a series of regular routines flanking wild seat-of-your-pants improvisation. Digital music, while it satisfies our innate (but very contemporary) desire to be better, faster, newer — it contradicts the imperfection that makes us human. Vinyl records, in all their humility, awkwardness and frailty echo our own wanting souls. They are our siblings from another mother (or in this analogy another Thomas Edison). The response to a phonograph is visceral, primal perhaps, whereas we recognize with a certain about of sonic intellectualism why digital media sounds “better.” It sounds better because it sounds cleaner. It sounds better because it is more convenient and travels in the brains of thumbnail-sized iPods and doesn’t consume rooms with milk crates. It sounds better because it can be played in Dolby Digital 7.2 surround systems at excessively loud volumes without much distortion. But when you get right down to comparing the sound of vinyl against the sound of a compact disc (forget compressed audio) which sounds more real? That more accurately recalls a time and a place at a subconscious level? Which medium reproduces the sound that echoes life, that sometimes gets interrupted by a hairline imperfection, that skips and repeats and needs regular maintenance and attention? Without that maintenance and attention we slip into sporadic bouts of anxiety, depression and first world malaise. I do not mean to denigrate digital media entirely; I only aim to point out that progress isn’t always a full step forward. More often than not progress proves to be a lateral sashay. There’s a place in our collections for both because we carry out our first world modern lives in two worlds. In the so-called real world we are increasingly forced to be more timely, more exact, more beautiful than is our nature. We also need our media scrubbed clean and portable. People need alarm clocks loud enough to emit sonic boom (yes, this really exists because Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me told me so) just to get out of bed in the morning because our tendencies are toward sleeping in, being late, missing that 8:00am conference call. Our tendencies are toward imperfection. We float through this world projecting, feigning perfection; it is only at home, with our turntables and sweatpants that we can be honest with ourselves and embrace the chaos.
Change is inevitable. This is what we tell ourselves while we cling to the things of our past – the music, movies, cartoons, trappings of our youth, or at least more youthful years. The things that just aren’t made like they used to be and never will be again. Change is the driver of the creepy van with spray-painted art on the side and no windows. Change tells you to get in. At first you resist, but he is persistent and makes convincing arguments about progress and evolution. And he just won’t take “no” for an answer. Change is like Bono telling you to give the next U2 record a chance.
Bono: You know you want it. It’ll be grand. Rolling Stone called it the best since All That You Can’t Leave Behind.
Me: No, really, thanks for the offer but… [sigh]… fine, it’ll never be as good as Achtung Baby or Joshua Tree or even October or [sigh] Pop… but here’s a twenty. Just keep the change.
Bono: How about a few extra quid to save starving children in Rwanda?
Me: Fine. Actually, here’s my bank PIN #. Take whatever you want and send me the Deluxe Vinyl Edition with the acoustic outtakes from Rattle and Hum.
This is what we do. We march forward, but not without taking certain things with us, whatever we can carry. Others get left behind in the 90s, like Boyz II Men. We’ve accepted their fate, the temporary nature of their existence even when one of them pops up on a reality TV series and the quartet books a date at Heinz Hall. Since I am no longer 15, I will consider attending in passing, to acknowledge the whimsy I might still possess and acknowledge that at one point in my life I knew all the words to every song on Cooleyhighharmony. But we change. And we evolve, sometimes motivated by self preservation but more often by absolute necessity. Continue reading I drive a Volkswagen. Change drives a creepy van.→
A bl-g about classic and not-so-classic movies, music and nostalgia by James David Patrick