When I heard that The Face was coming back to the newsstands, albeit virtually, I began to get very excited. As a writer, we gather our sources and ideas from a variety of places. Though today I do feel a bit devoid of inspiration thanks in part to the glut of device-driven fast-food books, magazines, TV and podcasts. Anyone? In any case, we’re collectively influenced by times changing; we like to move forwards and push the boundaries of trends and sometimes acceptability! Like most writers of my age and experience, we grew up on the brain food of style and hard-hitting reportage which often came together in magazines such as The Face, i-D, and Sky Magazine giving us life, guidance and the hopeful good grace that everything (after nuclear war) would be OK. Ok?
Let me just put it out there before we get going, that this is 1989. There is no Facebook, ffs, there’s not even any MySpace. Without Amazon or Google everything comes in analogue. Thoughts, feelings, ideals and concepts. Sure, the potential for a digital world is here but you will have to send away for it in a stamped addressed envelope. To a P.O Box. In London.
For the uninitiated, Sky Magazine was a direct competitor of magazines such as The Face and i-D; however, it influenced a generation of people like me who knew their place in the fringes of what was cool. I know that I was hella not cool in 1989. That said, on my 46th birthday this year, my best and one of my oldest friends treated me to a retro extravaganza which I want to share over a few Medium stories here.
This is the magazine where I learned about fashion, politics, art, LGBT+, music and movies. This is the Tate Modern and Candy Crush. Spotify, RuPaul’s Drag Race and Jersey Shore directed by Steve McQueen and scored by Sleaford Mods playing Chopin. Everything I am, I think, is because of this.
I’m going to dive into the April issue of Sky Magazine from 1989. And, if you had some change to spare from your delicatessen job at Tesco, this would cost you the princely sum of one British pound.
So what’s on the cover? Well it’s Brat Pack bad boy Kiefer Sutherland in his approachable-yet-slightly hungover pose; his uncomfortable blue eyes staring at the camera with an awkward intensity, and his thin lips giving way to blonde unkempt stubble. Looking like a troubled child, he has already 10-plus films under his 22-year old belt. In this edition he’s giving an exclusive interview, I wonder what pearls he has to share with my pubescent self? At this point I should mention that I was beyond obsessed with anything Kiefer Sutherland-related. My final project for Art and Design GCSE was nothing more than a semi-glazed bust of the manchild himself in his The Lost Boys/Bright Lights, Big City era: coming-undone-at-the-seams-beauty. Perhaps one day I’ll tell you why that idea was way off, but be assured that my GCSE art final was a fail, something I would need to carry around with me for the rest of my life. As a creative, that’s so not cool.
Kiefer aside, but with a queer eye for the straight guy on his ill-advised by so 80s tan leather strapped Swatch, there are other choice cuts to steal. Michelle Pfeiffer gives an interview about how difficult it is to wear a cat suit, maybe. Followed by Willem Dafoe who is at his To Live and Die in LA best (pre-Body of Evidence). Inner City, the mighty Kevin Saunderson, provides an insight into having Big Fun in Detroit. Speaking of Big Fun, Pete Waterman, the PWL hitman, invites the reader to take a pre-railway enthusiast look at his life and career. Kim Basinger, is giving life to every slightly awkward teenage woman who has not yet found the antidote to Gloria Steinem-style feminist prowess with just one trick. I hope she will give me a few tips. I’m 16, what can I say?
And as ever in Sky Magazine, there’s always a running selection of other smaller articles: maybe fashion spreads and the obligatory cover competition. An additional remedy to all things showbiz is an almost predictory article concerning charity as an industry. I’m excited, and I hope this is not all about Sting and the Rainforest, preserve us.
When I was 16 all I really wanted to know about Kiefer Sutherland was this: was he single? End of. The normal business of any teenager is to aspire to be something way better than you are when actually the truth is that you should just focus on being you, because, you know, being on the fringes of cool is always the best place to be, I just didn’t have or recognise that chutzpah in 1989; we all make mistakes, hon. As a 46-year-old woman I’m looking at a picture of the cross-legged 23-year-old Kiefer Sutherland, and I’m thinking I could comfortably ruin this guy. This gives me a deep cougar middle-aged spread belly laugh so I’ll endeavour to highlight this article for you, dear reader, trying not to steer and objectify his general sexy demeanour. He is 23 and 46, what can I learn?
I learned to write at this age. By writing I mean as in my bread and butter: stories, articles and I think that one of the big reasons for this learning curve was because I needed an outlet for all of these incredibly beautifully flowery words that I was learning from magazines such as Smash Hits, Sky Magazine, The Face, Thrasher, Mixmag, even Kerrang. But definitely Harper’s Bazaar, Tatler, and British Vogue. Only if I could afford it. You’d better believe that this was my life back then.
Over at Sky Magazine the writer of this particular article is an observer, completely different to the type of journalist or writer that you may read about in today’s online magazines, newspapers features, or even take a break. I’m paying attention to the attention to detail as he sets the scene inviting us to get lost with him and Kiefer in Los Angeles. Placing a young up-and-comer next to Tom Cruise and Charlie Sheen in 1989 is no mean feat, it’s big time baby. Let’s be honest, our Kiefer is a post-modern Donald Sutherland, the idea is that we just don’t know it yet. Here’s this 23-year-old young god is being painted as the most casual stay at home guy we’ve ever met, portrayed, played, he’s toying with us, on a rainy day, in Los Angeles. It never rains in Los Angeles.
Kiefer is described as purring gently and he is put off his interview style slightly by his PR/press officer who is trying to rearrange his meetings for the day because he’s on the verge of something amazing. He’s presented to us as being bleary-eyed, subdued and dog tired. He asks for a slight covering of powder on his face and his hair to be left a messy for the photos, very telling. His voice is described as lazy, croaky and really just maximum Kiefer Sutherland. This is, after all, the guy who managed to get almost 14 years out of 24 hours. He’s pre-Jack Bauer Jack Bauer. And his white conservatism oozes through the article like an old soul awkwardly hanging around at one of Gatsby’s gatherings. He describes rap music as shit and wishes that his daughter would listen to Bad Company or Led Zeppelin, or “something decent for a change”. One might argue that his disdain for rap music is possibly brought about by his general pre-Jack Bauer Jack Bauer stiffness that would make him look like a rusty Transformer in a hip-hop club.
I turn the page and discover that we’ve almost got identical tattoos, something I never realised before, but that I now want removed. But he certainly does look like that imaginary boyfriend I had for like a million years (I was a late starter). His Chris Chambers-style rolled up white T-shirt belongs to Ace Merrill and not Chris Chambers. He is missing a packet of cigarettes from the capped sleeve of his shirt, no matter, he’s taking a knife to a gunfight. My heart breaks when he talks awkwardly about his wife and kid, I am crushed. My hopes are dashed. We’re over. Well, hopefully until the mid to late 90s or something like that. Who knows? The Time Machine me is very interested.
The Smash Hits paragraph of key information emerges mid-article and aside of his marital status I am sanguine. The London-Canadian-American sings to the 16 year old me like nothing else on Earth. My diary is full of plots and plans, maps and contacts to get me off this stupid estate in the Midlands of England and over to where the streets were paved with gold. I yearned for it; I needed to get away and Kiefer gave me a window to climb out of. He’d opened it. He’d knotted the blanket to break my fall. Magazines as my passport and movies as my journey kept me alive back then. It wasn’t easy. Of course, I would later find out that Hollywood was nothing like this and it’s largely full of people pushing around shopping trolleys full of their lives wishing they could’ve been someone. Or at least be noticed, which I’m sure is part of the human condition for a lot of us.
The writer focuses on his films to provide a careful and curated reflection of an assortment of acting styles and acting dexterity. However, it is David in The Lost Boys that really brings out the best of this article, naturally. It is obvious to anybody reading Sky Magazine that the focus is on the what’s cool right now in 1989. And The Lost Boys, though not setting the box office on fire in 1987, was a sleeper hit. For a lot of people 30+ years on, it is still a vital piece of American cinema. There you go. I said it. And yah boo sucks to anybody who disagrees. You can’t tell me that the integrity of Martin Scorsese outweighs the gravity of John Hughes. I’m 16, ffs! By the time I could appreciate the medium, the playing field for movies was finally open, and it is because of the 1980s that we are allowed to remove the Hollywood studio robes and throw open the nude intricacies of cinema raw and cooked, indie and high-concept. At a time when Netflix was a mere Blade Runner-style dream, we could celebrate the good, the bad, and the downright ugly of American and International cinema through everything we loved and hated and wished about ourselves.
I turn the page. We’re coming to the close. It’s the section of the article on the following page discussing working with Michael J Fox in Bright Lights, Big City, that really gets overlooked. It was a pivotal role for Kiefer Sutherland, for him to move away from the vampiric (pun intended) Brat Pack that Hollywood was living for; and so he and Michael J Fox try to be taken more seriously as actors taking the polished squeaky clean and replacing it with coke. But Sky Magazine isn’t really interested in this too much, preferring to focus on his upcoming role in Young Guns. With the Estevezes, (jeez, is that even a plural?) and Lou Diamond Phillips, in a pre-cultural appropriation role, we can only imagine how much fun these guys were having on set. Except for maybe Kiefer Sutherland, who is about 70 years old at the time this article went to press, apparently. I mean could they have painted a more boring guy?
Wait. The writer tricked us.
The Keyser Söze is revealed when the writer overhears a conversation about Kiefer. This bad boy image which our Kiefer’s tried so hard to play down follows the reader into the LA restaurant and like a shadow cast from his birth, posits the hypothesis that since his son-of-angry-young-man birth he has been heir apparent to badness. Lurking like a black cloud over the denouement is a suggestion that this family man is a fraud, a silent deceiver who is off the scale. So cheers to reckless driving and 100 hours of community service. I still would.
I take a deep breath. It’s over. I’m measuring the man against the myth, with a few busted knuckles and broken hearts to feed my judgement. Sam Brown looks at me from the facing page. She is unwavering in her temptation. My 16 year old self will draw from her platinum blonde style, strands falling into a luscious blurred background her red lips framing beautiful white teeth but not right now, I think. Perhaps when I’m 39. Post-post-post cool-not-cool.
I place Sky Magazine on the DFS bedside table in my old bedroom, next to my Juicy Fruit lip-gloss and framed photo of River Phoenix. I need to process how I feel, in my dreams. I need to know it was worth it. I’ll let you know in 30 years. Tomorrow. Now.