Remembering Luke Perry & Jan Michael Vincent

Luke Perry’s death on 4th March – last Monday – came as a great shock; in the early 90s I was very taken by his portrayal of the super-cool but vulnerable Dylan Mackay in Beverley Hills 90210 and people I admire have no business dying on me.

As much as I liked Perry’s Dylan Mackay, however, I might have forgotten about him if I hadn’t watched one particular scene, and if that scene hadn’t contained a particular song that made a permanent impression me.

The scene in question saw Dylan and girlfriend Brenda Walsh (Shannen Doherty) break-up. The song was REM’s You Are The Everything

REM You Are The Everything

What made You Are The Everything so special? The insistency of the music that really drove home the message of the lyrics? The vulnerable speaker? Yes, yes, and no doubt much more besides. It all went straight to my heart and stayed there.

After hearing of Perry’s death, I went to You Tube to see if I could find the break-up scene. Upon a moment, I found it,

Dylan and Brenda break-up in Beverley Hills 90210

I started watching and REM started playing… except, the featured song was Losing My Religion. My memory had let me down. Thanks to this 90210 fan wiki I discovered that You Are The Everything was actually used in a different scene; this one, to be exact –

Dylan remembers his past

Except, if you listen to it now, another song plays over it. Judging by the comments, it looks like the programme makers replaced REM in the DVD version of the episode, from which this clip is taken, with another band.

That’s a shame, but if we imagine You Are The Everything playing over this scene it creates the perfect storm of vulnerability. Creatively speaking, vulnerable characters are the best because they are where the most drama can be created. No wonder this scene made such a big impression on me. Also, and I know it’s shallow, but I really like Dylan’s top. Even when sad he was cool.

***

Although Jan Michael Vincent died on 10th February this year, news of his death only emerged towards the end of the week. While he appeared in a number of well known films in the 70s and early 80s, I only knew him from Airwolf, in which he played Stringfellow Hawke, mercurial pilot of the super-helicopter from which the programme took its name.

I don’t remember Hawke as being a particularly vulnerable character but he did have some chinks in his macho armour: in between using Airwolf to right wrongs and kill the enemy, Hawke was searching for his brother, St. John, who had gone missing in Vietnam.

I have to admit, I don’t remember (m)any episodes where we actually see him searching but knowing that he missed his brother and wanted him back was enough. And if I doubted that he really cared, there was always the soulful shot of Hawke playing his cello outside his cabin in the credits sequence to remind me of his sensitivity.

So, Stringfellow Hawke had a heart even if the programme did not make all the effort it could have done to show it. A shame, but ultimately, it didn’t matter. I made do with what, as it were, I was given: As a teenager, I loved reading American comic books; so much so, I started writing my own stories of superheroes. I called my own Uncanny X-Men series Enigma Force and created for it a character named Jan after Vincent.

My Jan’s code-name was Maverick. This would have suited Jan Michael Vincent for in his personal life, he walked a rocky path involving too much drink, trouble with the police and even a road accident that saw him lose a leg.

It doesn’t end there. When I was young, I always imagined that I would call the children that I have (so far) not had, Jan after JMV and Cally, after the character from Blake’s 7. So, as you can see, he – through Stringfellow Hawke – made a big impression on me.

For this reason, even though he lived a life a million miles away from mine, I am just as sad to read about Jan Michael Vincent’s death as I am about Luke Perry’s. In their own way, they were part of my formation. Now that they have come to mind again, perhaps in death they will play a new part in my life. If so, I hope I can do them justice.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s