DEK: Hughes film lover, Jason Diamond, discusses his book and angsty teenage years with fellow writer, Amber Sparks on Friday.
Jason Diamond discusses his book with audience member after giving book talk
Jason Diamond wanted to write a biography about his favorite movie director, John Hughes. He kept a tight grip on that dream for years until finally he wrote the book. But it’s about Diamond himself, not Hughes.
The Rolling Stone sports editor and author of, “Searching for John Hughes: Or Everything I Thought I Needed to Know about Life I learned from Watching ‘80s Movies” was not an instant writing success. After moving to Brooklyn with plans to become John Hughes’ biographer, Diamond worked in various industries to support his artiste lifestyle. For years he was a barista and even worked at a cupcake bakery. Diamond writes humorously about this part of his life, defining that job as a permanent curse.
At Politics & Prose, Diamond attributed much of his anxiety and depression to growing up while his parents were separating. His father was abusive and his mother eventually absent after his parents’ divorce.
“I was the product of a divorce,” Diamond said.
On January 27, Diamond sat down with author Amber Sparks at Politics & Prose to speak about his new memoir and the events that inspired it.
“‘Just let me be this ball of sadness,’” Diamond said, remembering thoughts from his youth. “‘I’m gonna go listen to the Smiths. Leave me alone.’”
Punk-rock music was just one outlet for Diamond’s distress. The other was John Hughes movies.
“Those are the things that saved my life,” Diamond said.
Famous for cult favorites like Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club, John Hughes recreated the awkwardness, anxiety and beauty of the teen years. Even today, the mischievous character, Ferris from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, appears in memes and GIFs all over the internet.
“Ferris still works for a lot of people,” Diamond said.
Millions of American teens are still entertained by John Hughes movies. Diamond however has a special connection. Having grown up in a Chicago suburb similar, Diamond said the films influenced his expectations for his own life.
“That was my guidebook on how life was supposed to look,” Diamond said. “He did this great job at making it look like the city I love.”
Diamond said that when he moved to Brooklyn, he lacked the qualifications to fulfill his dream: writing John Hughes’ biography. He had no interviews or connections to the director. What he lacked in material, he had in determination.
In a white button-down, Chicago Cubs baseball hat and wide-rimmed tortoise shell glasses, Diamond shared an excerpt from his new book, taking his audience back to his early days in Brooklyn.
After receiving his first freelance check from The Paris Review Diamond went to a bar with his friend and fellow writer, Matt, to celebrate. As they were talking about Diamond’s plans for the John Hughes biography, they spotted Ally Sheedy, the actress who played the “basket case” in The Breakfast Club, at a neighboring table. Diamond said he had a huge crush on her as a kid.
“I was an Allison,” Diamond said.
To help get Sheedy’s attention, Matt called Diamond’s phone as a fake publishing agent, Phillip. On the pretend phone call, Diamond loudly—enough for Sheedy to hopefully hear— mentioned an interview he had set up with Paul Gleason, the actor who played the principal in The Breakfast Club. After hanging up, a stranger informed Diamond his interview was probably cancelled because Gleason died a few months ago. Mortified, Diamond made a quick getaway with his friend.
The embarrassing incident is just one example of Diamond’s setbacks while trying to write a biography about a man he never met. After abandoning the biography and struggling with his writing career, Diamond said he decided to write about failure.
Though the main subject changed from John Hughes to the author himself, Diamond said he wanted to keep a Hughes-ian angle: tragedy filled but with a happy ending.
And so, as he set out to write his memoir, Diamond said he thought to himself, ““I’m gonna put the rocky parts in there and then, just wrap it up nicely.’”
The author summed up his rocky memoir into one sentence. “The quick sale is: It’s a book about a sad teen who turns into a sad adult,” Diamond said.
For all the obstacles he faced growing up and as an freelance writer, Diamond does not portray the “sad adult” he refers to. As in his writing, Diamond constantly makes witty remarks to lighten otherwise serious topics.
“I mean I’m a very hopeful… I’m a Chicago Cubs fan,” said Diamond referencing the Cubs’ famously poor performance prior to winning the 2016 World Series.
Diamond’s hopeful outlook extends to his writing. He said he tried to channel a Ferris Bueller spirit in “Searching for John Hughes.” Diamond said Ferris Bueller’s Day Off showcases an important lesson he learned from Hughes movies: to be more present.
“If you’re not going to pay attention, it’s going to move by you so fast,” Diamond said.
At the end of the author talk, a young man asked Diamond if it was difficult to relive some of life’s harder moments to write the memoir. Diamond responded that, though he was not too bothered while writing, it often got to him after putting pen to paper.
“The weird thing about a memoir is that you’re tasked with turning all these weird and uncomfortable things that happened to you,—you’re tasked to turn that into a story,” Diamond said.
Some of those harder moments involve Diamond’s family. He said friends sometimes questioned his decision to publish the memoir, for this reason. But Diamond said he is not very close with his family.
“This is my book, not their book,” Diamond said.
“Searching for John Hughes” is not about his family. Nor, despite Diamond’s original plan, is it about John Hughes. It is about Jason Diamond.
“Finally, I get to this point and I’m happy,” Diamond said. “I’m a writer.”