A short tribute to a Gen-X icon
It would seem that this week’s column would be devoted to commenting on a drunken Kanye West yanking the microphone away from singer Taylor Swift at the VMAs. USA Today covered the topic nicely on the front cover, so we’ll leave that alone. Can I just say though, why would MTV invite him and his bald girlfriend to the show and then ply him with liquor? Isn’t that like slathering a Girl Scout camp with honey and then letting the bear loose?
Losing Swayze for Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers is probably akin to what the general pop culture mass in America experienced losing John Wayne. You came to love Wayne as the tough cowboy, the soldier, the Quiet Man. You expected that man to go out in a stampede or shoot-out. Instead, they kept removing his cancerous insides until nothing was left.
To be fair to Swayze, it also would have been as if Jimmy Stewart died at a younger age as well. While Swayze got very few roles (City of Joy, Donnie Darko and To Wong Foo…) to break out of a general low culture character to a higher film art form, he always seemed to be playing some degree of a Swayze persona no matter what — just like Stewart. He was tough, wise, chiseled, had perfect hair and was perfecting some sort of ‘Way of the Warrior’ in every film.
It would be clear upon the announcement of his passing Monday night that the Internet denizens would light up with quotes and moments from his movies. Women almost always mention Dirty Dancing or Ghost; these are two onscreen versions of Swayze that women archetype and look for in romantic relationships. Men almost always mention Roadhouse or Point Break; these are two onscreen versions of Swayze that men aspire to be in their own lives. On a personal note, I find that Roadhouse is one of those movies that men find on cable and are obligated to watch in some duty-bound fashion. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen it, it’s required that you now stay on that channel. For women, I know many that have well-worn VHS copies of Dirty Dancing, left at the part where Johnny teaches Baby to dance in a montage.
The thing that was confusing for my generation about Swayze is that he was in a committed relationship with his dancing partner-wife Lisa Niemi (and stayed with her to the end). What’s the weird part in that sentence? The dancing part. The horse ranch you could understand. Even picking one woman to be with when you are a matinee idol is respectable. But a classically trained dancer who played Prince Charming in Disney on Parade and was the original Danny Zuko in Grease on Broadway?
Okay, Okay: His mother was choreographer Patsy Swayze. But how could the guy who fought Russian invaders, got wounded, but still carried his dying brother to the town’s swingset in the snow (Red Dawn) sit down with Barbara Walters and talk about deep, spiritual love?
When Patrick Swayze popped up on the radar occasionally, he was confounding. He didn’t try to pick up starlets at L.A. nightclubs. He didn’t ask for a reality show. Granted, he was a recovering alcoholic. He was part Apache. He had a deep abiding faith that kept him from doing most of the mistakes celebrities in the modern world get caught doing. It still doesn’t mean I have to understand “She’s Like the Wind.”
Now, it’s the media’s turn to feast on his bones. Watch for the specials, the coverage, the tributes and the airtime for that song I’m trying to forget right now. If Father Hood or Waking Up in Reno comes on, skip it and head out to the barn for some tai chi. If Youngblood, the Outsiders, Black Dog, or Steel Dawn comes on — sit down with a big bowl of popcorn and watch the man at work in his honor. He lives on forever in celluloid, where “pain don’t hurt.”