Los Angeles Times
Writing a memoir with John Hughes’ help
Jason Diamond’s debut book wasn’t supposed to be a memoir. The writer and Rolling Stone sports and culture editor started out trying to write a biography of his childhood idol John Hughes, director of the films “Home Alone,” “Pretty in Pink,” “16 Candles,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “The Breakfast Club” and the hero of Diamond’s hometown, Chicago.
The project instead became a memoir, “Searching for John Hughes: Or Everything I Thought I Needed to Know About Life I Learned From Watching ’80s Movies” (William Morrow, $15.99 paper). The book recounts Diamond’s troubled childhood, his experiences with homelessness, and selling coffee and cupcakes in New York. It also takes a look at the iconic ’80s comedy films that got him through it all.
Diamond spoke to The Times via telephone from New York, where he lives. This conversation has been edited. You had a difficult childhood, a difficult young adulthood. What was it about John Hughes’ movies that helped you?
I’m a sucker for — I always say “happy endings,” but it’s not just happy endings. I like the idea that things can be better than they are. I’m the most positive person. I look at the bright side of everything. I feel like at their core, that’s what [Hughes’] movies are about. Things are better than they are. You think your parents aren’t going to remember your birthday, but they’ll come downstairs and your dad will softly remind you how much he cares about you. Or you could have that perfect day where you and your friends ditch school and steal a Ferrari.
The other thing was that they took place in Chicago. That really meant a lot to me. The Chicago connection was really important. A big theme of the book is trying to do something and failing. Was it hard to write about that?
Honestly, I don’t like holding things back. I remember watching basketball, and you’d see Dennis Rodman grab a rebound so fiercely, you’d get so pumped up, and he’d be like, “I play with a lot of emotion. You’re going to see it all come out when I play.” I kind of approach writing in that way. Not so much where I’m going to get a bunch of tattoos or go to North Korea. But if I’m going to tell my story in any way, it has to be as honest as possible, and it has to give out the fact that I am a human and I am prone to a lot of failing. Would you say that John Hughes had any influence on you as a writer? I think that watching those movies so many times helped smooth out this sort of cynical distrust of the world and of culture that I might otherwise have. The movies influenced me as a person, and as a person I’m a writer, so they kind of go hand-in-hand. Stylistically, no. The movie writer who has influenced me is Nora Ephron. That’s the who I like to think about when I’m writing. Did you, or do you, identify with any of the characters?
I think the first one was definitely Molly Ringwald in “Pretty in Pink,” because I remember really being into the fact that she didn’t care what anybody thought of her. She didn’t let Steff get away with talking badly to her. I remember thinking, “I want to be that cool one day.” I’m still striving for that. I don’t know if it’ll ever happen. I feel like when you watch “Breakfast Club” you’re forced to choose which one you are, and I realized I was definitely an Allison. I still feel that way. And Cameron. I also felt like Cameron [from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off ”] sometimes. People are still watching these movies. What do you think makes them, at least for some people, hold up so well?
I think everything eventually gets cool over time. You can say there’s the teen aspect, because despite the fact that it looks outdated, the films still [reflect] the same kind of weird, emotional blender that kids put themselves through, when they’re crushing on somebody, or having problems at home, or trying so hard that you’re driven to depression. Those things still resonate. Things just mature. ’60s garage rock was just a bunch of wild kids making music, and now a Sonics record is considered high art, and in the ’60s it was just a bunch of kids making noise. Things seep into the canon, they make their way in, and it’s hard to argue their importance after 30 years because they’ve influenced so many people and meant a lot to millions of folks throughout the world. You can go from [J.D.] Salinger to Judy Blume to John Hughes to a lot of young adult fiction we’re seeing today, like Rainbow Rowell and John Green. He’s in that canon of things that were aimed at teens and are about teens that people grew up with, and they’re passing that down . What do you think people in 2017, in this kind of fraught day and age we’re in, what do you think we can learn from John Hughes’ movies?
One thing, and this is important, is that things aren’t always as great as they look. John Hughes painted this picture that everything’s going to work out. And I like that, it’s nice in a movie. But in real life, you’ve got to be constantly vigilant, because things don’t always work out the way you want. You have to take it day by day. His movies aren’t great epics, they take place in a day or two days, usually, and the characters in those movies really do take their lives day by day. In “Ferris Bueller” especially, [there’s] this idea that you can make your life a little better, and you can change things, and you can do what you want and be a little rebellious and it’ll work out. I think it’s important to remember those things. You should take what you have the day it’s there, and work with that. Schaub is a writer in Texas.