“I don’t know that I had the stamina for superstardom,” says Molly Ringwald. “I experienced some of it, and I can’t say it was very pleasant.” If the iconic ’80s everygirl hadn’t the stamina for the big time, she did have the endurance for the rest. “I always knew I was in it for the long haul,” she continues, on the line from Los Angeles. “I knew I was going to have an interesting life and, therefore, an interesting career.”
That is Ringwald, decidedly all grown up and posing full-on as a jazz chanteuse on the cover of her new album, Except Sometimes. It is a collection of standards from the Great American Songbook, done in reasonable and gently buoyant ways. The last track is an exception – a nimble, vulnerable reading of the Simple Minds’ parenthetical pop hit that figures prominently in 1985 school-detention classic The Breakfast Club, a film in which Ringwald and other Brat Packers starred.
“Won’t you, come see about me,” she sings, quietly but precisely, on the album-closing Don’t You (Forget About Me). Of course we will, for many males had crushes on Ringwald and many young women identified with her characters. And then comes the line itself, “Don’t you, forget about me,” because she knows that some of us had.
Ringwald is enjoying a sort of renaissance. In addition to the new record – her second; as a precocious six-year-old she recorded an album of Dixieland jazz with her pianist father, Bob – the now-45-year-old actress recently released When it Happens to You, a collection of interconnected short stories.
For the last five years she has starred in the The Secret Life of the American Teenager, a youth-drama series which a month ago completed a nice run on the ABC Family channel.
In last month’s Vogue, Ringwald contributed an essay. Titled Lost in Translation, the piece is an articulate explanation of her decision to move to Paris in 1992, where she learned a new language and became an adult. “It’s my coming-of-age story,” Ringwald explains, speaking about her move from Los Angeles after her house on Mulholland Dr. was burglarized. (After which, terrified and alone, she would sleep in the walk-in closet behind the bullet-proof doors her mother had insisted on installing years earlier.)
Seeking a change from working in movies that weren’t particularly stimulating to her, Ringwald sold her house and enrolled at the University of Southern California. She took a job in Paris that was supposed to be her “swan song to acting” before she was to return to school, but, instead, she ended up falling in love with the city and one of its men. She stayed six years before returning to America, alone and an adult.
Did she realize at the time why she made the move? “No, I just knew that I wasn’t happy where I was at, and that there was more to life to explore before I got married and had kids.” says Ringwald, now married with a mother of three. “It was more of a survival instinct than something thought out.”
In the Vogue essay, Ringwald writes that although she became proficient in French, her voice took on a high, girlish tone that hindered her confidence when she spoke the second language.
For an artist of any sort, finding one’s voice is essential. On her album Except Sometimes, so named for the melancholic ballad I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes), Ringwald’s singing is in a close, personal style. It’s an easy, natural thing to be loud – belting, essentially, is an amplified version of talking. Ringwald, who has sung big on Broadway, wanted to go the other way. “I wanted to sound intimate,” she says. “I wanted to access a part of my voice I hadn’t in recent years.”
Ringwald is signed to L.A-based Concord, with which she has a dotted-line connection. The father of Concord’s senior A&R man Chris Dunn was once the morning man at KJAZZ in Southern California where Ringwald’s father was an occasional guest DJ. Occasionally he would play something from his daughter’s youthful debut album on air.
“I know her love for the music was real, and it’s not something I would call a hobby with her,” says Dunn. “The one thing she has is an ability to tell a story. She conveys the emotion of the standards, and takes you on a journey. And that’s not something everyone can do.”
As for the album-closing non-standard Don’t You (Forget About Me), Dunn, a self-described “serious jazz head,” was skeptical until he heard the arrangement. “I think it leaves you in a nice place.”
It does. But if you didn’t know the story behind its placement on the album, you might think its inclusion cheeky.
John Hughes, the reclusive director of Ringwald’s biggest films (Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club), died of a heart attack while the album was being recorded. The song wasn’t even a consideration up to that point. It turned into an homage.
“I was thinking of him a lot,” recalls Ringwald, who approached her producer and arranger Peter Smith with the idea of jazzifying the song. “He started putting some chords behind it, and it sounded interesting, so we decided to see where it went.”
Upon Hughes’s passing in 2009, Ringwald penned an op-ed piece for the New York Times on the director and his influence on her. She noted a line from The Breakfast Club: “When you grow up … your heart dies.” It is very possible that Hughes believed it to be true. “I think that is one of the reasons he liked writing from the teenage perspective,” says Ringwald.
Ringwald doesn’t agree that by maturing you necessarily lose a part of yourself. “I don’t believe it to be the case at all,” she says, “but then I didn’t write it.” And now she resumes a music career that began when she was a little girl. She sings “la la la,” and the interesting, unplanned journey continues.