Monday, December 29, 2008

In Defense of the Coolness of Uncle Buck / Two New Demos

Uncle Buck Russell is a hero of mine.

Although I'd been keenly aware of my fondness for the John Candy character (and most Candy roles, in general), watching the classic 1989 John Hughes movie on my flight yesterday — returning from a Christmas in Iowa — I discovered why.

I identify with the John Candy character in more ways than one. I find, however, Candy's Buck transcends my personality in every way possible.

In order of increasing importance, here's the best explanation I can offer as to why Uncle Back is way, way cooler than me:

a.) Uncle Buck is a loner.

Although it should be noted that Uncle Buck has a girlfriend (albeit sort of on the rocks), he openly talks to himself while driving alone in his car — the significance of which I will get to later — or when talking to the Russell family dog. An element obviously designed by Hughes to get us inside the mind/exposition/backstory of Buck without the pesky internal monologue device. Regardless, Buck often feels sorry for himself but is never apologetic about his integrity as an out-of-work, clumsy bum. Something I wish I had the courage to do.

b.) Uncle Buck drives the single greatest car in the history of film.

Affectionately referred to as "the Beast," Buck's car is a '75 Mercury Marque coupe rusted through and through. It emits thick, ominous plumes of smoke everywhere it goes — at one point in the film, this even causes a married couple to pull up next to Buck on the road and remark, "Your car's on fire." Once parked, however, the engine performs a sound remarkably equivalent to an atomic bomb being dropped, plunged through the atmosphere, and finally, detonated. Yet the coolest thing about Buck's ride is just how incredibly proud Buck is of "the Beast." Throughout the entire film, not only does Buck gleefully signal with his hand the well-calculated back-fire and emission of car-fumes, he flat-out threatens anyone who has a problem with the Beast's style.

Case-in-point, after Buck's bitchy niece's boyfriend asks, "Do you know how whipped an engine has to be to blow that loud? You ever hear of a tune-up?" Buck responds "You ever hear of a ritual killing?"


Anyone who knows me personally, knows of the majestic, rusted and near-legendary 1993 Ford Escort I've been driving for over five years (which my sister drove for six years before me). A car which I've since named George, for no good reason. The plain truth, however, is: I cannot compete with Buck. The Beast kicks George's ass every time.

Bizarrely, when Candy drops off his bitchy niece (she's played by Jean Louisa Kelly, you know the homewrecker from Mr. Holland's Opus? Yeah, it's that one where Richard Dreyfuss comes up with the most insanely idiotic reason to listen to John Coltrane) at school, an unnamed "on-set extra" and black student declares, whisperingly: "That's my car. That isn't my car."
Somehow, as if ordained by God, Himself, this young man offers my sentiments PRECISELY.

c.) Uncle Back wears the most-hated and, therefore, the coolest hats of all-time.

Now, this may seem like a superficial point, but I assure you it is not.

The reason involves two isolated incidents and two different hats. The first being a classic Canadian bomber (an article of clothing I would not be surprised in the least if Candy — the greatest Canadian export aside from Godspeed You! Black Emperor and The Band — had brought onto the set himself). After Buck drops off Kelly, he asks the other Russell children (including an early sketch of Home Alone's Kevin McCallister): "You think she hates me?" To which the other niece (the younger and immensely less bratty one) responds "With a passion." "Really. You think it's the hat? A lot of people hate this hat. It angers them, just the sight of it. I'll tell you a story about that on the way to school."

Reader, I know exactly what Buck is talking about. I own this very hat and let me go on record: people really do hate these things. The difference in character — or rather, the difference in coolness — between myself and Buck is that I really do feel self-conscious about my bomber... It's depressing, but sometimes, I leave my bomber at home when I know others may take offense.

Oh, but to be Buck Russell!

In the very next scene, after openly admitting the hatred folks find with the bomber-hat, Buck picks up his niece (the bitchy one) wearing his hat not with simple pride, but absolute certainty of coolness.

The second incident and second hat is, by far, the greatest stance and statement Candy makes within the film.
Along with his synonymous stogie, it is the wool fedora that is the Buck Russell Classic.
Near the film's end, a parent warns Buck:
"I don't think you oughta go in there with that hat on. They'll kill you."
"Thanks for the tip."
Buck is on his way to rescue the bitchy niece from a dangerous party. He's just thanked another man and his wife for warning him about a future decision that may mean the difference between his life and death.

And here, reader, as you may well guess, is the reason Uncle Buck Russell is not only the coolest motherfucking uncle in the history of uncles (with the important ambiguous exception of Tom Petty, who may or may not be someone's actual uncle) but the greatest figure to ever don an inexhaustible array of sweater-vests and wool scarfs:

Buck still wears the hat to the party.

While much of Candy's acting cred, sadly, vanished with his untimely death and the subsequent film atrocity that is Wagons East, Buck Russell lives on.

What's even more sad, however, is when film critics degrade Candy's legacy (often unwittingly) by bringing up his body-size: an aspect which made Candy seriously self-conscious throughout his career and up until his death.

For example, take Gene Siskel's criticism of Chris Farley:

"Chris Farley is not funny. I knew John Belushi, I knew John Candy. He's no John Belushi or John Candy. He's a bad actor [...] I've never seen him be funny with any script. He just runs around, screams and rolls on the ground like a fat man."

While Siskel is attempting to compliment Candy as being an exception to the simple "fat-joke humor" of Farley or whatever it is, he ends up insulting Candy by refusing to take the actor on his own terms. He simply brings up the body-size thing. Either way, as I mentioned, Buck lives on in spite of it all.

Director John Hughes was classified as a "teen angst" director before Candy came along and forever altered Hughes's formula for the modern blockbuster comedy... In retrospect, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and The Breakfast Club (both by Hughes) were indeed angst-ridden in all the right ways. I have several friends (usually older than me) who found sincere inspiration in characters like Bueller, Cameron Frye, and "the basket case" all the way to "the criminal."

But, for me, born in 1985 (the same year the Breakfast Club debuted and only one year before Bueller), when it came time for me to find an on-screen role model, Uncle Buck bestowed his face — touting a cigar with hatchet and drill in hand.

I will certainly never be as cool as said Uncle —  but, after meeting my 3-moth-old nephew Noah this past Christmas, I can try. Lord knows, I can try.

Oh, yes and here's two new perhapsy demos. The first is instrumental and is temporarily called "Cadence." The second has some of those vocal things and is temporarily titled "John Lennon." Enjoy:

"Cadence" by PerhapsyDownload

"John Lennon" by PerhapsyDownload


Addendum #1: In the film, Buck, like myself has NO CLUE how to carry out a normal phone conversation. In this and only this, we are equals.

Addendum #2: Buck tells off an assitant principal, a horrid woman with an enormous mole on her chin, by saying: "Here's a quarter. Go downtown and have a rat gnaw that thing off your face." Yes. He then proceeds to walk the wrong way down the hallway...

Addendum #3: Danny Devito was actually up for the role. This has no real significance in my argument, however, this sort of blew my mind.



  1. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  2. I too relate to uncle Buck but even before the movie I was this guy. Born in 1957

  3. I'm basically Uncle Buck myself. Right down to using the vacuum to clean up the cereal crumbs on my lap, to wearing my bomber hat all winter. Sometimes I do it deliberately to make people mad. Good times. Awesome post!

  4. I'm basically Uncle Buck myself. Right down to using the vacuum to clean up the cereal crumbs on my lap, to wearing my bomber hat all winter. Sometimes I do it deliberately to make people mad. Good times. Awesome post!

  5. What kind of cigar did uncle buck smoke?