Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"Stand By Me" by Ben E. King

Rob Reiner's 1986 film Stand By Me made such a huge impact on me when I first saw it in its initial release that years would pass before I fully understood why; it wasn't until I bought the film on DVD in 2000 and watched it again (having not seen it in some years) that I was blessed with the necessary insight that finally allowed me to come to terms with the feelings this relatively straightforward little fable* of Stephen King's still conjures in me more than twenty years later.

The film, of course, is rare enough in that it's unashamedly a paean to boyhood; stories of this ilk are two-a-penny for girls, but boys don't often rate such empowering stuff. The film's rites of passage - shared by Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O'Connell - are the stuff of shared male mysteries, common enough experiences to many men. Growing up gay, of course, means that I was denied many of these opportunities, except in the limited context of the film; male company always was - and to a certain extent still is - fraught with peril of one kind or another. Whether sexual or not, my relationships with men are still the principal source of my considerable neurosis.

The song Stand by Me, of course, was a big part of the film; selecting it today is a no-brainer, since it's Ben E. King's 72nd birthday. Although a gospel song first composed in 1905, King himself first took it up the charts in 1961 - making it something of an anachronism, since the film takes place in 1959. The song was, if anything, an even bigger hit in 1987 when re-released on the soundtrack to Stand By Me.

*Adapted from his novella The Body and taken from the same 1982 collection, Different Seasons, that also yielded the story Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption which later became The Shawshank Redemption.

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