“Do you know how popular I am? I am so popular. Everybody loves me so much at this school,” said Molly Ringwald’s character, Claire Standish, in the timeless film “The Breakfast Club” almost 30 years ago.
Little did Ringwald know that that film and two other John Hughes classics, “Pretty in Pink” and “Sixteen Candles,” would also excel in the popularity department all these years later, sealing her fate as a Hollywood icon for now three generations of movie fans … and counting.
So much so that being recognized is a constant.
“Mostly thanks to those movies playing ad naseum on television. I feel like they are always on somewhere,” said Ringwald, 45, from her Los Angeles home. “I just didn’t know that you make a movie and people are still obsessed with it all these years later. People really respond. So many people have their memories tied up in them, it’s not just a movie, it’s everything that it kind of represented in their lives.”
Ringwald did, however, recently dye her famous red locks blonde, which she says is helping a little.
But what some people might not know is that Ringwald’s life, as with all of ours, moved well beyond the ’80s. She’s written two books, had a five-season run on a TV show (“The Secret Life of the American Teenager”), is the mother of three kids, including a set of 4-year-old twins, and most recently released a jazz album called “Except Sometimes.” Ringwald and her jazz quartet will be playing two shows in Bangor on Saturday at The Gracie Theatre.
Her oldest child is 10-year-old Mathilda, who has developed awareness over time that her mother walks something of an unusual career path. “She didn’t really know exactly what I did because it’s true that I do all these different things.”
Mathilda has watched her mother perform on stage in New York and has seen her spend countless hours in front of a computer writing. But what really got the message across was hearing from her school pals. “It seemed like all of her classmates had seen those movies before she had. Now she’s 10 years old and she knows her way around online, even though we have all these parental controls set up, she’s figured it out and that’s out of the bag.”
As for the importance of music in her life and the path that led to the release of “Except Sometimes” in April, the story starts right at home. Ringwald’s father, Robert Ringwald, is a jazz pianist, and as a child she sang on a record he cut with his Fulton Street Jazz Band. Traditional jazz is his cornerstone and for his daughter, the early musical education led her further down the rabbit hole of the genre. “I found my way to Ella Fitzgerald and from Ella to Duke Ellington and Chet Baker. My taste gravitated more toward the great American songbook rather than the strict traditional jazz that my dad listens to.”
The great American songbook is in fact part of the inspiration for “Except Sometimes.”
“It really is a touchstone and I sort of look at it as musical comfort food. I really think the great American songbook with the lyrics and everything found the sweet spot,” Ringwald said.
Back in the heyday of these songs, theater and Hollywood films were where many of them lived. “I obviously had a big interest in theater as well, so there was that crossover,” she said.
In 2008 Ringwald put a band together with pianist Peter Smith (he also produced “Except Sometimes”), drummer Clayton Cameron, alto sax player Allen Mezquida and bassist Trevor Ware.
“The sound that we had together was, I thought, really special, and so that’s where the idea to do the album came from,” she said.
It was around this time that Ringwald became pregnant with her twins. Then she got really busy writing books. The album sat. Meanwhile, all the musicians on it kept nudging her to do something with it. “I finally got serious about it and then Concord (Records) heard it and loved it and wanted to release it,” she said.
Timing, as it turns out, is everything. “I wouldn’t say I’m overly spiritual,” she said, “but I do have this feeling that things happen when they’re supposed to happen. I just kind of let things go and then all of a sudden it just sort of presents itself and that’s the moment. There’s a reason for this and I don’t know exactly what it is, but it just feels right.”
As for the CD itself, Ringwald intentionally veered off the well-worn path with songs like “Pick Yourself Up” from the 1936 film “Swing Time,” and “I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes),” a 1939 Hoagy Carmichael tune. “Mostly they are just songs that I had loved a lot and I also tried to pick ones that were maybe a little bit more obscure,” she said. “I tried to pick ones – obviously they are standards but they’re maybe not heard quite as often as ‘My Funny Valentine’ or ‘Embraceable You,’ – songs that you expect to hear on somebody’s album of the great American songbook.”
To that end, Ringwald also included “Sooner or Later,” originally recorded by Madonna for the 1990 film “Dick Tracy.” The song was written by Stephen Sondheim and fits in quite well with the rest of the selections on the “Sometimes” CD, which include “Where is Love” from the musical “Oliver!,” “I’ll Take Romance” and “I Believe in You.”
The final song on Ringwald’s album is a tribute to an old friend, the late writer and director John Hughes, who passed away in 2009 at the age of 59. This time around, Ringwald not only acknowledges her 1980s roots, she wraps her arms around them. At first you might not recognize the Simple Minds song “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” until you find yourself singing along and the lightbulb goes off in your head. With warm mezzo soprano vocals, saxophone, brushed percussion, subtle bass notes and breezy piano, the song is turned on its head but still packs the emotional punch that it had when it was featured so prominently in “The Breakfast Club.”
Ringwald’s writing career has produced two published books so far. The first was in 2011 with “Getting the Pretty Back: Friendship, Family and Finding the Perfect Lipstick.” The second one was last year’s “When It Happens to You: A Novel in Stories.” It’s a compelling book that doesn’t flinch when taking on infidelity, family dynamics, infertility and other wrenching matters.
Ringwald knows all too well that pursuing more than one interest doesn’t always sit well with fans who have put her into a specific box. The good news is, she senses a shift in this old way of thinking. When she was growing up in the ’80s as an actress, Ringwald says she had to choose one thing or she wouldn’t have been taken seriously.
“There was this fear of being a dilettante, and that’s just kind of gone away,” she said.
“At a certain point you think, this is ridiculous, I only have one life and I’m good at these other things,” Ringwald said. “Chances are you’re always kind of thought of as one thing, and certainly being an actor usually eclipses everything else because it just reaches so many people, but I do think the rules and chains are loosening up a little bit.”
Aimsel Ponti can be contacted at 791-6455 or at:
This story was updated at 10:45 on Nov. 21 to include Molly Ringwald’s age.