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Back to the 80s: Interview with Jymn Magon from Disney's DuckTales, Gummi Bears & more - Kickin' it Old School
03.27.15 (9:53 am)   [edit]
Even though I have now published well over 100 of them, I still feel the need to say each time that I am so delighted that interviews continue to be a legitimate part of this little blog of mine! When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the 80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.Jymn Magon

This time that awesomeness is Jymn Magon. You might not recognize the name, but he helped bring some of the most beloved Disney animated series to television in the mid-80s through the mid-90s. This includes Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears, DuckTales, Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers, TaleSpin, Darkwing Duck, Goof Troop and more. Depending on the series, he has been a creator, developer, story editor, writer, producer and more. He brought Disney's very first major serialized animated television series to the small screen and helped set the tone for Disney television animation for decades to come. Find out a little about him, Gummi Bears, DuckTales and more as we get on to some selections from my interview with Jymn Magon...

Q: When and why did you know you wanted to be a professional writer? When and how did you get your own start in that industry?

Jymn: My original dream was to be an actor, but it seemed that every theater major I knew wound up teaching high school drama - and that's not what I wanted. So in college I chose the next best thing - an English major. (Yeah, like their prospects are any better!) Jymn MagonThat kept me around literature and writing, so I guess that was the seed. However, what really catapulted me into entertainment (besides amateur theater work and making 8mm films in high school) was writing and producing a series of "Old Time Radio" spoofs for my college radio station. That experience of creating stories with dialogue, music and sound effects is what got me my job at Walt Disney Music Company where I produced story records for eight years. The Disney record company gig started in 1976 (the Bi-centennial!). When Michael Eisner took over the Disney Company in 1984, I moved over to the new Television Animation Division.

Q: What attracted you to animation in particular?

Jymn: Well, I was a toon geek since I was a kid, watching Ruff and Reddy, Rocky and Bullwinkle, and Popeye re-runs. I continued that geekiness into college, still watching Saturday morning cartoons in my dorm. So the love was always there, but a desire to work in the animation industry wasn't. I mean who says as a kid, "I want to be an animation writer!"? No one. Everyone wants to be a cartoon artist - not a writer. Yet I wound up working on my first television series with none other than Rocky (June Foray) and Bullwinkle (Bill Scott). "Destiny! Destiny! No escaping that for me!"Jymn Magon

Q: How did you get hired by Disney? Seems like that would be the dream job for any animation writer.

Jymn: I started with Walt Disney Music Company, spending eight years there. Then I moved over to TV Animation, spending another nine years. I guess the amazing thing is that I didn't follow any set career path for either job. I had never produced a record before 1976, and I had never worked in television before 1984. No audio classes, no screenwriting classes, nuthin'.

Yes, it was a dream job. However, I wasn't an animation writer when I started in TV. I actually began as a show developer, working on both The Gummi Bears and The Wuzzles. When we sold Gummies to NBC, the head of their children's programming said, "OK, so who's going to be your Story Editor?" (That's like a head writer.) My boss Gary Krisel pointed to me and said, "We thought Jymn would do that." So my first journey into animation was as a story editor. That meant I was creating story lines (with producer/director Art Vitello), hiring writers, giving guidance and notes, and then cleaning up the scripts (sometimes re-writing heavily). However, I never actually wrote a Gummi Bears script with my name as sole writer. It wasn't until DuckTales that I wrote my first official animation script ("The Status Seekers").

Q: You are listed as co-creator of Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears. What can you tell us about your role in bringing those little gummy candies to life in a Disney way? Of all of the possible subjects, why were Gummi Bears chosen?

Jymn: I've told this story numerous times, and I still can't believe it happened this way. When Michael Eisner took over the company, he asked to meet with a bunch of "creative types" to talk about his new TV animation department. Gary Krisel (as president of the Music Co.) was known as a young hotshot at the Studio. Gummi Bears(He and I had kinda overhauled the sagging department with lots of innovative music albums - like Mickey Mouse Disco, Goin' Quackers, etc.) So Gary was invited to Eisner's house and he brought me along. A bunch of us (six or eight, I think) met at Eisner's Beverly Hills home on a Sunday morning (because it was his only free time, having just taken over the studio). Michael told us about his desire to start a new division, and we all kicked around some ideas. Eisner mentioned that his kids had eaten this great new candy at summer camp - gummi bears. Then he turned to me - a total unknown - and said, "Make me a show about that."

Q: How long did Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears take to develop? What did you use as inspiration? What obstacles did you face?

Jymn: Well, afterward we all thought Eisner was crazy. Who the heck makes a show about characters that get eaten? So it sat fallow for a couple weeks until I got a phone call: "Where's my show?" It was Eisner. I quickly started typing up some ideas about a candy-centric world. (The villain was Licorice Whip, and his sidekick was Scummi Gummi. Yes, it's sadly true.) Jymn MagonFortunately, that slowly gave way to sanity, and we started thinking of the classic Disney movies like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Sleeping Beauty. These were set in a European, medieval, fantasy world. That seemed like a safe route to go (because we had never made a TV show before) and so castles and knights crept into the development. I'm guessing it took a few months to get the show developed and sold. Then we jumped straight into production, putting the show on the air in the Fall of 1985. Other than those Disney classics, I used my love of Tolkien's work as inspiration. Art Vitello introduced me to Hayao Miyazaki and Vicente Segrelles - and you can see that influence in a couple of episodes.

You must remember, we were a brand new division, so there was NOTHING in place. We had to build the structure and the work force for the department from scratch. So finding a strong team was the biggest obstacle. Disney's Adventures of the Gummi BearsArt did a fantastic job pulling together that first core group of artists (Thom Enriquez, Hank Tucker, Rob Laduca, Ed Wexler, Gary Eggleston, etc.). I think they really set the tone of what a "Disney TV Animation" show looks like.

Q: Then what was your ongoing role with that show? Was there any added pressure creating what would become Disney's first major animated television series?

Jymn: I was co-creator and story editor. Art and I were the key players. We did everything from create stories to hiring and directing the voice talent. I was hiring writers, dealing with NBC notes, and teaching myself how to put together 11 and 22 minute episodes. I stopped working on Gummi Bears after the second season.

I don't remember there being an edict from On High stating, "You'd better not screw up!" But we all knew we were stepping into an arena that was dominated by studios like Hanna-Barbera, Filmation, and such. As it turned out, we ended up raising the bar for what Saturday Morning shows looked like.

Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears premiered in September of 1985 and went on to run for 65 episodes. It ran for four seasons on NBC Saturday Mornings and then moved to a syndicated 2-hour block of cartoons called "The Disney Afternoon" for two more years. Here is the opening theme for Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears...


Q: What were your feelings about the show that you created back then and have those changed at all over the years?

Jymn: I hold it very near and dear. At the time, I thought I was never going to work on anything that good again, so it was really special to me. The theme song still chokes me up a bit when I hear it. I'm very proud of that show. It set the tone for everything that was to come.DuckTales

Q: Then you went on to develop DuckTales which debuted in 1987. What can you share with us about the process of creating this series?

Jymn: My involvement with the development was minimal, because I was working on Gummies at the time. Tedd Anasti and Patsy Cameron were hired to develop and story edit that series, so the bulk of that show was on their shoulders.

Q: Do you know why Scrooge McDuck and Donald's nephews were chosen to build a series around?

Jymn: Carl Barks, as most everyone knows, created practically everything that became DuckTales. He was a comic book writer/artist who created Scrooge McDuck, the Junior Woodchucks, the Beagle Boys, Gyro Gearloose, Flintheart Glomgold, Magica De Spell, Gladstone Gander, and others. He was the genius behind the whole Duckburg experience. (Sadly, Mr. Barks was never given on-screen credit for his vast creation.) So it was very handy to start a series that had a library of 500 duck stories already created. Of course Donald was in most of those tales - but the Studio wasn't ready to put one of their superstars into a TV series yet. DuckTalesSo Donald disappeared from DuckTales, and new characters like Launchpad McQuack, Webigail and Mrs. Beakley were added.

Q: Tell us a little more about your responsibilities over the course of the series?

Jymn: I was brought onto DuckTales after I left Gummi Bears, so the series was already up and running when I arrived. My role was quite specific. Buena Vista Television wanted a "pilot movie" to kick off the series premiere. So even though I was a late-comer to the show, I was given the task of "introducing" the audience to our characters. The five-part series that I spear-headed was called "The Treasure of the Golden Suns," and it was written separate from the regular series production. The mini-series set up: a) How Donald left to join the Navy, b) How nasty old skinflint Scrooge got stuck with Huey, Dewey and Louie, and c) How the nephews and Launchpad became ongoing members of Scrooge's adventure entourage. I was involved with about seven mainstream episodes after that, but was again assigned another five-parter (Bubba Duck in "Time is Money") and a 4-parter ("Catch as Cash Can" sometimes referred to as "The Firefly Fruit Contest.") Looking back, I wrote on about 10% of the DuckTales scripts and story edited almost a quarter of the series.

DuckTales premiered in September of 1987 and ran for four seasons and 100 episodes through November of 1990. It was the first Disney cartoon produced specifically for syndication. Many kids who grew up in the late-80s hold DuckTales close to their hearts considering it one of their favorite cartoons of the time. It received Outstanding Animated Daytime Emmy nominations in 1988 and 1989. Here is the opening theme for Disney's DuckTales...


Q: After the success of Gummi Bears, was there any more or any less pressure working on DuckTales?

Jymn: Gummi Bears was a #1 show, so we wanted DuckTales to do just as well... and it did. Jymn Magon & DuckTales teamThe same was true for Rescue Rangers, TaleSpin, Darkwing Duck... we wanted to keep topping ourselves. But, by far, DuckTales was the most popular and successful series. Buena Vista Television even ordered extra episodes, so it topped out at 100 shows.

Q: Did you have any feeling at the beginning that this show would become such a hit and go on to last 100 episodes like it did?

Jymn: I don't think any of us thought in those terms. Like with all shows, you receive an order for a set number of episodes (13, 65, whatever) and then you try your best to get it done in a timely and professional manner. You can't really concern yourself over how it will be accepted or remembered in the future.

Q: What were your feelings about your show back then and, again, have those changed at all over the years?

Jymn: It was a delight to work on DuckTales, and it was my first taste of "a feature length" project. (Each mini-series was cut into a 2-hour TV movie.) It was comedy-adventure done on a global scale. Lots of fun to work on, especially with Bruce Talkington, Mark Zaslove, Len Uhley, David Weimers, and Ken Koonce.

Q: Any other interesting stories or facts about making DuckTales that you can share with us and let us in on?

Jymn: Three things come to mind. 1) When working for a network, you must deal with a department called BS&P (Broadcast Standards and Practices). They determine any "copyable behavior" that must be avoided because of the young, impressionable audience. DuckTales, however, was our first syndicated show, which means there's no network to deal with - so we had to be our own censors. Jymn MagonI've always been very mindful of being "Disney", so I rarely run into problems. However, I realized I made a major faux pas in my VERY FIRST EPISODE! You can see Huey, Dewey and Louie swinging on a rope and smashing face first through a chocolate factory window! Yipes! 2) On the "Time is Money" mini-series, I brought in my friend Bruce Coville to help write the script. Bruce is best known as a book writer (e.g. "My Teacher is an Alien" series), so TV was new to him. I remember him saying, "How do you guys work at this pace?!" - which made me chuckle. 3) I didn't invent Launchpad McQuack, but I was responsible for introducing him in the pilot. Mark, Bruce and I went to go see the film Big Trouble in Little China [1986] and we realized that the Jack Burton character (played by Kurt Russell) was Launchpad! Big-ego'd Jack saw himself as more important and talented than he truly was, and did heroically stupid things (like firing a gun in the air then having the ceiling fall on his head). Terry McGovern (the perfect voice for Launchpad) was not recorded as part of our Burbank ensemble. He lived up in San Francisco and was directed (via phone) at a studio up there.The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Q: The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh debuted in 1988. What role did you play in bringing that show featuring such beloved classic characters to television?

Jymn: That show belonged to Karl Geurs (director) and Mark Zaslove (story editor), and they did a fantastic job with it. (Won two Emmy's in fact.) I was involved with some early development discussions and then wrote a few episodes. The thing I remember most was management's decision to put Christopher Robin in today's world, a concept that Karl balked at and that lasted for only one episode. ("Pooh Oughta Be in Pictures" in which Christopher Robin and the animals go downtown to see a horror film.) Then it was back to the 100-Acre Wood.

Q: Then Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers was next debuting in 1989. What can you tell us about that show and what role you played on that?

Jymn: This series belonged primarily to Tad Stones. He was the producer/story editor throughout. My involvement was at the development stage. (Tad can draw, so I mostly typed.) Tad and I started off with a mouse detective named Kit Colby who headed a team of animals to solve crimes. There were Camille the chameleon, Billabong the Australian kangaroo rat, mystic cricket Chirp Sing and a far-sighted eagle with glasses. (Here is an early drawing of that crew. As far as I know, this is the first time I've shared Tad's painting with anyone.)

Tad Stones early Rescue Rangers art
Eventually we added a second mouse to the team, Colt Cheddarson. None of these pitches were a "home run" with Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg. Rescue RangersThen at one of our pitch meetings, Eisner suggested replacing Kit and Colt with Chip and Dale. The rest is history. Tad ran with the show and did an amazing job. I had some return involvement when Mark Zaslove and I came in to touch up the pilot mini-series Rescue Rangers: To the Rescue.

Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers debuted in March of 1989 running for 3 seasons and 65 episodes. It ran on in syndication on afternoons after school until 1993 and was another of the most popular cartoons of its time.

Q: What are your feelings at including positive messages in the cartoons especially aimed at children? Was that something you consciously considered when writing those shows? Did Disney make it a priority at all to try including positive messages or positive reinforcement in those shows back in the 80s?

Jymn: That was simply the formula back then (and pretty much still is). Stories had a little moral attached - a lesson learned. Sometimes it was subtle, sometimes it hit you over the head (like He-Man). Shows, especially pre-school ones, usually have an educator involved who will look for the pro-social messages or the educational content in each episode. But my personal feeling is that stories stem from characters and you can't tell a story if the character doesn't go through some personal change or revelation. And I feel that children should see a positive spin on that change.

I think it's part of our Judeo-Christian mindset to tell these kinds of stories. Even the controversial horror stories found in the 1950's EC Comics were nothing more than European fairy tales with "bad-punished/good-rewarded" morals.

Again, there were no written or verbal guidelines handed down From Above. It was simply how stories were told then on television... and how the Disney tone was handed down unconsciously from the early films. (Based on Walt's turn-of-the-century mid-Western upbringing, I suppose.)

Q: What do you remember best about the decade of 80s animated television (or pop culture in general)?

Jymn: Wow. That's a big topic. It's been said that "If you remember the 60s, you weren't there." I suppose (for me) the same can be said of the 80s - I don't remember it because I was there working the whole time. And, yes, I was a workaholic. I knew what kids watched simply because I had three kids, and they told me what they liked... Rainbow Brite, Strawberry Shortcake, Garbage Pail Kids, Ninja Turtles, etc. I also think the 80s was a good time in music. (We had just survived the Disco 70s.) All in all, the 80s were a fun time to be a kid, methinks.Jymn Magon

Q: Please tell us a little about where your career has taken you since the 80s. What are some of your proudest professional accomplishments?

Jymn: I was still at Disney in the late 80s and early 90s. That's when I create and produced TaleSpin with Mark Zaslove [65 episodes 1990-91], story edited Goof Troop [1992-93], and co-wrote A Goofy Movie [1995]. I was also teaching toon writing at UCLA-Extension. It was a golden time for me. Then Disney started getting weird (for me anyway) and I left in November of 1993 - beginning my freelance career. Fortunately, I had tons of success as a freelancer and I've been in that role ever since. My goal now is to enjoy life... I've worked hard in the Entertainment field for almost 40 years. And while I don't see myself ever retiring, I hope to take things easier now.

Q: What else is Jymn Magon up to nowadays? Writing and otherwise?

Jymn: I'm still freelancing, working primarily for overseas companies. The reason for this is: In Hollywood, you're "past it" if you're over 40. But in other countries they think, "Wow, look at this guy's credentials and experience!" So it's easier to find work. I've worked for England, Spain, Italy, Germany, Russia, India, Australia, China, Korea, and Finland... all from the comfort of my home office. Nice, huh?

Q: What can we expect in the future? Any remaining ambitions or regrets?

Jymn: My plan is to start a series of memoirs about my time at Disney plus writing several young adult books. Ambitions: Do more live theater. Travel more. I'd also like a shot at being involved with the new DuckTales series [scheduled to return to television in 2017]. Regrets: I wish I'd taken more photos during my time at Disney. Wish I'd spent more time with my kids when they were growing up. I also wonder what my life would have been like if I'd continued studying Art.

I am so honored that Jymn was able to take some time to answer some questions so I could share them with you here. You can keep up with him on his Facebook pages at www.Facebook.com/jymn.magon and www.Facebook.com/Jymn-Magon-Presents/116454455062294/ You can remember all of those great Disney shows at the Disney Afternoon Forever Facebook page www.Facebook.com/DisneyAfternoonForever/ I want to take this occasion to again thank Jymn Magon for his contributions to 80s pop culture through those Disney animated series and, even more, for going back to that awesome decade with us here for a little while as well.

That's all for another special issue of Kickin' it Old School. Thanks as always for reading and hope you are enjoying these interviews as much as I am. If you want a summary of all of my Back to the 80s Interviews posted thus far, please click on that link. Be sure you haven't missed any of them (over 100 so far!). You can use the Google Search Box at the top of the right hand column to find any topics you are looking for or other issues you may have missed. If you are a fan of 80s pop culture and Kickin' it, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK LOGO in the upper right hand column. This will take you to the Fan Page where I ask you to then click on the "Like" button. You can also follow @OldSchool80s on Twitter by clicking on the FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER LOGO also in the upper right hand column. This will take you the page and you can just click on the box that says "Follow". I am sending daily 80s tweets, so sign up to get those. You can also hook up with us on Google+. Please leave comments so we know you're out there and let other 80s fans know about us as well! Peace and much love.

Quote of the day: "Believe in your character. Animate (or write) with sincerity." -Glen Keane



 
Back to the 80s: Interview with Derek Holt formerly of The Climax Blues Band - Kickin' it Old School
03.13.15 (10:20 am)   [edit]
As I still feel the need to say each time, I am so delighted that interviews continue to be a legitimate part of this little blog of mine! When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the 80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.Derek Holt

This time that awesomeness is Derek Holt. He was a founding member of The Climax Blues Band and wrote as well as performed their 1981 hit single "I Love You" (which I have always personally adored). Find out a little about him, that beautiful song and more as we get on to some selections from my interview with Derek Holt...

Q: When and how did you get your own start in the music industry? Please tell us a little about your earlier career and how the Climax Blues Band came together.

Derek: I first started playing guitar when I was eight years old. My brother was eight years older than me and was playing 50s skiffle. I took it more seriously when at school and around the age of 16 was already going out and doing gigs with local bands. Derek HoltI was playing guitar and also singing. It all came natural to me though I couldn't read music, just had a good ear for it, I guess. When I left school, I went to work in a local grinding wheel factory as a laboratory assistant and attending college for a degree in Chemistry.

Colin Cooper [another founding member of Climax Blues Band who passed away in 2008] also worked there as a metallurgist so that's how we met. He had already discovered a young Pete Haycock and had wanted to put a blues band together. He was already gigging with a jazz band on clarinet. We started doing local gigs with local drummer George Newsome and a keyboard player named Arthur Wood who at the time was a school teacher. Our bass player then was Richard Jones, who also knew Pete from Grammar School. I was rhythm guitarist. While playing local gigs we were "discovered" by a scout for the new EMI label Parlaphone who was on the look out for a young blues/rock outfit for their label. Climax Blues BandWe signed up for two albums with them though we still had day jobs so had to take time off work to go and record in London. Our first album was recorded over two days in the infamous Abbey Road Studios in 1968. We were in Studio 1, The Beatles were in Studio 2 and Pink Floyd in studio 3! I was just 19 years of age.

We will fast forward to the 80s. By 1980, Derek Holt, Colin Cooper and Pete Haycock were the only original members left in Climax Blues Band. The band had released 11 albums up to that point and their biggest hit single was 1976's "Couldn't Get It Right". In 1980, they released their twelfth album, Flying the Flag, which included a little gem simply titled "I Love You" which was written by Holt who also performed lead vocals.

Q: Please take us back to when you wrote "I Love You". What is the back story about how that song was conceived and written? Inspiration? How did it come together and how long did it take to write?

Derek: Who knows where songs come from? This was at the time when we had a four album deal with Warner Brothers. Everyone was writing songs to try and get theirs on. I had a little studio set up. When I say little, I mean one corner of a bedroom with a Fender Rhodes [electric piano], a 4-track recorder, a very small drum kit, a few guitars and one microphone. I remember one night just going in there, I sat down at the piano, set the recorder and just started playing the intro and chords to "I Love You". Climax Blues BandI wrote the whole structure of the song in a couple of takes including the key change to the solo which I thought was quite clever how it came back to the bridge. I then played a rough feel on my very basic drum kit. Next I added the guitar solo which just seemed naturally what would fit. I played it by bending the strings, it wasn't a slide guitar, put the bass on, then sat down and out poured the lyrics, from nowhere. I then sang it and did all the harmonies myself. I would say it was a pretty divine moment and one I can't explain.

Q: Did you have any feeling that "I Love You" was going to be something special when you wrote it? I read that it almost was not recorded for the album. How and why did "I Love You" go from being off to being on the Flying the Flag album? How did that all go down?

Derek: The irony of "I Love You" is that I played it to the band but they didn't like it. I thought it was the best and most complete song I'd ever written. We had a producer [John Ryan] come to England from L.A. to run through the tracks for our next album. He was sent to pre-produce our songs and asked us if anyone had any more songs. I said, "I have this one but the band don't like it." I played my cassette recording for him and he loved it, even said he thought it was a hit.

Q: How did the song evolve during production? I like the use of strings on the track. Any other interesting details about creating this beautiful song? What were your feelings when you heard your final recorded version of "I Love You"?I Love You

Derek: We arrived in L.A. to record the album at Sound City Studios. When it came to "I Love You", our producer got Nicky Hopkins to play the grand piano. So it was me at the Fender Rhodes, Nicky by my side at the grand and John Cuffley on drums. The three of us laid down the basic track. I then put on the bass, sang it and did all the harmonies, Pete [Haycock] played my guitar solo, Colin Cooper wasn't even on the track. Then the producer decided to get a "real" string section on the track which was the icing on the cake. Warner Brothers came to the album launch at the studio for the execs to have a listen. They all raved about "I Love You", they got behind it and it became a hit. Personally, I thought it just sounded incredible.

"I Love You" was a single from the 1980 Climax Blues Band album Flying the Flag and has gone on to be one of the band's most prolific hits. The song about a woman coming into a man's life changing it for the better entered the U.S. pop chart in February of 1981. It went on to peak at #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 in June of that year and spent 27 weeks in the top 100. Here is a video of "I Love You" by Climax Blues Band...


Q: Why did the rest of the band not like the song and why did it never get played in live shows? Most Climax Blues Band songs seem to be credited as written by the entire band. Was it unusual that you received solo credit for writing "I Love You"?

Derek: Up until the Flying the Flag album, Flying the Flagwe used to split songwriting royalties four equal ways as we were all credited with writing songs. For this album, we had a meeting to discuss starting to have songwriting credit split separately. I lost the argument to keep it all the same as before and ended up gaining 100% of my own song. Ironic!

When the song became a hit (also it was the start of me then becoming a lead singer which worried the others), we had a major U.S. tour booked but both Colin and Pete didn't want to "go on the road to promote my career". So even with a song high up on the U.S. charts, they actually chose not to back me up instead of just being grateful for another hit. I never got to tour and sing the song live so I feel slightly cheated out of performing it. But it became a really popular radio song and of course a lot of people fell in love because of it. I also get emails from people who actually got married because of it even having it played as their "first dance" at their reception.

Q: What are your sentiments regarding "I Love You" over 30 years later?

Derek: It's so satisfying to know the the song touched so many people in so many different ways. The song still lives on 30 years later! Occasionally, I get asked if it can be used in a film or for a jingle, so that's great. When I go out gigging, people still ask for it and I'll sing it. It would have been great though to perform it in front of thousands in the USA when we were at our peak. I recently did some shows in Toronto, Canada and people just loved to hear the song live. It will probably live on forever. I hope so. I guess I made my mark!

I have always loved this song. From the moment I hear Derek sing that first line, it gets me every time. The melody, his vocals, the lyrics. Everything combines to make one very special song in my opinion. Here are those lyrics to "I Love You" as written by Derek Holt...

When I was younger man I hadn't a care
Foolin' around, hitting the town, growing my hairI Love You
You came along and stole my heart when you entered my life
Ooh babe you got what it takes so I made you my wife

Since then I never looked back
It's almost like living a dream
And ooh I love you

You came along from far away and found me here
I was playin' around, feeling down, hittin' the beer
You picked me up from off the floor and gave me a smile
You said you're much too young, your life ain't begun, let's walk for awhile

And as my head was spinnin' 'round
I gazed into your eyes
And thought ooh I want you

Thank you babe for being a friend
And shinin' your light in my life
'cause ooh I need you

As my head was comin' round
I gazed into your eyes
And thought ooh I want you

Thanks again for being my friendDerek Holt
And straightenin' out my life
'cause ooh I need you

Since then I never looked back
It's almost like livin' a dream
Ooh I got you

If ever a man had it all
It would have to be me
And ooh I love you

Q: In 1983, what caused you to leave Climax Blues Band, a band you helped found? It seems you rejoined the band for a short period of time in the late 80s. What caused you to come back and why did you leave again?

Derek: I left the band due to the guys not supporting me. It was probably the worst decision I could have made. We all make mistakes in life. Derek HoltI went on to form a band with Roye Albrighton, the guitarist from Nektar. We did two albums for A&M and toured Europe and the U.S. only it was like starting all over again. It was tough driving the thousands of miles between gigs. I'd already done this with Climax and I just felt it was like worthless exercise. So we split and I went into studio management for a while. I guess I fell out of love with the daily grind of touring for a while. It can get to you

After I left, Pete and Colin carried on. Then they themselves split leaving Colin to carry on as The Climax Blues Band with some local musicians. I was approached to rejoin to do some European tours which I did more for the love of playing than anything else, but I was hired as a backing musician so got paid by the gig as a hired hand. This didn't sit well with me and so i left again. I was also going through some difficult times at home and my heart just wasn't into slogging around the world on the road again especially traveling in a van for thousands of miles. America was where we should have been but we lost that chance the first time around.Stewart Copeland & Derek Holt

Q: How did you end up collaborating with Stewart Copeland to create the music used in the Star Wars animated Droids cartoon series? What can you tell us about Copeland and your experience working with him?

Derek: I'd known Stewart Copeland for many years. His brother, Miles, managed us for a few good years. He got in touch with me about collaborating on Lucasfilm's animated shows. He'd already had success writing the music for The Equalizer [1985-1989 TV series]and Rumble Fish [1983 film], so was well respected. I really enjoyed working with Stewart. He had a great studio.

Derek Holt and Stewart Copeland collaborated to write and record music for the Star Wars animated television shows that aired from 1985-1986 including the opening theme for Droids titled "Trouble Again"...


Q: Please tell us a little about where your career has taken you since the 80s. What are some of your proudest professional accomplishments?Derek Holt

Derek: I joined the "Night Of The Guitars" tour [1990] playing bass for Alvin Lee, Leslie West, Steve Howe, Wishbone Ash, Robbie Krieger, Randy California, Jan Akkerman and Phil Manzanera to name a few. I was invited to meet up again at Miles Copeland's chateau retreat in France where musicians and songwriters would gather to write songs in various groups. I was there with people like Jeff Beck, Timothy B. Schmit, Lisa Loeb and Chas Sandford among others. A truly great experience to be collaborating with some great writers. I also played bass for Chuck Berry in Spain. All of these great experiences to be remembered.Derek Holt

Q: What else is Derek Holt up to nowadays? Musically and otherwise?

Derek: I decided to have a go at running my own live music venue in Stafford, England, my home town. So I bought a pub called The Grapes. We were there for 12 years, had some great fun, saw some incredible acts. I was playing in there three nights a week, but eventually we ran out of steam and gave it up for a quieter life.

I still play and go out with different musicians up and down the country. I'm currently writing a book on my life called Almost Like Living a Dream (from a line in "I Love You"). It's been a great, bumpy ride so far. Long may it continue.

I am so pleased that Derek was able to take some time to answer some questions so I could share them with you here. To find out more about Derek Holt and keep up with everything he has going, please visit his official website at www.derekholt.co.uk/ I want to take this occasion to again thank Derek Holt for his contributions to 80s pop culture especially through "I Love You" and, even more, for going back to that awesome decade with us here for a little while as well.

That'll do it for another special issue of Kickin' it Old School. Thanks as always for reading and hope you are enjoying these interviews as much as I am. If you want a summary of all of my Back to the 80s Interviews posted thus far, please click on that link. Be sure you haven't missed any of them (over 100 so far!). You can use the Google Search Box at the top of the right hand column to find any topics you are looking for or other issues you may have missed. If you are a fan of 80s pop culture and Kickin' it, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK LOGO in the upper right hand column. This will take you to the Fan Page where I ask you to then click on the "Like" button. You can also follow @OldSchool80s on Twitter by clicking on the FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER LOGO also in the upper right hand column. This will take you the page and you can just click on the box that says "Follow". I am sending daily 80s tweets, so sign up to get those. You can also hook up with us on Google+. Please leave comments so we know you're out there and let other 80s fans know about us as well! Peace and much love.

Quote of the day: "When you compete with a person, you only have to be as good or better than the person to win. If you compete with yourself, there is no limitation to how good you can be." -Chin-Ning Chu



 
Back to the 80s: Voting Now Open for 1985 Movie Madness - Kickin' it Old School
02.28.15 (12:44 pm)   [edit]
March Madness is upon us once again! After the success of last year's 1984 Movie Madness, we totally had to come back this year and have our favorite movies from 30 years ago battle it out in... 1985 Movie Madness! Last year's tournament crowned Sixteen Candles as our favorite movie from 1984 (and you can check out those results by that link). This year we certainly have some strong contenders from 1985 including a few of the most iconic films of the decade. It's hard to believe that it has been 30 years since some of these movies were released in theaters.

I picked 64 of the top movies released in 1985, divided them into four regions based on genre and seeded them within each region. Those regions are Comedy/Romantic Comedy, Drama, Action/Horror/Thriller/Western and Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Kids. Some films crossed genres, so I did my best to assign them where I felt they fit best. The top seeded films from each region are:

Back to the Future The Breakfast ClubThe GooniesReal Genius


We already celebrated the 30th anniversary of The Breakfast Club on February 15th. The Goonies will celebrate 30 years on June 7th and Back to the Future, the highest grossing movie of 1985, on July 3rd. Speaking of Back to the Future, please check out (and pre-order) our friend Caseen Gaines' upcoming book We Don't Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy (www.facebook.com/wedontneedroadsbook/). Out of Africa won the Oscar for Best Picture, but along with another popular drama, The Color Purple, weren't released until December 18th so barely qualified for this year's tournament.

Here is snapshot of the complete tournament bracket for this year (but you'll find all of the match-ups at the link below)...

1985 Movie Madness - Round 1

 


Now is the part where you come in! Join the madness. PLEASE VOTE and let others know. Voting on first round match-ups is already open. Please follow the link below to vote now:
www.challonge.com/1985moviemadness

Unfortunately, you do have register at the website before you can vote, but it is relatively easy to do and, if you voted last year, you should already be registered. Voting for each round will only be open for a limited time, so get your vote in now. Results will be posted and you will be notified when voting for the next round is open. It is important to keep coming back to vote each round because the choice will get tougher and tougher as we narrow it down. Your votes will choose a champion by the end of the month!

Please help spread the word and get as many voters participating as possible. Please stop by our Facebook page and let us know you voted in our 1985 Movie Madness tournament: www.Facebook.com/KickinItOldSchool80s/ Please share it on Facebook, Twitter and any other social networks you frequent. Really hope we can get a lot of participation again and look forward to crowning our favorite film of 1985.



 
80s Pop Culture References in Family Guy - Kickin' it Old School
02.20.15 (3:50 pm)   [edit]
I have been watching Family Guy since it debuted back in 1999 and I am still amazed what they get away for a show that airs in prime time on network television for much of its existence. Family GuyThe ultra-talented Seth MacFarlane really pushes the line on FCC regulations (or acceptable societal values) regarding what is considered offensive, obscene, indecent, profane or just plain wrong. But that is not what keeps me watching all these years; it is the pop culture references that are worked into each show often through cutaway gags. And the more subtle, obscure or random, the better. I obviously especially appreciate the 80s pop culture references the most. So I thought I would try to share some of my favorites which I was able to find in some video form.

In an early episode of the show titled "Fifteen Minutes of Shame" (Season 2 in 2000), Family Ties by Peterwhile learning to paint from PBS' The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross, Peter paints a portrait of the Family Ties cast just like it appeared in the show's opening credits. In the "Brian's Got a Brand New Bag" episode (Season 8), Peter bought the Road House DVD from a going out of business sale at the video store. After watching the film, Peter began to believe that all of life's problems could be solved by kicking. After each time he kicked something, he would say "Road House!" The episode was dedicated to Patrick Swayze, having aired only 47 days after Swayze's death in 2009 from pancreatic cancer. Many of these references are silly, but they often times make me chuckle. One of my other favorite lines was from a January 2013 (Season 11) episode titled "The Giggity Wife" when Peter asked, "Hey, was Beowulf a Teen Wolf sequel with Scott Baio?" I don't know why, but that one really got me. I couldn't find a good video clip of those, but I did find them for many others. Several even include a side-by-side comparison of the actual scene the Family Guy is recreating (thank you DrPepperJNL), so I provided those where available. Here are just some of the 80s Pop Culture References made in Family Guy...

From "Baby Got Back" (Season 12, Episode 18, original air date April 27, 2014) - Peter recreates a memorable scene from Footloose...


From "A Fistful of Meg" (Season 12, Episode 18, original air date November 10, 2013) - Peter changes Meg's birth certificate name to Megatron (from Transformers)...


From "Chris Cross" (Season 11, Episode 13, original air date February 13, 2013) - Peter has to call Damone to bring his money just like Rat in Fast Times at Ridgemont High...


From "Tiegs for Two" (Season 9, Episode 14, original air date April 10, 2011) - Megatron is trying to rally the Decepticons when a new Transformer "Negatron" is being a downer...


From "Big Man on Hippocampus" (Season 8, Episode 10, original air date January 3, 2010) - Crocodile Dundee makes an appearance to let them know "That's not a knife"...


From "Peter's Progress" (Season 7, Episode 16, original air date May 17, 2009) - The guys recreate the musical number from the Revenge of the Nerds talent show...


From "Baby Not On Board" (Season 7, Episode 4, original air date November 2, 2008) - A classic monologue is recreated from Planes, Trains & Automobiles...


From "Family Gay" (Season 7, Episode 8, original air date March 8, 2009) - Peter becomes the character of Dirk the Daring from the Dragon's Lair arcade game...


From "Movin' Out (Brian's Song)" (Season 6, Episode 2, original air date September 20, 2007) - Stewie tries to cheer up Brian by showing him 80s movie robots Jinx from SpaceCamp and Sico from Rocky IV...


From "Meet the Quagmires" (Season 5, Episode 18, original air date May 20, 2007) - Peter is dancing to "Axel F" at St. Elmo's Clam with Cleveland wearing a Thriller jacket...


From "The Tan Aquatic with Steve Zissou" (Season 5, Episode 11, original air date February 18, 2007) - The museum scene is recreated from Ferris Bueller's Day Off in the Art Institute of Chicago...


From "Road to Rupert" (Season 5, Episode 9, original air date January 28, 2007) - Peter imagines himself in an 80s sitcom called "My Black Son" with Emmanuel Lewis with the opening theme recreating parts of Punky Brewster, Family Ties, Perfect Strangers, Bosom Buddies, Who's the Boss and more...


Also from that same episode, there is a Ghostbusters reference when Lois opens up the refrigerator...


From "Stu & Stewie's Excellent Adventure" from Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story (Season 4, Episode 30, original air date May 21, 2006) - The scene is recreated from Ferris Bueller's Day Off when he is racing the car home...


From "I Take Thee Quagmire" (Season 4, Episode 21, original air date March 12, 2006) - They recreate the opening of The Great Space Coaster with a small twist at the end...


From "The Father, the Son, and the Holy Fonz" (Season 4, Episode 18, original air date December 18, 2005) - Peter cuts away to join Paula Abdul in her "Opposites Attract" video but sings "I'm Dressed Like a Cat" instead...


From "Brian Goes Back to College" (Season 4, Episode 15, original air date November 13, 2005) - The guys pretend to be The A-Team and recreate the show's opening theme...


Also, from the same episode, Brian recreates a training montage from Rocky IV...


From "PTV" (Season 4, Episode 14, original air date November 6, 2005) - Peter remembers his 16th birthday with a Jake Ryan scene from Sixteen Candles that ends a little differently than the movie...


From "Jungle Love" (Season 4, Episode 13, original air date September 25, 2005) - Stewie recreates the scene from Tootsie after he is told "No one in this town will hire you!"...


Also, from the same episode, Chris ends up singing a version of Wham's "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go"...


From "Breaking Out is Hard to Do" (Season 4, Episode 9, original air date July 17, 2005) - Possibly my all-time favorite when Chris is pulled into a recreation of the rotoscoping a-ha "Take On Me" video...


From "Petarded" (Season 4, Episode 6, original air date June 19, 2005) - Stewie has a recreation of an iPod commercial except his uses "The Warrior" by Scandal...


From the albm Family Guy: Live in Vegas (released April 26, 2005) - Includes the song "T.V. Medley" where Stewie and Brian do a tribute to many awesome sitcom theme songs including Diff'rent Strokes, Growing Pains, Charles in Charge, Silver Spoons, Who's the Boss, Perfect Strangers, The Golden Girls, Family Ties and more...


From "Stuck Together, Torn Apart" (Season 3, Episode 19, original air date January 31, 2002) - When Peter and Lois are having marital problems, he says splitting up didn't work for Pac-Man and his wife...


From "The Kiss Seen Around the World" (Season 3, Episode 8, original air date August 29, 2001) - The iconic Phoebe Cates pool scene from Fast Times at Ridgemont High is recreated when Meg fantasizes about Tom Tucker...


From "Let's Go to the Hop" (Season 2, Episode 14, original air date June 6, 2000) - The Breakfast Club is recreated with cereal mascots Tony the Tiger, Toucan Sam, Trix Rabbit, Lucky the Leprechaun and Cap'n Crunch...


From "Da Boom" (Season 2, Episode 3, original air date December 26, 1999) - Peter comes up in a protective suit and Chris yells, "The government is here! Run, E.T., run!"...

 

There are so many more that I couldn't find video clips for or that I just missed, but I will try to keep adding more as I come across them. There have also been countless Star Wars references over the years. Family Guy even did complete recreation/parodies of the original Star Wars trilogy with permission of George Lucas including Empire Strikes Back as "Something, Something, Something Dark Side" (released on DVD in December 2009) and Return of the Jedi as "It's a Trap!" (released on DVD in December 2010) and I didn't even include any of those. Since Family Guy is syndicated on so many stations now, it is not unusual to see any of these episodes playing at any time. So you never know when you might catch an awesome 80s pop culture reference if you tune in. And, no matter how offensive other parts of the show may be, that is always worth it to me.

That'll wrap up this issue of Kickin' it Old School. Thanks so much for reading. You can use the Google Search Box at the top of the right hand column or the links in the left column to find any topics you are looking for or browse other issues you may have missed. If you are a fan of 80s pop culture and Kickin' it, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK LOGO in the upper right hand column. This will take you to the Fan Page where I ask you to then click on the "Like" button. You can also join the thousands who follow @OldSchool80s on Twitter by clicking on the FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER LOGO also in the upper right hand column. This will take you the page and you can just click on the box that says "Follow". I am sending daily 80s tweets, so sign up to get those. You can also hook up with us on Google+. Please leave comments so we know you're out there and let other 80s fans know about us as well! Peace and much love.

Quote of the day: "Never be afraid to laugh at yourself, after all, you could be missing out on the joke of the century." -Joan Rivers



 
Back to the 80s: Interview with hit songwriter Holly Knight - Kickin' it Old School
02.08.15 (5:52 pm)   [edit]
As I still feel the need to say each time, I am so delighted that interviews continue to be a legitimate part of this little blog of mine! When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the 80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.Holly Knight

This time that awesomeness is Holly Knight. Holly Knight is an American songwriter, vocalist and musician. She is known for having co-written many hit songs of the 80s for some of the most successful artists in music, including Pat Benatar, Tina Turner, Heart, Rod Stewart, Lou Gramm and more. Find out a little more about her and those hit songs she wrote which garnered her 2013 induction into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame as we get on to some selections from my interview with Holly Knight...

Q: When and how did you get your own start in the music industry?

Holly: I knew when I was fourteen that I wanted to be a professional musician. One night I went to see The Beach Boys live. I was at the front of the stage jumping and slamming to the music like everyone else, and I kept signaling to Mike Love that I wanted to play keyboards. I never expected him to pull me up on the stage, but he did and he led me over to the keyboards. They were about to play "Good Vibrations". He was really nice and he kept shouting out the chord changes to me, but of course, I already knew them... who didn't? I remember looking out into the audience and seeing a blur of arms and hands and lights. The music was so full and loud, and everyone on stage was connecting through the music. It was so cool, I knew right then I wanted to be a professional musician, in fact long before I became a writer. Holly KnightI already knew probably by four that I was going to be a musician... but it was at this moment on stage that I thought I wanted to have a career in music. I wanted to be a rock star!

Q: Please tell us a little about your time with the band Spider earlier in your career.

Holly: I joined the band Spider which at the time [1977] had no name, no keyboard player (though they wanted one) and no bass player. We had met at a club which later we became the house band for, named Trax in New York City. Everyone who played in town, whether it was at The Garden or Max's Kansas City went to Trax afterwards, so it was a cool rock n roll scene. One night you'd see Robert Plant and the next night, Deborah Harry. Anyway I met Keith [Lentin], Anton [Fig] and Amanda [Blue] there and a few nights later around midnight they asked me if I wanted to come down to their loft in Soho and jam. Basically, it was an audition. I threw some clothes on (I had already gone to bed, LOL), went and played. They asked me to join, so then we became a band with original music from day one, and they were all writing. I thought, well their music is a bit lame, so I'll try writing (could I be any worse?), what the hell... and that's how I "became" a songwriter. I had dabbled in it before for years, but that's when it became serious. I was good at it. SO MUCH MORE HAPPENED... but that's how it started. And once we had Bill Aucoin as our manager, the next thing we set out to do was to get a record deal. So we made a demo of our best songs, continued writing and got a record deal. In those days, once you signed you record deal you were considered "professional". Now we were going to get our chance and play ball in the big leagues.

Q: So that's how you started writing your own songs, but when and how did you end up moving into a career of writing songs for other artists to perform? How did you meet Mike Chapman and what role did he play in the transition?

Holly: After two records, I left Spider and moved out to California at the urging of Mike Chapman. (Why I left the band is another story, not for now.) I had already written my first song with him for Spider's second record, "Better Be Good To Me", which is one of the first covers I got when Tina Turner recorded it for her Private Dancer album. Also John Waite recorded "Change", another tune that Spider first recorded (although I like his version better).

Q: Speaking of "Better Be Good To Me", how did Tina Turner end up recording and having a 1984 hit with that song which you co-wrote back in 1981 and recorded with Spider?Better Be Good To Me

Holly: Who knew? I don't think anybody knew Tina was about to explode way beyond Ike Turner into her solo career like she did. I heard she was in a boardroom and they were listening back to a lot of tunes that her people had brought in to consider for the record she was about to do. And when she heard "Better Be Good To Me" she jumped up and walked around the table saying this lyrically was all about her. She had recently run across the freeway to get away from Ike who was abusing her, so this was an empowering message at the time for her, one that millions can relate to, I guess. It's a song about self-respect and dignity. She deserved it and she was gonna get it.

Co-written by Knight, Chapman and Nicky Chinn, "Better Be Good To Me" was originally released by Spider in 1981. It was made popular by Tina Turner when she released a cover version as a single from her multi-platinum Private Dancer album in 1984. Turner's version would peak at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and win her a Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. So even though it wasn't her first song to become a huge hit, it was the first one she wrote back in 1981. Here is the music video for "Better Be Good To Me" by Tina Turner...


Q: You wrote some amazing songs with Mike Chapman. What can you tell us about Chapman and your partnership working with him?

Holly: The chemistry with us as writers was very special. We would jam very loud and write... we were having fun, but it was pretty serious business, too. In those days, there was a four or five year period where we wrote some of the best tunes together and after that we spread out, I worked less and less with him. The rest, as they say, is history.Love Is a Battlefield

Q: You co-wrote the 1983 hit single "Love Is a Battlefield" with Chapman. Please take us back to when the song was written. What is the back story about how that song was conceived and written? Did you write it specifically for Pat Benatar to sing?

Holly: The first day I moved out to California, I went over to Chapman's place to write and the phone rang. Pat Benatar called Mike and asked, "Can you write me a hit? I'm doing a live record and I need a hit to promote and sell the record." The record ended up being Live from Earth. Mike had worked with her already on her first record, so he told her, "I have a writer I signed and we were planning to write today, so we'll write for you." And that day we wrote most of "Love Is A Battlefield". Talk about catching lightning in a bottle!

"Love is a Battlefield" was released in 1983 and has gone on to become one of Benatar's signature hits. It was one of the two studio tracks included on the platinum selling Live from Earth album. It peaked at #5 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, but became an international hit charting highly in at least nine other countries. I have always felt the song featured some outstanding lyrics:
We are youngLove Is a Battlefield
Heartache to heartache, we stand
No promises, no demands
Love is a battlefield

We are strong, no one can tell us we're wrong
Searchin' our hearts for so long
Both of us knowing
Love is a battlefield

You're beggin' me to go then makin' me stay
Why do you hurt me so bad
It would help me to know
Do I stand in your way, or am I the best thing you've had
Believe me, believe me, I can't tell you why
But I'm trapped by your love and I'm chained to your side

The song won Benatar a Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. Here is the music video for "Love Is a Battlefield" by Pat Benatar...


Q: Did you have any feeling that this song was going to be something special when you wrote it?

Holly: Yes, ABSOLUTELY... but I have songs even now that I feel the same about and it's some of my best work, but it's just that times have changed so much since those days. Everything is homogenized, it's less and less about the song. Holly KnightAnd because of Spotify and Pandora, it's harder to get covers, I won't lie... and I'm in the Songwriter's Hall of Fame! I can only imagine starting out in today's climate.

Q: What were your feelings when you heard the final recording of your song by Benatar?

Holly: Well, everyone including Pat knows we initially hated their recording. I loved her vocals, I just didn't love the production of the track which was a lot more frantic than the demo. But I've had many years to adjust and I've learned to love it... since it's probably my most iconic tune.

Q: You co-wrote the 1984 hit "Obsession" with Michael Des Barres. The two of you originally recorded it as a duet in 1983, but it became a hit for Animotion the following year. Please take us back to when the song was written. What is the back story about how that song came to be? How did Animotion end up recording it and did you like their version?

Holly: I wrote the music and melody and some lyrics, Michael wrote the bulk of the lyrics. Our version (the original) appeared in the movie A Night In Heaven [1983] about a stripper starring Cristopher Atkins and Lesley Ann Warren. That song has been in so many movies and TV shows since then (Hot Tub Time Machine, Dallas Buyers Club, The Following, Nip Tuck, MTV's House of Style... I can't even name them all). After our version came out, someone played it to Animotion and they cut it. ObsessionYou'd have to ask them how that came about because I don't know. Again, I thought their version was a little cheesy, ours was a little more edgy. We also had the electronic sequencer line which is how I started the tune. Again, no complaints now. They had a huge international hit with it, and the singer, Bill Wadham wrote me just the other day (oddly enough) and thanked me for being the catalyst in changing his life and career.

In my interview with Michael Des Barres , I asked him about working with Knight and he said, "Holly is a brilliant writer. Challenging and very gifted." You can find out more about what Des Barres remembered about creating "Obsession" in that interview . He said the song is a "poem of longing and addiction." Even though originally written and recorded by Knight and Des Barres, "Obsession" received very little attention until it was covered by Animotion and released in late 1984. The Animotion single was quite distinctive and would make it all the way to #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 as well as #3 on the dance chart in 1985. Knight mentioned many shows and movies it has appeared in, but I always fondly remember the song from its use as the theme for the WWF Saturday Night's Main Event. Here is the video for "Obsession" by Animotion...


Q: You teamed up with Nick Gilder to write "The Warrior" which was a 1984 hit for Scandal. What are your feelings regarding the final version that Patty Smyth and Scandal recorded?Patty Smyth & Holly Knight

Holly: Well, I loved Patty's version of it because Mike Chapman produced it, sThe Warrioro we were in home base for this one. In 2013, when I was inducted into the Songwriter's Hall Of Fame, Patty inducted me, which was a thrill. She also performed "The Warrior" at the event.

"The Warrior" was released as a single by Scandal in the summer of 1984 as part of the band's debut album which was produced by Mike Chapman. Smyth has one of the iconic female rock voices and puts it to good use on this song which, once again, features some great lyrics:

You talk, talk, talk to me
Your eyes touch me physically
Stay with me we'll take the night
As passion takes another bite, oh

Who's the hunter, who's the game?The Warrior
I feel the beat call your name
I hold you close in victory
I don't wanna tame your animal style
You won't be caged in the call of the wild

Shooting at the walls of heartache
Bang, bang, I am the warrior
Well, I am the warrior
And heart to heart you'll win
If you survive the warrior, the warrior

The single peaked at #7 on the Billboard Hot 100, but made it to #1 on the Mainstream Rock chart. Here is the music video for "The Warrior" by Scandal...


Q: In 1985, Heart released "Never" which you co-wrote with Ann & Nancy Wilson. Holly Knight, Nancy & Ann WilsonHow did you end up working with them on this great power ballad? What can you tell us about working with the Wilson sisters? What do you remember about how that song came together?

Holly: Trudy Green, who was part of HK Management (Irving Azoff) called me up and said I needed to meet the girls and I should be writing with them. So she invited me down to SIR, a rehearsal space where they were. Once we met, it was instant girl bonding. We had all been musicians and rocky, edgy ones all our lives, so there was an immediate connection. NeverI brought in my guitarist friend from Device, Gene Black, to write with us. He had this great funky guitar riff which ended up being the beginning of "Never" and lyrically there I was AGAIN demanding some respect, but staying in the foray, never walking away, never backing down.

"Never" was released as a single by Heart in the Fall of 1985 and went on to become a big hit for them peaking at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and helping their self-titled eighth studio album to go 5x platinum. It really shows off the amazing vocal abilities of not only Ann, but Nancy Wilson as well. Here is the music video for "Never" by Heart...


Q: You then co-wrote another hit for Pat Benatar with 1985's "Invincible" which was featured in the film The Legend of Billie Jean. Please take us back to when you wrote the song. What is the back story about how it was inspired and written? Did you write this song specifically for Benatar and/or to be used in that film?Invincible

Holly: I specifically wrote that song for Benatar and the film. I had a script and I knew they wanted a strong female voice, especially because of the concept for the film. It was kind of a modern day Joan of Arc story, so all the lyrics really were written with being invincible in mind.

And with the power of conviction
There is no sacrifice
It's a do or die situation
We will be invincible.

I wrote "Invincible" in London with Simon Climie (Climie Fisher). It was his first cover and hit. It's probably my favorite of all the songs I wrote... certainly at the top of the list anyway.

"Invincible", co-written by Knight and Simon Climie, was recorded by Pat Benatar and released in 1985 on her Seven the Hard Way album and as part of the soundtrack for the film The Legend of Billie Jean. This was the second big hit for Benatar co-written by Holly Knight and, as she mentioned above, is her personal favorite song she has written so far. Here is the music video for "Invincible" by Pat Benatar...


Q: In 1986, you teamed with Mike Chapman again to co-write "Love Touch" for Rod Stewart which was used in the film Legal Eagles. What can you share with us about how that song came together and working with Stewart?Love Touch

Holly: Rod Stewart's management called me up and invited me to meet him up at their office, so I showed up there with a cassette and all the basic ideas, the chorus and such for "Love Touch". He instantly loved it and said "Let's finish it!" I tried to finish it with him, but the few times we got together he was just being silly and useless and not contributing. So I told him I wanted to finish it with Mike Chapman instead and if he was smart, he'd cut it which he did and he had a big hit with it. And yes, it ended up in the movie Legal Eagles. The song was pretty much finished, except that in the end Gene Black came up with another one of his tasty classic guitar riffs, so I felt he should get a writer's credit. Often guitarists or musicians, for that matter, will come up with parts, but it doesn't really make a difference to the integrity or structure of the song. That's not really songwriting. I call that "doing your job as a musician and expressing your instrument". But then there are times when a riff is a signature of the song and without it the song would sound different. So then they might deserve a writer's credit.

"Love Touch" was released in 1986 and featured in the end credits of the Robert Redford/Debra Winger film Legal Eagles. Stewart has called it "one of the silliest songs I've ever recorded" which I find very hard to believe based on his catalog of work. I personally really like it and one of my favorite lyrics from the song is:
Because I wanna be good for you
I didn't mean to be bad
But darlin' I'm still the best
That you ever had

It became a big hit for Rod Stewart reaching #6 on the Billboard Hot 100. Here is the music video for "Love Touch" by Rod Stewart...


In 1986, Knight formed a band called Device with Paul Engemann and Gene Black. They only released one album, but they did have a minor hit with the single "Hanging on a Heart Attack" Holly Knightwhich made it to #35 on the Billboard Hot 100 and received heavy rotation on MTV. Device disbanded in 1987.

Q: You are listed as one of the co-writers for the 1987 Aerosmith hit "Rag Doll". How did you end up working with those guys and what roll did you play in writing this song? What else can you tell us about making this hit?

Holly: In this case, I was the doctor who came in to tighten a screw. Not my favorite way to write; I like to start at the inception of a tune. Rag DollBut I was excited to meet Steven [Tyler] and the band and get to work with them. At that time Aerosmith was a little dead in the water, they had just embarked on their recovery from addictions and their music sucked at that point. They were not the Aerosmith I knew and loved from the beginning, but I still loved them... so let's just say it was a big screw I tightened, LOL.

"Rag Doll" was co-written by Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Jim Vallance and Knight and released on Aerosmith's 1987 multi-platinum Permanent Vacation album. It was released as a single in 1988 and would peak at #17 on the Billboard Hot 100. In my interview with co-writer Jim Vallance , he confirmed that he thought it was Knight who suggested that the title and chorus be changed from "Rag Time" to "Rag Doll".

Q: In 1988, Bonnie Tyler recorded "The Best" which you co-wrote with Mike Chapman, but it really became a big hit for Tina Turner the following year. Was it difficult to write such a positive song yet keep from being too cheesy?

Holly: Yes, it can be very hard to write a positive song and have it not come out cheesy. The BestThis song came from the heart, from a very real place, so it's powerful without being cheesy.

"The Best" was included on Tina Turner's 1989 Foreign Affair album. It reached #15 on the Billboard Hot 100, but has gone on to be one of Turner's signature songs and the perfect anthem to celebrate greatness. Here is an example of the sincere lyrics:
Give me a lifetime of promises and a world of dreams
Speak a language of love like you know what it means
And it can't be wrong, take my heart and make it strong

Q: Then to wrap up the decade, you co-wrote "Just Between You and Me" with Lou Gramm. Just Between You and MeHow did you end up working with Gramm and what can you tell us about that experience?

Holly: Lou called me up and said he was doing a solo record and wanted to write with me. I had most of the music to "Just Between You and Me" done and some of the melody as well as a few lyrics. We finished it together. He was such an amazing singer. I was thrilled and honored to work with him.

"Just Between You and Me" was released at the end of 1989 by Lou Gramm as a single from his second solo album, Long Hard Look. The single peaked at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and has always been one of my favorites from that year. Here is the music video for "Just Between You and Me" by Lou Gramm...


Q: Is it difficult as a song-writer to relinquish your song to another artist who will undoubtedly take artistic liberties and/or put their own spin on you work?Holly Knight

Holly: Yes, but now I insist on producing. Otherwise I'm really not interested in writing and handing it over for someone else to either steal my ideas and not give credit where credit is due (as well as financial compensation) or they feel the need to change it just "because" and they end up turning a hit song into a shitty track.

Q: What do you remember best about the decade of 80s music?

Holly: The 80s were fun. It was the beginning of the MTV generation... there were a lot of beautiful and different songs that came out of that era, before everything started sounding the same.Holly Knight

With all of these hits (I've covered at least ten above), it's no surprise that Holly Knight was deservingly inducted into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame in June of 2013. Inductees are honored for being responsible for captivating the world with their creativity and serving up a rich variety of songs for our global soundtrack. Knight's songs have won 13 ASCAP Songwriter Awards and have been a key component of the soundtrack of the 80s decade.

Q: What are some of your proudest professional accomplishments?

Holly: My songs have won three Grammys in the rock vocalist category. In total, my songs have sold something like half a billion records and stood the test of time. I was inducted into the Songwriter's Hall Of Fame in 2013. I've made it onto South Park, Oprah, movies, I've written two TV show themes [Angel and Still Standing]... anything else is gravy from here. Oh wait, I would like to win a Tony and an Oscar, too, LOL. Holly KnightI've just started getting going again. I think I'll have to die to stop doing something creative.

Q: What else is Holly Knight up to nowadays? Musically and otherwise? Hobbies?

Holly: I am really into Fine Art Photography. I travel all over the world with my camera and I have set up a really cool website: www.hollyknightphoto.com/

I'm working on two musicals at the moment. I've been working for a few years on one musical with all my hits in it that I am calling Battlefield.

I never stop writing songs. There's a new one that you're going to hopefully hear very soon. I am very excited about it and I hope the right artist cuts it. It's called "AMF YoYo" and you can all guess what the letters stand for [Adios Mother F#cker, You're On Your Own].

Q: Any remaining ambitions or regrets?

Holly: No promises, no demands... No regrets! [nice!]

I am so honored that Holly was able to take some time to answer some questions so I could share them with you here. To find out more about Holly Knight and keep up with everything she has going on now, please visit her official website at www.hollyknight.com and like her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/HollyKnightSongwriter/ I want to take this occasion to again thank Holly Knight for her contributions to 80s pop culture through her hit songwriting and, even more, for going back to that awesome decade with us here for a little while as well.

That's all for another special issue of Kickin' it Old School. Thanks as always for reading and hope you are enjoying these interviews as much as I am. If you want a summary of all of my Back to the 80s Interviews posted thus far, please click on that link. Be sure you haven't missed any of them (over 100 so far!). You can use the Google Search Box at the top of the right hand column to find any topics you are looking for or other issues you may have missed. If you are a fan of 80s pop culture and Kickin' it, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK LOGO in the upper right hand column. This will take you to the Fan Page where I ask you to then click on the "Like" button. You can also follow @OldSchool80s on Twitter by clicking on the FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER LOGO also in the upper right hand column. This will take you the page and you can just click on the box that says "Follow". I am sending daily 80s tweets, so sign up to get those. You can also hook up with us on Google+. Please leave comments so we know you're out there and let other 80s fans know about us as well! Peace and much love.

Quote of the day: "It's very helpful to start with something that's true. If you start with something that's false, you're always covering your tracks. Something simple and true, that has a lot of possibilities, is a nice way to begin." -Paul Simon



 
Back to the 80s: Interview with Keith Gordon from Back to School, Christine & more - Kickin' it Old School
01.29.15 (10:30 am)   [edit]
As I still feel the need to say each time, I am so delighted that interviews continue to be a legitimate part of this little blog of mine! When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the 80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.Keith Gordon

This time that awesomeness is Keith Gordon. He is best known to most as an actor in several memorable 80s films including Christine, The Legend of Billie Jean and Back to School. At the end of the decade he started to move to the other side of the camera and has since worked consistently as a director for both film and television. Find out a little about making those particular 80s films, what he has been doing since and more as we get on to some selections from my interview with Keith Gordon...

Q: When and how did you get your start in acting? Was it something your parents encouraged since they were actors? When did you think that it had the potential to become a career for you?

Keith: My first professional acting job was in a 1975 episode of Medical Center. I played a kid who needed a kidney transplant, and felt guilty that my widowed mother (Louise Lasser) couldn't afford the dialysis while waiting for a donor. The job came about because Louise had worked with my father, Mark, in improvisational theater, and she thought I'd be right for the role. But at that point I wasn't focused on acting as a career, it was more just an amazing experience for a 13 year old to have (we shot in summer of 1974).

The first job where I felt like I was possibly beginning a career came a couple of years later. I was in a school play and someone saw me and invited me to audition for the National Playwright's Conference at the Eugene O'Neil theater center in Connecticut. It was an amazing chance to work with some of the best writers, actors and directors in New York City as they developed their new plays in a workshop atmosphere. Keith Gordon in Jaws 2That led to an audition for Jaws 2 [1978] and my first role in a movie.

My parents had mixed feelings and sent mixed signals about my being an actor. They knew how hard and even cruel of a life it can be, and so always dissuaded me. But at the same time, I felt their pride when I was doing well. So it was a little of both.

Q: Other than your parents, did you have any other acting inspiration? Did you ever have any formal acting training?

Keith: My inspirations were numerous. I was a huge movie fan from age 7, when I first saw Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey on opening weekend [1968]. Had no idea what it meant, but it still blew my mind, and I went back and saw it again and again. By age 10, I was making awful, half-baked films on super 8 and early portable video. I also went to a lot of theater, and my Dad was in a production of Of Mice and Men on Broadway with James Earl Jones and Kevin Conway in the leads, and that blew me away. I saw it over and over and it reduced me to tears every time. And just being a fan of films and theater, I was constantly being inspired by all the great work I saw.Keith Gordon

I never had formal acting training, but my father was a teacher as much as anything. He taught all through his professional career, and had some amazing students. (One of the proudest moments in my dad's life was when Morgan Freeman talked about studying with my dad on Inside the Actor's Studio). So my Dad played the role of teacher and coach a lot with me in the early years, and also turned me on to tons of books about acting, directing, theater, etc. which I poured through.

Q: Jumping to the 80s, how did the role of "Arnie" in 1983's Christine come your way? What do you remember about the audition process? Had you read the book or were you aware of the story before taking the role?

Keith: The audition for Christine came through my agent in New York, where I was living. I had not read the book when I auditioned. ChristineIn fact, I'm not even sure the book had come out yet. They moved very quickly to set it up as a film, even as it was moving towards publication.

I remember going in with clothes to wear for the different sides of Arnie - glasses and a button up shirt for the nerdy Arnie, a black t-shirt for the cooler Arnie. I think I read three times; Twice for John Carpenter with the casting director and then once more with John Stockwell.

Christine, released in theaters in December of 1983, was directed by John Carpenter and was based on a Stephen King novel. It tells the story of a car that comes alive and causes maniacal changes in its new teenage owner, "Arnie Cunningham" played by Keith Gordon. The film was a relative box office success especially for being in the horror/thriller genre. Here is a recreated trailer that I thought was well-done for Christine...


Q: Christine was directed by the legendary John Carpenter. What can you tell us about Carpenter and your experience getting directed by him? What did you learn from that experience?Keith Gordon and Christine

Keith: Working with John really gave me a handle on what I wanted my own sets to feel like if I ever got to direct. We were working on a pretty modest budget for a special effects laden film. It wasn't a lavish schedule. Yet John always had a sense of humor, a sense of play. It was fun to be on that set. There were none of the usual "class" divisions between above the line and crew. It helped that John was working with a crew that was mostly made up of people he'd worked with over and over again, so there was a real sense of family. There were barbecues on the weekends, etc.

John wasn't heavy-handed as a director. He left a lot of room to try things. People don't think of directors like John or Brian DePalma as "actors' directors", but I had a great time working for both. Keith GordonThey always seemed to have a real appreciation for what a good actor could bring to a scene, but were quick to speak up if something wasn't working for them. (John would also tease me mercilessly about my occasional pretentious dissection of the character and material - something I deserved. But he always did it in great fun, and got me to laugh at my sometimes too-serious young self).

The only thing both John and Brian had little time for were big egos or "star" behavior - not that the actors they picked tended to do much of that. But there was a clear delineation between intensity of struggle with the work and ego acting out. If Harry Dean Stanton wanted to do ten takes to get the scene just right, John would find a way to get him that time.

Q: What can you tell us about the car? What were your challenges of acting opposite of a non-human "character" in the film? What memories do you have of working with "Christine"?

Keith: The car was indeed a thing of beauty... on the outside. There weren't many of that make and model ever made, so finding a lot to work with was a big challenge. ChristineI believe they eventually found 24 of them in various states of repair. Seven were cannibalized for parts, meaning there were 17 film-worthy cars. It was amazing when you saw them all lined up next to each other.

The cars were designed to do certain things. Some were the best looking, used for the beauty shots. Others were reinforced to take the punishment of crashes with minimal damage, or were tuned to go as fast as possible. Of course, with cars that old, the reliability was less-than-stellar especially given the very odd and unreliable push-button gear shift. So, somewhere, there is a ton of footage of me jumping into various Christines, starting her up, and then just sitting there as the transmission refused to engage.

Acting opposite the car was actually a fun challenge. I loved cars, so that helped. And I did what you do acting all the time - used "substitution". I tried to remember what it was like dealing with my real life first big love affair, and made the car that girl from high school. It's not like you forget for a second that it's a car, and your acting in a movie, but one of the things actors can do is bring back those states of mind and emotions and put it on other people, or even objects. That may sound weirder than it is. It's a lot like an athlete visualizing the play they're going to make. It isn't "real" but it grounds them.

Here is the scene when "Christine", the car, repairs itself and starts to come alive...


Q: What were your feelings about Christine after it was released back in 1983? Did you find it to be scary at all even though you were in it? What are your feelings about it today over 30 years later?

Keith: I always really liked the film. I never found it particularly scary, but that wasn't what I found most interesting or enjoyable about it. To me the film always had its tongue firmly in cheek, so I enjoyed it more as a well-made playful ghost yarn than as something really frightening. That certainly seemed to be John's attitude at the time as well. Probably closer in tone to a playful film like Escape From New York or They Live than a really scary one like The Thing.Keith Gordon

Q: Then in 1985, you were in The Legend of Billie Jean. How did the role of "Lloyd" come your way? What memories do you have of making this film?

Keith: I got the role like I got almost all that I did. I was submitted by my agents along with a ton of other young actors, and I had a series of auditions and meetings. The process is not really in your control very much. I remember going to [executive producer] Jon Peters' house to meet and be "approved". That was scarier than the auditions. The Legend of Billie JeanIf you have a script, you can put any nervous energy into that. But to have to sit and chat and somehow during that process convince someone you're right for the role was always a part I hated.

One memory I had was that there seemed to be a lot of studio interference during the making of the film. I never dealt with it directly, but I remember the script changing in ways that made it less satirical and more "commercial". Originally there was more of a sense of irony that this whole thing was about a motor scooter, but I guess they thought that would turn off "the kids", so Billie Jean became more of a true hero figure and less of a spoof of teen heroes. Personally, I liked the original script, but I'm probably not a good arbiter of what will sell!

Making the film was fun. It was a nice bunch of people. I was already a fan of actors like Peter Coyote and Dean Stockwell, so it was cool to be in a movie with them, even if we didn't get to interact. The Legend of Billie JeanI think I probably was a bit too self-serious during the making of the film. I think other people in the cast let themselves have a better time, while I was busy trying to figure out how to make "art". I like to think I've grown up and gotten a lot more balanced since then. I still take my work very seriously, but I've learned that you can be serious about your work without being glum.

The Legend of Billie Jean was released in July of 1985, starred Helen Slater in the title role and features the song "Invincible" by Pat Benatar. It was a box office disappointment at the time, but has since gone on to become sort of a cult favorite. Gordon plays "Lloyd" who turns out to be the son of the district attorney and voluntarily becomes a hostage. Here are a few scenes from The Legend of Billie Jean...


Legend Of Billie Jean by ltahvideos


Q: You co-starred with Helen Slater. What can you tell us about Slater and your experience working with her in this film? Gordon, Christina Slater & Helen SlaterHow about Christian Slater who was making his film debut as well?

Keith: Helen was very sweet, an excellent actress and (of course) breathtakingly beautiful. Definite on-set crush material. I actually cast Helen in one of the leads in a black comedy I was going to direct that ended up falling apart at the last minute when the financing company went belly up. But I had that kind of respect for her work. I think because she was so great looking and started off as Supergirl, people tended to overlook how strong her work was.

Christian was so young back then! It still freaks me out to see him playing late-30s men now. The Legend of Billie JeanHe felt like a kid brother to everyone. High energy, curious about everything, floored by all the attention and women. Very funny.

Q: What were your feelings about The Legend of Billie Jean back then? How about now? Have they changed at all over the years?

Keith: Well, I sort of touched on this earlier. When I first read the script, the feeling that it was a satire felt much clearer. I was disappointed as it evolved into a more straightforward teen movie before we started shooting.

Now, I just enjoy it as a fun artifact of its time. It's funny, because it was a disaster on release. The reviews were pretty awful and it made nothing at the box office. But through cable (I guess), it seemed to develop a following and, from what I can gather, when it was released on DVD and then Blu-ray fairly recently it actually sold pretty well. Funny how time changes things.Back to School

Q: Then in 1986, you co-starred in Back to School. How did the role of "Jason Melon" come your way? What do you remember about the audition process? Did you read with Rodney prior to getting the role?

Keith: Well, as I mentioned earlier, the audition process almost always starts the same way unless you're a star. My agents called me, told me about the film, sent me the script. I read it and thought it would be a lot of fun to work with Rodney. So I went in and read a couple of times, and then they had me (and if I remember correctly) Robert Downey as well come in, and we both read with Rodney and with each other. Dangerfield and GordonI'm sure about Rodney, less positive about Robert.

It actually went pretty quickly and easily. Some films drag themselves out, but I remember this being pretty fast. I was also nervous because when they offered me the part, I had only read the early script. Harold Ramis had just come in to do his draft and I remember worrying "what if the part is cut to nothing?" But the Ramis script was brilliant and I felt lucky to be a part of it.

Back to School was released in June of 1986 and was hugely popular going on to become the sixth highest grossing movie of that year and earning well over $100 million. It starred the late, great Rodney Dangerfield as the extremely wealthy "Thornton Melon" and Keith Gordon played his son "Jason Melon" in this 80s classic. Here is the original trailer for Back to School...


Q: Speaking of Rodney Dangerfield, what can you tell us about the late, great comedian and your experience working with him in this film?Back to School

Keith: Well, what surprised me was that Rodney definitely had a dark side, a sad side. He was amazing in terms of comic timing, but being around him you realized that a lot of his humor, the "I don't get no respect" theme came from having had a pretty rough go of it for a lot of his life. Rodney paid a LOT of dues before making it big.

He was also very nervous about the more serious moments the character had. Gordon and DangerfieldI think he was nervous audiences wouldn't accept him if he wasn't being funny every second. Alan Metter, the director, did a great job getting Rodney to let some of his humanity out along with the jokes. Unlike, say, Caddyshack, the film wouldn't have worked if Rodney was at a comic "10" the whole time. Coming down from that, even for a few seconds, wasn't territory he felt comfortable or familiar with. But in the end, that's what makes the film, and he did great.

Here is a scene shortly after Dangerfield's character decides to come back to college at the same school his son attends...


Q: I also had the pleasure on an interview with the film's director Alan Metter . What else can you tell us about Metter and your experience working with and being directed by him? Did you learn anything in particular from working on this film?Dangerfield and Gordon

Keith: In addition to what I mentioned above, Alan really had to put most of his focus on Rodney, getting him to be comfortable. Luckily (or, rather, very smartly), Alan had cast a bunch of savvy and low-maintenance pros to surround Rodney so he could really put his focus where it needed to be. Alan was also great at stretching the budget. It wasn't an indie film, but I know it had a modest budget for a studio movie. Alan and his crew made great choices in how to use locations, only building a few key sets (like the dorm room), and using multiple colleges to give the film more scope.

Q: Robert Downey Jr. played your buddy "Derek". Did you know him at all previous to working on this film together? What can you tell us about Robert Downey Jr.?

Keith: I'd never met Robert before this. He was kind of amazing. At the same time we were making the film, he was also doing Saturday Night Live and had to fly in and out constantly. Downey and GordonBut he was always on and ready to go. Absolutely fearless. And very sweet, very easy to work with. Years later, I got to direct him in The Singing Detective [2003], and was very honored, since he picked me (he and Mel Gibson had set up the project and brought me in when another director fell out not long before shooting).

I'm really happy for Robert that he's got his life together. He's such an amazing talent and a good person. But there was a day back before The Singing Detective when I wouldn't have even guessed he would live this long, given the abuse he was putting himself through. But now he's clean, very happily married, and one of the biggest stars in the world. So, for once, things worked out right.

Q: Then I have to ask about the 80s greatest bully, William Zabka who played "Chas Osborne" in the film. What can you tell us about Zabka and your experience working with him in this film? Did the cast all get along off screen during the production?Zabka and Gordon

Keith: Zabka was a really, really good guy. It seems like a lot of people who play bullies or villains are particularly nice. Maybe getting all that angry energy out on screen takes it out of your personal life. But he was always upbeat, friendly, super easy to work with. Just all around cool.

Generally, everyone got on pretty well. I don't remember any bad blood. I really connected with Burt Young, who was extremely funny, smart and very sweet. He's a real street guy, but unlike most of the roles he plays, he's also very sharp. He's a successful playwright, quotes Shakespeare - not what you'd expect from "Paulie". I remember he was trying to woo a much younger woman while we were in Wisconsin shooting. That may sound icky, but he was so courtly and polite that it was actually amazingly endearing. He asked her parents' permission to take her out (although she was well over 18), got to know the whole family together before taking her out alone, it was like something from another time.

Here is a scene featuring many of those guys where a bar fight breaks out...


Q: Any other interesting stories or facts about making Back to School that you can share with us?

Keith: I remember rehearsing with Rodney and realizing how much he wanted to nail everything down ahead of time and how uncomfortable he was with "acting". Back to SchoolWe were working on the scene where we walk and talk about his coming to college with me. We were sitting at a table at the time. He asked Alan Metter, the director, if I would be on his right or his left when we shot the scene. I had the feeling Alan hadn't made that decision yet (which made perfect sense) but to keep Rodney happy he just said, "I think on the right". So Rodney started playing the scene looking at the empty space to his right, rather than at me! So I grabbed a chair and ran over to get back into his line of sight.

Q: What were your feelings about the film when it was released back in 1985? What are your feelings about the Back to School now over 25 years later? Did you or do you keep in touch with any of the cast or crew members from the film?

Keith: I was really happy with the film when I saw it. I thought it was really funny, but still had a heart. I feel the same way now. The only thing that always seemed weird to me is the scene with Terry [Farrell who played "Valerie"] where we say "I love you". Really? Seems a bit quick to me now. The kiss was nice, just a very premature declaration of love.

I've seen many people from the film at one point or another. As I mentioned earlier, Robert [Downey] and I did The Singing Detective together, so he's the one I've spent the most time with. But I also directed Ned Beatty on Homicide, talked to Burt Young on the phone, etc.

Q: For what role do you still get recognized for most, if any? Do you find it flattering or annoying when this happens?

Keith: I'd say Christine the film I get recognized most for now. It doesn't happen that often. I'm a LOT older now. I'm 53, I've lost most of my hair, I have a beard, etc. But, amazingly people still occasionally ask, "Hey, aren't you the guy who...?" It's pretty flattering. I almost never find it annoying. Probably because I'm not famous enough for it to happen very much. So it's kind of a fun surprise and often leads to hearing about other people's lives, which is always interesting.Keith Gordon

Q: Are there any 80s roles (TV or movies) that you auditioned for and did not get that would be particularly interesting especially looking back now? If so, would you share any of them with us?

Keith: God, there were so many. I went back several times for the lead in Risky Business. I could have been Tom Cruise! ... or maybe not. I also was close on the Judd Nelson part in The Breakfast Club. Those were probably the two most iconic 80s roles I didn't get, but got close.

Q: When did you decide that you wanted to move to the other side of the camera and become a director? What inspired this decision?

Keith: Directing was a case of coming full circle. When I was a kid (pre-teen on), I was a film nerd. I went to old movies all the time (I grew up before DVDs or even VHS, so the only way to see old movies were revival houses, where I spent a LOT of hours in New York. I interned after school in the Museum of Modern Art's famous film library, filing clips from articles on film from all over the world (also before computerized filing). I also made a lot of super-8 and video-taped projects.

So I was probably always more interested in directing than acting. But I got amazingly lucky and started to get work as an actor when I was 15 and managed to keep working a lot for the next 10 years. I tried to make my work on those movies my film school. I'd ask directors and others I was working with (editors, designers, writers, DPs, actors) endless questions and almost all of them were very kind about explaining the details of what they did. I'd hang out on sets on the days I wasn't working to watch, hang out in the editing room and go to all the dailies if the director would allow it. It was an amazing education.

Q: Please tell us about The Chocolate War which you wrote the screenplay for and directed. How did you decide to write a screenplay based on the Robert Cormier novel?

Keith: Actually, my first professional move behind the camera was on a little independent film called Static. I co-wrote the screenplay with the director, and was a producer, as well as playing the lead in the movie. That led me to a meeting with a young producer and financier named Jonathan Krane, who wanted to know what else I wanted to do. I told him about The Chocolate War. The Chocolate WarI had always loved the book and thought it could be a great movie, and wouldn't have to cost almost any money to make. And I was very hungry to move into directing.

He was interested as long as the budget was kept very tight, so I started doing homework. I researched the rights and found out it was available. The option had just been dropped by a studio that had it for a long time but was having a hard time making it. So I negotiated a deal that was for very little money up front, and was pegged to the kind of tiny budget we were planning (we made the film for $500,000). Ordinarily a book that successful would have cost much more than we paid, but I think Robert Cormier was sick of never seeing it actually get made, and sensed that I was passionate and serious about actually doing the film, and not just "developing" it.

Q: What challenges did you have making your directorial debut? How do you feel about the film you created?

Keith: There were a ton of challenges, but I also had never had a job that was more fun or rewarding. The whole cast and crew were great. We had no money, so no one was making much at all (I worked completely for free). So everyone who was there was really into making the film, and having a good experience. There were all the usual disasters you get on a director's first film with a young crew. There was the day we showed up at a location only to find out our location people had never closed the deal to shoot there, all that kind of stuff. On the first day of shooting, the bus we were supposed to shoot inside broke down. By the time we set up a rig with a tow truck and cleared it with all the local authorities we had lost half a day, and I had to shoot very quickly since we had no room in the budget to go over schedule. If we didn't get something done that day, it wasn't in the film. But I quickly learned that the fun of low-budget filmmaking was taking those disasters and finding a way to deal with them. There was no time to freak out or melt down, so you just all pitched in and found a way to make it work.

I'm pretty happy with the film. There are certainly things I might do different today - you learn a lot in almost 30 years - but nothing I find embarrassing. I got to make the film I wanted to make on my own terms and sometimes you never get that chance in a whole career. So I have nothing to complain about.

The Chocolate War was released in November of 1988 and went on to earn a Best First Feature nomination at the 1989 Independent Spirit Awards. In my interview with Ilan Mitchell-Smith , here's the praise he had when I asked him about working with Gordon in The Chocolate War: "Of all of the work that I did, working on The Chocolate War was by far my favorite experience. Keith was a real actor's director and he was so connected to the work that you couldn't help but feel like you were part of something meaningful."

Q: Please tell us a little about where your career has taken you since the 80s. What are some of your proudest professional accomplishments?

Keith: Wow, the 80s is a long time ago now! My career has had a lot more years post-80s than before/during. I'm most proud of the features I've directed (and written and/or produced). That started in the 80s, but A Midnight Clear [1992], Mother Night [1996] were in the 90s and Waking the Dead [2000] and The Singing Detective [2003] were in the 2000s. These features are the projects that are most truly "mine" in my career, good or bad.Keith Gordon

I'm also proud of having directed on a lot of terrific TV series, which has both paid the rent and kept me challenged. But directing someone else's show, no matter how good it is, can never quite match developing a project from your heart, fighting to see it made, and finally getting to do it.

I'm also proud that I've managed to be with my wife for 28 years, in a business that tends to pull people apart. So that's a "professional accomplishment" of another stripe.

Last, I'm proud of the teaching and mentoring I've done. I teach at the Sundance Film Lab (among other places) any year my schedule will allow. If I've helped some of the amazing young filmmakers I've been honored to work with even a little - with their work or their lives - that's something to really feel proud of.

Q: What else has Keith Gordon been up to more recently? Either acting, directing or otherwise?

Keith: I've been directing tons of TV (Homeland, Masters of Sex, The Leftovers, Nurse Jackie, Fargo just to name a few). Also working on getting my passion projects both for film and TV done. Writing screenplays, developing pilots, searching for financing for my films, trying to write a novel (OK, you can laugh now). Trying to work a little less so I can see my family and friends more (I was away working a BIG chunk of last year).

Q: What can we expect in the future?

Keith: I don't know - Congress and the President to continue to be at a stalemate? Seriously, I've always find life takes turns that are never what I expect, but I hope the future involves one of my own projects getting made.

Q: Any remaining ambitions or regrets?

Keith: Do I have a terminal disease I don't know about? This sounds like I'm 93, not 53! But I will admit my ambitions are tempered compared to, say, 25 years ago. I've gotten to live my dream, and direct five feature films. I have an amazing marriage and a great extended family. I'm lucky enough to have enough money in the bank and to be able to earn a living doing what I love. So while I have real ambitions to continue to tell stories that are personal and powerful to me, I don't feel the same level of driven-ness I had back when I was first getting to direct. There's lots left I'd like to do, but not much I would regret if it never happened. I just want to try and be happy and appreciate my life, whether I'm getting everything I want from my career or not.


I am so pleased that Keith was able to take some time to answer some questions so I could share them with you here. I want to take this occasion to again thank Keith Gordon for his contributions to 80s pop culture through his many films and, even more, for going back to that awesome decade with us here for a little while as well.

That's all for another special issue of Kickin' it Old School. Thanks as always for reading and hope you are enjoying these interviews as much as I am. If you want a summary of all of my Back to the 80s Interviews posted thus far, please click on that link. Be sure you haven't missed any of them (over 100 so far!). You can use the Google Search Box at the top of the right hand column to find any topics you are looking for or other issues you may have missed. If you are a fan of 80s pop culture and Kickin' it, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK LOGO in the upper right hand column. This will take you to the Fan Page where I ask you to then click on the "Like" button. You can also follow @OldSchool80s on Twitter by clicking on the FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER LOGO also in the upper right hand column. This will take you the page and you can just click on the box that says "Follow". I am sending daily 80s tweets, so sign up to get those. You can also hook up with us on Google+. Please leave comments so we know you're out there and let other 80s fans know about us as well! Peace and much love.

Quote of the day: "You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving." -Amy Carmichael

 



 

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