Already Gone

Glenn Frey was kind of a bad ass. He was rugged in the 80s when rugged, for a man, was fringe. You had your clean-cut, coke-sniffing suits on Wall Street, or your downtown scenesters laced in eyeliner. Not putting either down, but the coolest guys in the room are always the ones who don’t care. That was Don Johnson and Glenn Frey and everything Miami Vice related.

Frey, the de facto leader of the Eagles, joined a somber list of notable artists who have passed away less than three weeks into 2016 on Monday, January 18th. He was 67 years old.

Though most famous for his longstanding tenure with the Eagles, Frey had a successful solo career in the 80s highlighted by two No. 2 Billboard hits, “The Heat is On,” and “You Belong to the City.”

The song and video for “You Belong to the City” deserve their own post. They sum up the magnetism of ‘bright lights, big city’ 80s culture to absolute perfection. It is at once grimy but alluring; dangerous but seductive; heartbreaking but undeniable. It may appear trivial to the uninitiated, but it was this song/video combination that planted the kernel of urban wanderlust in one Retrobacktive creator’s head. And despite the 20-year separation, New York City lived up to all the dirty glamour suggested in Frey’s 1985 hit song.

So thanks, Glenn. If you have to have a song stuck in your head for 30 years, this ain’t a bad one.

The Character We’re Not Supposed to Like, but…

Since Retrobacktive’s inception I have long ached to write an article detailing to the finest point the amalgamation of genius that is Die Hard. It is the apex of 80s cinema. Yet there has always been an invisible curtain of refrain. What, after all, is there to lend to its legacy? Die Hard is widely considered the greatest action/adventure movie of all time. As a whole there’s little left to examine. More obscure matters always pressed.

Now, however, a sad and poignant moment draws the collective conscious of the cinema world back to arguably the film’s most impressive attribute.

In 2003, the American Film Institute rated Hans Gruber, Die Hard’s cold and calculating antagonist, as the 46th greatest villain in film history. The man who brought the iconic character to life was Alan Rickman. And by all accounts his portrayal should have earned at least a top ten spot on AFI’s list – if not an Oscar.

Rickman was born in London in 1946. He began his career on stage after studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Few people realize Die Hard was actually Rickman’s first film role. He was skeptical of the part, but fortunately for moviegoers was talked into it by the production team. Rickman’s serpentine Hans Gruber was a perfect foil to Bruce Willis’ gritty John McClane, and he is more times than not the scene-stealer throughout the film.

Die Hard screenwriter Steven E. deSouza, in a 2015 Creative Screenwriter interview, best summed up Alan Rickman’s character. “Who’s the protagonist of Die Hard? It’s Hans Gruber who plans the robbery. If he had not planned the robbery and put it together, Bruce Willis would have just gone to the party and reconciled or not with his wife. You should sometimes think about looking at your movie through the point of view of the villain who is really driving the narrative.”

Rickman drives the film with venomous motivation that is equal parts eloquent and ruthless. Reviewing Die Hard some 27 years later, it’s impossible to imagine any other actor playing Hans Gruber; the film’s huge success launched the English actor’s film career. Rickman went on to appear in numerous memorable roles throughout his life: the scheming Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Potion Master Snape in the Harry Potter film series, and Marvin the Paranoid Android in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Alan Rickman passed away on January 14, 2016 from pancreatic cancer.

Rickman once said he often played “the character you’re not supposed to like.” But given the outpouring of shock and dismay over the star’s recent death, it seems safe to say Rickman was a master of creating characters audiences couldn’t get enough of. His contributions to cinema will be sorely missed.

By two I’d have told him pretty much whatever he wanted to hear.

Happy trails, Alan.



My Trust in God & Man

Every loss is unique as it is something unique and irreplaceable we lament. David Robert Jones, better known as David Bowie…Ziggy Stardust…the Thin White Duke…was “one of a kind.” Those aren’t my words. They actually belong to my mother, a woman not known for deep appreciation of rock and roll. Yet even she is not beyond the influence of modern music’s greatest chameleon. On January 10th, 2016, Bowie’s legacy was forever cemented. Artist. Icon. Global treasure.

Retrobacktive serves to chronicle the 1980s. Bowie’s music as a whole is timeless, yet his many personas and experimentation can be easily compartmentalized due to his ferocious focus and deft ability to reinvent himself. In honor of him, Retrobacktive pays memorial by considering some of Bowie’s finer points during the 80s.

“Ashes to Ashes” (1980)


“Ashes to Ashes,” from the 1980 album Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) was described by Bowie as “wrapping up the seventies really.” He considered the song a modern nursery rhyme that seems to deal with the artist’s own recovery from years of drug abuse. Both the song and album went to No. 1 in the U.K. and the video (co-directed by Bowie himself) is considered a landmark in the then burgeoning video music landscape.

“Under Pressure” (1981)

It might be the greatest collaboration in rock history. Officially released as a Queen song on their 1982 album Hot Space, controversy still abounds as to which musicians contributed to what parts of the song. As far as the lyrics are concerned the consensus generally points to Bowie as the primary writer. Regardless of the minute details the song’s juggernaut crescendo has few rivals in pure rock majesty.

Let’s Dance (1983)

After a roller-coaster decade of successes and setbacks in the 1970s, Bowie reached his commercial apex in 1983 with the U.K. No. 1 album, Let’s Dance. Focusing on a hybrid of synth-pop, blues rock, and funk, the album produced some of Bowie’s most popular hits, including the title track, “Modern Love, and “China Girl.” Bowie himself, however, often felt stifled by the album’s success, telling David Fricke in a Rolling Stone interview, “I had every intention of continuing to do some unusual material after that. But the success of that record really forced me, in a way, to continue the beast.”

Live Aid 1985

In addition to a high-energy performance at Wembley Stadium for the televised, multi-venue 1985 Live Aid concert for Ethiopian famine relief, Bowie and Mike Jagger debuted their video for the song “Dancing in the Street,” with the single’s proceeds going to the charity. It was another top ten hit for Bowie.

Labyrinth (1986)

Never confined to a single medium, Bowie made more than one venture to the silver screen, but perhaps outside of The Man Who Fell to Earth, Bowie’s most memorable cinematic performance was as Jareth, The Goblin King, in Jim Henson’s 1986 film Labyrinth. While not a box-office hit upon it’s release, the film has since gained a cult following and for many Gen X’ers this was their first introduction to the late, great David Bowie.

“As you get older, the questions come down to about two or three: how long and what do I do with the time I’ve got left?”

Bowie released his final album, Blackstar, two days before he died. Peel away all the layers – and there are many – at his core Bowie was a prolific musician as dedicated to his craft as any artist before. Despite an 18-month battle with liver cancer he carried on gracefully and left the world with a final gem in one of the most colorful catalogs of creation the world has ever seen. He leaves a great void in our world where the stars, indeed, look very different today.