02 January 2024

My tribute to John Hughes movies

When I think of the movies of my adolescence, the first name that pops up is John Hughes. I'd bet many Gen Xers can say the same. While Hughes's breakout movie arguably was 1983's funny Vacation, it wasn't a teen movie. Not that teens didn't like it (we did), but Vacation was aimed at a wider audience. Then in 1984, Hughes released his first movie aimed at kids my age. And we saw them in droves--in the theater multiple times and then on video over and over and over. 

Which Hughes movies? It started with Sixteen Candles in 1984. Then in 1985 The Breakfast Club came out. Hughes followed that in 1986 with Weird Science and Pretty in Pink. And in 1987, Ferris Bueller's Day Off was released. There were other Hughes teen movies after that, but the ones I've mentioned here were the movies of my high school years. The ones I remember most fondly. 

Hughes didn't corner the market on teen movies, of course. I couldn't write this column without mentioning 1983's Risky Business and 1985's Back to the Future and Better Off Dead ("Two dollars! I want my two dollars!"). And there were great movies that came out while I was in college that fall into this genre, including Say Anything and Heathers.

What do all these movies have in common? They're about high schoolers who had a lot of freedom with little to no supervision. While for some '80s kids, these movies might have been pure fantasy, for others (like me), they weren't that much of an exaggeration. I look back on them fondly.

It was with all of these movies in mind that I wrote my short story "Teenage Dirtbag," coming out January 9th from Misti Media in the anthology (I Just) Died in Your Arms: Crime Fiction Inspired by One-Hit Wonders, edited by J. Alan Hartman. I was invited to write a story for this anthology (thank you, Jay), and when I looked at a list of one-hit wonders, trying to find a song that inspired me, "Teenage Dirtbag" jumped out. The song was released in 2000 by Wheatus, and I've loved it ever since hearing it on Dawson's Creek and then hearing it again and again on the CD (remember those?) Songs from Dawson's Creek volume two. (Yes, I watched TV shows aimed at teens while in my twenties and early thirties. Sue me.) To me, the song's plot screamed 1980s teen movie. So I wrote a 1980s teen crime short story based on it.

I would've had a harder time making the story believable if I'd set it now. Today's teens often have more supervision than teens in the 1980s did, and other elements of the story wouldn't be workable if it were set now. (Sorry for the vagueness, but I don't want to spoil things.) Those of you who haven't heard the song might be wondering about the story's plot, so here's an overview: In 1985, Travis rules his high school, tormenting other kids and pushing his girlfriend arounduntil nerd Brian falls for her and devises a plan to free all the beleaguered kids from Travis's bullying ways. 

The song has a line about a gun that made it a great basis for a crime story, though even people who know the song may not realize it. That line was mixed out in versions played on radio stations, but the original version of the song can be found if you look hard enough. If you listen to the song, you'll hear some other details I worked into my story. Brian listens to Iron Maiden. Noelle wears Keds (but not tube socksthat wouldn't have happened in 1985). And Iron Maiden did play at Long Island's Nassau Coliseum in May 1985, which is why I set the story then rather than in '86 or '87.

Overall, my story "Teenage Dirtbag," based on the Wheatus song of the same name, is a crime coming-of-age story. It's an underdog story. And it's my tribute to 1980s teen movies. I hope you enjoy it, reader. And John Hughes, wherever you are (he died in 2009), I hope it makes you smile too.

As I said, the book will be released on Tuesday, January 9th, in ebook and trade paperback formats. You can pre-order it directly from the publisher by clicking here. It also will be available from the usual online sources and, hopefully, independent bookshops.

The other authors with stories in the book (and the songs they based their stories on) are, in order of appearance: Vinnie Hansen ("96 Tears"), Jeanne DuBois ("Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye"), Josh Pachter ("The Rapper"), J.M. Taylor ("Seasons in the Sun"), Christine Verstraete ("Wildfire"), Sandra Murphy ("867-5309/Jenny"), Joseph S. Walker ("Come On Eileen"), Wendy Harrison ("It's Raining Men"), Bev Vincent ("Somebody's Watching Me"), Leone Ciporin ("Life in a Northern Town"), and Adam Gorgoni ("Bitch").

Do you have a favorite John Hughes movie (or 1980s teen movie)? What's your favorite one-hit wonder song, defined (for purposes of this book) as a group's sole big hit in the United States? ("Teenage Dirtbag" meets that definition, though Wheatus has had more big hits in Europe and Australia.)


  1. Coming from Chicago my family loves Hughes' movies, and they resonate with us Boomers, too. Favorite is probably The Breakfast Club, although we really enjoy the love letter to our home town that is Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Not familiar with the music reference so I'll have to check it out. And I'll look for your story and the book! Looking forward to it as I just had a story published in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine inspired by a song, but being a Boomer it's a Beatles song!

    1. I love the Beatles too. My AHMM just came in the other day. Haven't read it yet, but I'm looking forward to it. (My EQMM hasn't shown up yet. Sigh.)

  2. I like John Hughes films.

    1. Me too (obviously). Thanks for stopping by, whoever you are.

  3. Congratulations, Barb, and always glad to see bullies get their just desserts.

    I've seen the movies you mention except Weird Science. I couldn't get anyone to go with me.

    ♩♬ Shermer High School, oh Shermer High School… ♫♪

    I knew someone would select 867-5309… It would be too much to resist.

    1. Thanks, Leigh. It was a fun story to write. (And I bet you could find Weird Science to stream somewhere, though you probably would have enjoyed it more forty (how is that possible?) years ago.)

  4. All I can say is.... don't you.... forget about me... hey, hey, hey...

    Oh, and does Barry Manilow know you raid his wardrobe?

    [great post, Barb!]

  5. Thanks, Frank! I'm pleased that Simple Minds was no one-hit wonder. The music of my youth. (Oh, and I can't believe I forgot to mention 1987's "Adventures in Babysitting." "Don't fuck with the babysitter!")


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