I am unabashedly a child of the 80s. Scour my high school yearbooks and you will find asymmetrical hair cuts, O-ring bracelets and other tell tale signs. It’s not just the clothes that might give me away or the year on my driver’s license. It might be my love for a handful of John Hughes movies that I clearly remember seeing at the theatres. I don’t mean 101 Dalmatians or Uncle Buck. While I did see those at the cinema, I mean the handful of movies that seemed to resonate with kids of my age when they were released.

Last night when I heard of his death, I realised something. It wasn’t only his films that resonated with me, it was the music… the glorious music that was tied perfectly to scenes in the films. Stop and think about a scene from your favourite Hughes film. Ferris commandeering a parade float twisting and shouting to the Beatles or Duckie tossing playing cards into a hat despondently as the Smiths play… maybe the strains of “Holiday Road” when you embark on a road trip or imagining badly dancing teens in prom gear when you hear a specific cheesy OMD song?

Whatever the scene, the music just fit perfectly. Musicians like Jesus And Mary Chain, Love And Rockets, Psychedelic Furs, Kirsty Maccoll, Kate Bush, Gene Loves Jezebel, XTC, the Smiths, EBTG, Belouis Some, Oingo Boingo, Altered Images, Flesh For Lulu, Stephen Duffy, David Bowie, the Vapors, New Order, Echo & The Bunnymen, and The Rave-Ups… are just some of the artists that appeared on a Hughes soundtrack. And I loved them all. Jolts of happy recognition when I would know a particular song. That made me feel cool and in the know, like a mix tape made to introduce someone to music they have never heard. The difference was that I had heard it and I did know it, so the films have more of a special place for me.

When I think back on some of his movies, I can’t honestly say if they had staying power throughout the decades. I know I still giggle at them but would jaded teenagers today would get the humour as much as I did in those darkened movie theatres in Houston? Or would they find the characters hackneyed and the situations trite? I don’t care either way. What I do know and care about is that the music he chose to punctuate and sometimes underscore his movies are what did reach out and grab me.

So for his infinitely quotable movies (Does Barry Manilow know you raid his wardrobe?) and music, I thank him. Thank you John for helping me formulate my musical tastes and giving me refuge from the wastelands that was 80s music.

RIP John Hughes.

And now, on with the obit written by Roger Ebert:

Few directors have left a more distinctive or influential body of work than John Hughes. The creator of the modern American teenager film, who died Thursday in New York, made a group of films that are still watched and quoted today.

Hughes, who was 59, died of a heart attack during an early-morning walk while visiting family in New York City, his publicist said. He lived all his life in the northern suburbs of Chicago, southern Wisconsin, and on a farm which he operated in Northern Illinois.

Refusing to move to Los Angeles, he once told me why he preferred to bring his young acting discoveries to Chicago to film: “I like to check them into a motel far away from their friends, keep them out of trouble, and have them focus on the work.”

The list of films Hughes directed, produced or wrote includes such enduring hits as Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Uncle Buck, Some Kind of Wonderful, Curly Sue, Mr. Mom, Home Alone, Pretty in Pink,
Weird Science, She’s Having a Baby, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Beethoven, 101 Dalmatians, and Baby’s Day Out.

His films helped establish an international notion of ordinary American teenagers, and he was as popular abroad as at home. Once when I was visiting the largest movie theater in Calcutta, I asked if “Star Wars” had been their most successful American film. No, I was told, it was “Baby’s Day Out,” a Hughes comedy about a baby wandering through a big city, which played for more than a year.

Hughes, who graduated in 1968 from Glenbrook High School in Northbrook, used the northern suburbs as the setting for many of his films, notably “Ferris Bueller” and “The Breakfast Club.” He converted the gymnasium of the former Maine North High School in Des Plaines for use as a sound stage, assigning his actors schoolrooms as dressing rooms, and corridor lockers with their own combinations.

Hughes was a star-maker for a generation. Among the actors he introduced or popularized were Matthew Broderick, Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson, Macaulay Culkin and John Candy, who worked in eight Hughes films. Some of those actors, freed from their confinement under Hughes, later became famous as the Brat Pack.

He took teenagers seriously, and his films are distinctive for showing them as individuals with real hopes, ambitions, problems and behavior.

“Kids are smart enough to know that most teenage movies are just exploiting them,” he told me on the set of “The Breakfast Club.” “They’ll respond to a film about teenagers as people. [My] movies are about the beauty of just growing up. I think teenage girls are especially ready for this kind of movie, after being grossed out by all the sex and violence in most teenage movies. People forget that when you’re 16, you’re probably more serious than you’ll ever be again. You think seriously about the big questions.”

“I’m going to do all my movies here in Chicago,” he told me. “The Tribune referred to me as a ‘former Chicagoan.’ As if, to do anything, I had to leave Chicago. I never left. I worked until I was 29 at the Leo Burnett advertising agency, and then I quit to do this. This is a working city, where people go to their jobs and raise their kids and live their lives. In Hollywood, I’d be hanging around with a lot of people who don’t have to pay when they go to the movies.”

After Hughes died today, some reports referred to him as “a recluse who disappeared somewhere in Illinois.” A few years ago, a friend of mine ran into him and kidded him about having disappeared from the Hollywood radar. “I haven’t disappeared,” he said. “I’m standing right here. I’m just not in Los Angeles.”

Hughes was incredibly productive as a screenwriter. He personally directed eight films, produced 23 and wrote 37, most recently “Drillbit Taylor” (2008). Such filmmakers as Judd Apatow and Kevin Smith cite him as an influence, Smith once saying, “Basically everything I do is just a raunchy John Hughes movie.”

Hughes is survived by his wife of 39 years, Nancy, two sons and four grandchildren.