John Hughes, writer, director and music fan

August 6, 2009


Movie critics around the world, including my colleague Rober Ebert, are no doubt working overtime at the moment to pay tribute to director John Hughes--the prime chronicler of teenage life in the '80s, at least as seen in the Chicago suburbs where he lived at the time--following his death Thursday morning of a heart attack in New York. But it is worth thinking for a moment about John Hughes, the music fan.

As Hughes told Greg Kot and me during a rare interview on our radio show "Sound Opinions" in 1999, throughout his time living in the Chicago area and well into his prime years as a filmmaker, he loved nothing more than haunting the racks of vinyl at the old Wax Trax record store on Lincoln Avenue in the heady days after the punk explosion yielded to New Wave and the electronic dance sounds that followed.

It was there that he first connected with many of the bands that would become staples of his soundtracks. And it was those soundtracks that opened many young listeners' ears to music that couldn't be heard on many radio stations at the time.

Music played a key role in all of the films Hughes directed himself, and there's a long list of his best, most quirky discoveries and finest pairings of sound and vision: "True" by Spandau Ballet and "Turning Japanese" by the Vapors in "Sixteen Candles" (1984); "Don't You" by Simple Minds in "The Breakfast Club" (1985); "Oh Yeah" by Yello in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (1986) and of course the use of the Psychedelic Furs song that gave the title to "Pretty in Pink" (1986, which Hughes wrote and produced but did not direct).

Intensely private and shunning the Hollywood spotlight since the early '90s, Hughes granted us that interview only reluctantly, and it was one of only a handful he did to promote the indie film "Reach the Rock," the soundtrack of which was released on Hefty Records, the label started by his son John Hughes III and which was a vibrant if low-key part of the local music scene for a decade.

But once Hughes II started talking about music, he didn't want to stop, and the passionate conversation about the sounds he loved continued even after we went off the air.