There is a profile in the latest issue of Vanity Fair of a writer who, for a brief period of time, tapped so deeply into the psyche of the American teenager that he virtually defined the experience. He then walked away from it all but kept writing and writing and writing, mostly for himself, it seems, until he died.
The writer was John Hughes, leader of the Brat Pack, mentor to Molly Ringwald, scribe of “Home Alone” and creator of a trio of definitive teenaged movies: “The Breakfast Club”, “Sixteen Candles” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
Hughes directed his final movie in 1991, and went on to produce some curious remakes, such as “Miracle On 34th Street” and “101 Dalmations” -- and then he seemed to lose interest in the process. But he kept writing volumes of material, apparently right up until the day he died last year at 59.After I finished reading the Vanity Fair piece, I thought of J.D. Salinger, of course, and wondered about their world view. Neither person -- whom I can only know through what I read -- seemed at all crazy. Reports about Salinger’s life since his death have seemed to affirm a kind of saneness, actually; a man connected to his community. Because the media -- that bastion of nuance and compassion -- didn’t understand it, Salinger was made out to be a nut. The headline in Vanity Fair used the word “tragedy” to describe Hughes’ life. I hope they were referring only to the fact that he died young, which is a terrible thing.
In the Vanity Fair piece his children talk about how Hughes was looking forward to being a grandfather. It seemed all pleasant, focused and the very essence of sanity. At times his behavior might have been churlish or inexplicable, but pick out any person on any street corner and you’ll find that and worse.
I suppose the inclination about people like Hughes and Salinger is to think that the further away they got from the golden years of their youth the harder it was to cope. For some reason, I don’t think it was that at all. I think it was something more profound and complicated than that. But that they were able, for whatever reason, to still be able to articulate the feelings of what it was like to be young when they weren’t so young themselves is a rare gift, the rarest, it seems. They’re aren’t many teenagers making big budget Hollywood movies about themselves, so you kind of have to wait for someone who knows what they’re doing to do it for you.
Salinger and Hughes were able to hold onto that golden perspective well into their 30s, and they took the time to try to recreate those years for the rest of us. And so it made me think of this: There’s an old saying that sometimes youth is wasted on the young.
And sometimes not.