Before there was Rent, and way before there was High School Musical, there was a movie about the High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan that took the country by storm. Fame, released in 1980, was one of the top box office hits of the decade and spawned a television show and a host of imitators. Now Fame has been remade, and the new version hit screens everywhere last week. Many things have been changed in this update, but there’s one element the film’s producers and marketers wouldn’t think of touching, and that’s the extraordinary theme song, the lyrics of which were written by Dean Pitchford. “Fame! / I’m gonna live forever / I’m gonna learn how to fly / High! / I feel it coming together / People will see me and cry / Fame!” The directness here withers any resistance, and in Irene Cara’s original version, along with those of the countless karaoke idols who have tackled it since, there’s an urgency that reinforces the message.
Pitchford, who has just published his second novel, and is also the author of some other classic film songs such as “Footloose” and “Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” has stayed true to his original vision and message even as he has exchanged mediums and focused on different audiences. Captain Nobody follows his first children’s novel, The Big One-Oh, which saw Pitchford nominated for a spoken-word Grammy last year after recording the book on tape. Pitchford and his publisher, Putnam, are marketing his work to a demographic that needs inspirational heroes and good novels more than ever-children from the ages of 10 to 14. Less fantastic (and shorter) than any of the Harry Potter books, Captain Nobody describes the adventures of a boy who, at least at first, doesn’t think he has any adventures. It isn’t until young Newt Newman’s football-star older brother winds up in the hospital that the boy steps into his superhero outfit and begins saving people and altering lives.
I spoke with Dean Pitchford last week about his career and about the creative process behind this unusual, pint-sized action star, Captain Nobody.
The name “Captain Nobody” is a paradox. After all, a “nobody” is by definition not important. Why did you choose it? Had Newt named himself anything but “nobody,” he would have set up expectations for whom he could become. This way his superhero persona is based on his real self becoming manifest, rather than on some arbitrary outward feature.
And what is that real self, in Captain Nobody’s case? Newt is the kind of kid who already takes on a lot of responsibility in his family, and loves and cares for his parents. When his brother Chris goes into a coma, that responsibility increases, and that’s what turns him super. Through stepping into this new role in his family, even though he’s not necessarily ready for it, Newt becomes Captain Nobody.
What about this story rings true for you personally? I was the one who performed this role in my family when I was that age-trying to make it work, and doing whatever I could to bring my parents together after my dad left. And what I am saying with Captain Nobody is that, even though it didn’t work in the sense that I couldn’t accomplish what I set out to-which was to undo my parents’ separation-it didn’t leave me traumatized. The attempt was an adventure, and through it I grew into a stronger person. Otherwise, I probably would have just gone on living in a bubble, but that situation activated me, and I believe it’s part of why I have been able to accomplish whatever it is that I’ve done as an adult.
Dean Pitchford will be signing copies of Captain Nobody at Tecolote Books (1470 E. Valley Rd.) on Saturday, October 3, at 3 p.m. For more information, call 969-4977.