John Hughes wasn’t the only director who made a mark in the 1980s with coming-of-age movies. In addition to The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Pretty In Pink there was a post-collegiate film which became required watching for most teens, and especially teenaged girls – St. Elmo’s Fire.
The stars of the film, along with the stars of the various John Hughes films and some other young adults of the time, drew the nickname “The Brat Pack” because the parties and celebrity associations were reminiscent of the Sinatra/Davis, Jr./Martin “Rat Pack” of the 1960s.
In addition to the familiarity and friendships of the stars, there was a link in the form of music. John Hughes films used new wave music almost like another cast member, often launching bands like Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark or Simple Minds into the top forty. Despite the post-collegiate setting, St. Elmo’s Fire didn’t sample liberally from the college music charts the way John Hughes did but the title track became an international hit, peaking at #1 in the US and Canada and in the top ten in the UK, Germany, Australia, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, South Africa and elsewhere.
This, despite the fact that the song wasn’t really inspired by the movie, and the secondary title made the true inspiration clear.
There is no doubt that the song was written for the movie. John Parr, the singer and lyricist, was contracted to write the title track, but he and co-writer David Foster were stymied when trying to create something that fit the film. They had summations of the screenplay and they knew the actors, but a song eluded them.
While Parr was British, Foster was Canadian. Foster, keeping on top of events in his country, found a news story which he had to pass along to Parr. It discussed Canadian athlete Terry Fox, who in 1980 had attempted to demonstrate the potential of the handicapped by running across Canada. Fox had lost his right leg to cancer, but used the amputation as inspiration instead of an excuse. Fox had run from Newfoundland to Ontario before a recurrence of the disease forced him to stop. The cancer took his life, but he was such an inspiration that the Terry Fox Run was begun, an annual event that draws participants and funding for cancer research from throughout the world.
Fox inspired more than the Terry Fox Run, though, and that was the true focus of the news story. Another handicapped athlete was attempting a run… or, more accurately, a “wheel”. Rick Hansen, wheelchair bound at age fifteen following a pickup truck accident, had arranged to follow Terry Fox’s lead… but he was going to attempt to travel not simply across Canada but the world.
For twenty-six months, across more than forty countries on four continents, Hansen averaged eight hours and more than fifty miles per day. The name of his herculean effort was the Man In Motion tour.
Soon be home, only just a few miles down the road
I can make it, I know, I can
You broke the boy in me but you won’t break the man
I can see a new horizon underneath the blazin’ sky
I’ll be where the eagle’s flying higher and higher
Gonna be your man in motion, all I need’s this pair of wheels
Take me where my future’s lyin’, St. Elmo’s fire
I can climb the highest mountain, cross the wildest sea
I can feel St. Elmo’s fire burnin’ in me, burnin’ in me
Parr, under contract, wrote the song about Rick Hansen, then went back and massaged the lyrics until they could be interpreted as having something to do with the movie. Judging by the international charts, he seems to have made the correct decision, even if he left the fans of the film confused with a song that seemed to have little association to the melodrama and angst of the plot.
Question of the night: What’s your favorite song with a parenthetical title?