Earlier this summer, The Thread connected musician Bethany Cosentino, of the band Best Coast, with actor/writer/singer Molly Ringwald. In the following Thread: Unspooled, we dive deeper into their shared obsession with ’80s film soundtracks, Molly’s work as a writer and advice columnist, and why Bethany herself could have made a great John Hughes character…
Annotations and commentary provided by Lauren Sloss, a San Francisco–based writer.
From: Bethany Cosentino
To: Molly Ringwald
Hi! I hope you’re enjoying your Saturday afternoon. I’m trying to use this weekend to relax as much as I can, as the last few weeks and the upcoming few weeks are crazy busy for me because my band has a new album, and I have been nonstop with press and promo.
I’m sure you understand that lifestyle! I know you have the RadioLoveFest coming up later this month, as well as an advice column for The Guardian–how do you manage to relax during your busy periods?
RadioLoveFest is a multiday festival put on by WYNC at BAM, and includes live tapings of beloved NPR shows like Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! and Radiolab. This year’s fest took place May 5–10; Molly hosted “Don’t Look Back: Stories from the Teenage Years,” presented by The Moth and Radio Diaries, and featuring stories from Tavi Gevinson and Ishmael Beah.
I try to exercise as much as I can when I start feeling a bit stressed from my hectic schedule—it seems to be the best remedy for me! I worked out this morning and then had plans to go out and run a bunch of errands, but I quickly found myself becoming a bit lazy and curling up on the couch, haha. I figured now would be the best time to get this email conversation started! Do you live in LA? I know you grew up in California, but do you still live here? It’s pretty crazy to be emailing you because I’ve been such a fan of your work since I was a young girl. I remember the first time I saw Sixteen Candles, and it quickly became my favorite movie. My friends and I would watch it at sleepovers we’d have during the weekends!
How do you feel working in the spotlight at such a young age molded you into the woman you’ve become today? I always wonder that when I’m speaking to fellow females who are in “the business.” I started Best Coast when I was 23, and now I’m 28. I have for sure done a lot of growing up since then—but at times I found it incredibly hard to “grow up” knowing there were people watching me and critiquing the things that I was doing. I feel like now, as a 28-year-old woman, I’m a lot more confident, and I try to pay less attention to the media, etc. It can be really hard to grow when you’re under a microscope of sorts.
What advice would you give to girls in their teens who want to “make it” in this industry? Whenever young girls ask me for advice about trying to become a musician and what it’s like to deal with life in the spotlight, I always try to tell them to just follow their intuition and don’t let what other people say affect them or bring them down, and to always be proud of who they are, because who you are makes you special and unique. Of course that statement is much easier said than done (!), but I feel like after a while, you really do learn how to kind of navigate your way without letting every single thing thrown at you affect you.
“It can be really hard to grow when you’re under a microscope of sorts.”
From: Molly Ringwald
To: Bethany Cosentino
Nice to hear from you!
Right now I’m listening to your music, so I’m tempted to just comment on what you’re singing in my headphones! I love your voice, your sound. The specificity of your lyrics—“I wish my cat could talk…” Who hasn’t felt that?
That lyric is from “Goodbye,” off of Best Coast’s first album, Crazy For You. It’s a strikingly honest (and kind of dark) track behind it’s surfer pop-punk beat: “Every time you leave this house, everything falls apart / I don’t love you, I don’t hate you, I don’t know how I feel,” Cosentino wails.
Yeah, the advice thing is interesting. When the John Hughes movies came out, it did feel like a lot of people expected me to be some kind of spokesperson, and offer advice to people of “my generation.” But I had no idea what to offer anyone because I was very confused trying to figure out who I was. When The Guardian offered me the column, my first reaction was (again) feeling like there was no way in hell. Why should I offer advice to anyone? I have no credentials. I never went to college. Then I thought some more and decided that just the fact that I have mana ged to survive in this crazy business without dying young or going crazy should give me some sort of authority. It’s been an interesting job (if you can even call it that).
“Ask Molly Ringwald,” started December 2014, is going strong with once-a-week queries about “love, family, or life in general.” In case you needed further proof that Molly Ringwald remains a go-to girl for anything teenage-angst related, then take a look at her responses to questions ranging from, “My teacher wants me to delete an atheist photo from social media. Should I?” to “My ugly breasts are stopping me having sex.” Her answers are frank, thoughtful, and honest–proof that our fantasies of being her best friend through the good times and the bad are not unfounded.
I write books as well, and the same little chip in my brain that makes me want to invent characters and understand why they do what they do—why they hurt and betray the people they love the most…the column has actually helped me to create a deeper understanding of that. I love the people who write in. I love the message-in-a-bottle aspect of it.
Molly has written two books, most recently When It Happens to You, a collection of connected short stories that follow “a Los Angeles family and their friends and neighbors as they negotiate the hazardous terrain of everyday life–revealing the deceptions, heartbreak, and vulnerability familiar to us all.” She also penned Getting the Pretty Back, which The New York Times described as “A lighthearted guide for women… who want to be reminded of their youthful, carefree selves.”
In terms of “growing up in the spotlight,” I think it’s a dangerous way to grow up. Especially now, with the internet, TMZ, etc. I have an 11-year-old daughter, who is incredibly precocious and talented and absolutely DYING to be in the spotlight.
Molly’s daughter Mathilda was born in 2003. Molly also has twins, Adele and Roman, who were born in 2009.
But having gone through it myself, I want to protect her from all of that, have her get to a place—or a level of maturity—where she feels like she can handle the rejection and the incredible loss of privacy that you have to accept once you step into the public eye. It’s hard because of course I’m really proud of her (she’s a filmmaker and artist…a ukulele player!) and her films are getting better and better. Part of me just wants to go all stage-mom on her. But then I think if she has all of that talent, it doesn’t go away. Whatever is there will still be there later. Maybe this sounds like a hopelessly idealistic mom talking…but again, I’m at a place in my life where I’m still trying to figure things out myself. Maybe that never ends.
“…Just the fact that I have managed to survive in this crazy business without dying young or going crazy should give me some sort of authority.”
From: Bethany Cosentino
To: Molly Ringwald
Oh, I also wanted to ask what your astrological sign is. I'm very intro astrology, so I pretty much ask everyone that when I first meet them, haha. Are you into astrology at all? I'm a Scorpio. My horoscope for today actually told me that I should relax after a busy week, so I'm going to just listen to it and continue to relax today.
Anyway—I hope this finds you well, and I hope you're enjoying your weekend + that everything is going great for you! I look forward to talking more!
From: Molly Ringwald
To: Bethany Cosentino
My sign: Aquarius. I don’t know if I believe in it or not, but I always look, and whenever I like it, I believe. ;) I’m February 18th. (Interestingly, the guy I made all of those movies with, John Hughes, was born on the same day…18 years apart.)
And in terms of following your intuition, I think that is a good way to go—assuming that you have a good intuition. But even if you don’t, I think that everyone needs to figure things out for themselves. I try to be open to those people in my life I respect, and at the same time listen to that voice that is placed somewhere around my kidneys…not really sure where it is, but it’s deep in my core. It’s not always easy to listen to…there are a lot of voices who are trying to drown it out…but if you concentrate on listening to yourself, I think it won’t steer you wrong. That just made me think of a poem from a poet I absolutely adore. Mary Oliver.
Mary Oliver is a famous American poet known for her intimate, personal captures of the natural world (this writer clearly remembers reading “Wild Geese” in at least one high-school English class). Molly’s original link leads to a page on Oliver’s site that appears to have been hacked (!), so here she is instead in a rare and intimate interview from the podcast On Being.
If I had to pick one person—OK, that’s impossible—but she is up there in terms of people that I hero-worship a little.
From: Bethany Cosentino
To: Molly Ringwald
WOW. I love that poem so, so much! What a breath of fresh air! Mondays are always such an "off" day for me. It's basically the day when I have to take care of all the things I avoided doing over the weekend, so I always have that Garfield-esque feeling when I wake up and realize it's Monday, ha! But this poem—wow, what an inspiration, and so incredibly true! I love it. I will have to check out more of Mary Oliver's work. I studied poetry in college (well, in the 2 semesters I actually went to college), but I don't read a whole lot of poetry anymore—in fact I don't read a lot in general anymore. Kind of makes me sad! I'll definitely check her work out—and I did not know you wrote books! That is so fantastic.
I absolutely love what you said RE: your advice column. It's so funny how people expect you to be "the voice of your generation" just because of what you do for work, or because your films at that age dealt so much with growing up + the confusions/angst and being a teenager, when in reality, you were probably dealing with so many of the same emotions as the characters you were playing! I feel like that a lot too, because of the fact that I write such personal, relatable lyrics in my songs. (By the way—love that you loved the line about my cat!)
Pitchfork has a pretty great description of Cosentino’s lyric-style: “As a lyricist, she remains a devout student of what Lester Bangs dubbed the Lou Reed ‘I walked to the chair / Then I sat in it’ school of lyrics; she expresses herself clearly.” Thinking about it, her simple, straightforward honesty is akin to a girl-in-a-band version of a John Hughes movie. Connections!
(Ha! It's sooo true though. Sometimes I just wish he could talk back to me!) Anyway—yes, I totally get that. I feel like part of my "job" as a songwriter is to write about stuff that is relatable to my listeners, while at the same time, allows me opportunities to get stuff off my chest and figure out who I am and what anxieties/insecurities are holding me back from accomplishing my goals. It's strange though because people often expect me to have the answers, and I don't! I mean, that's the sole purpose of writing about what I write about—I'm trying to figure it all out for myself. So when someone asks me, "How do I get over a bad breakup?" I'm like "Uhhh, I am trying to figure that out myself!" Haha….
I think it's so cool that you have an advice column though, and it's also refreshing to hear that you’re still trying to "figure things out" because sometimes I feel like I'm supposed to have it all figured out by now, and then I remember that like, I have so much time ahead of me to figure things out—and yes, like you said—maybe it never ends!
I don't think you're being a hopelessly idealistic mom in saying what you said about your daughter! It's so incredibly true. Being in the spotlight these days can be really scary because of all the things you mentioned. There is just such a lack of privacy in the world now because of the internet, and just how easy it is to get someone's attention. I always think about if I had a child and the way I would approach them using the web. It's so hard because it's like, the internet has become such a HUGE part of our daily lives, and it can help us all out so much, but at the same time it can be such a nightmare, especially for young kids.
I love that your daughter is so creative, and I wish her the best of luck in all her creating! It's so great that you're so supportive of her—my parents were very supportive of me when I was that age, and it was so important to the person I have become. I dropped out of both high school and college, and although my parents weren't cheering me on to leave school, they supported me every step of the way because they believed in me. It's so important to have that support from your parents, so it's very nice to hear that you are such a fan and supporter of your daughter's creativity. Ukulele is a hard instrument! Good for her! :)
An Aquarian! My best friend since 7th grade is an Aquarius. Haha, I totally get what you mean about believing in astrology if your horoscope for that day is a good one. Even as a huge believer in astrology, I'm the same way sometimes. That is crazy that you and John Hughes were born on the same day! So cosmic!
Speaking of John—I wanted to ask you something about the music from the films you made with him. Being a musician, I oftentimes fall insanely in love with films through their soundtracks, and John Hughes films always had the most incredible soundtracks. Do you have a favorite song off a soundtrack of one of the movies you made together?
Oh my gosh, entire books could be written about the epicness of John Hughes soundtracks. I’m listening to them right now and am instantly a) 14 years old, b) madly in love with someone, and c) on the brink of laughter/tears. That’s fucking artistry!!! I’m not alone–all a manner of respected publications continue to weigh in on the ten/thirteen/thousand best musical moments in John Hughes movies.
I think "If You Were Here" by the Thompson Twins has to be BY FAR one of my favorite songs ever used in a movie scene, like, ever. The ending scene in Sixteen Candles is so powerful on its own, but the use of that song just makes it all the more amazing.
Bethany, I feel you. The cake! The kiss! JAKE RYAN! Is everyone else regressing back to high school, here?
The Pretty in Pink soundtrack is one of the first albums I bought on vinyl! I found it at a thrift store around the time I got my first record player—it was a very exciting find for me!
Props. That soundtrack really takes it to a new level. When you have the Psychedelic Furs AND Otis Redding AND OMD all contributing seminal moments to a film, you know you’re on to something.
What music have you been listening to lately? Who are some of your favorite artists/bands? Lately I've been listening to Oasis and The Cure a ton. My favorite band of all time is Fleetwood Mac. My mom introduced me to them when I was very young, so they hold a special place in my heart because of that.
Anyway—I'm sure you have a busy day, and I could go on forever, haha! Hope you have a great Monday/week, and talk to you soon!
From: Molly Ringwald
To: Bethany Cosentino
Yeah, for me writing is very much about discovery too. I haven’t done much songwriting (though I’d like to do more), but I’ve noticed that every kind of writing I seem to get involved in always seems to lead me toward an exploratory state.
Molly’s one hell of a singer, as evidenced on Except Sometimes, an album of covers/reinterpretations of “jazz standards.” It’s all sultry smoke, and even includes a completely weird (but kind of awesome) cover of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”!
I put things in the mouths of characters or come up with conversations or arguments so I can try stuff out. It’s not unlike what my little kids do when they play with their dolls or stuffed animals. They give life to these characters, making up these silly voices and having conversations with themselves. I realized that I do pretty much the same thing, only in front of the camera or on the page. And to their credit, they don’t ever seem to stress out about how the story is going, or get disappointed in one of their characters like I inevitably do.
It was nice to hear that your parents were supportive of you. Though being on this side now, as a mother, I can imagine it must have been hard for them to watch you drop out of school. I tried to when I was in high school, but everyone fought really hard to keep me in, and looking back, I’m glad they did—especially since I didn’t end up going to college (I went to Paris instead). But it sounds like your parents believed in you, and that’s so important to any kid, whatever she’s interested in. When kids are little, parental approval is so critical—they’re always looking for it—and I don’t think that reflex ever really subsides. Even now, with my parents in their 70s, it feels embarrassingly good when they comment positively on something I’ve done. You can almost hear me purr.
As far as the soundtracks to the movies I did, I think my favorite songs are probably the Smith’s “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want” and the Suzanne Vega song “Left of Center.” (They were both in Pretty in Pink.)
John Hughes really dug that Smiths track (who doesn’t?!)–he uses a Dream Academy cover of it in the Art Institute of Chicago scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, too. God, who wants to have a John Hughes film festival, like, right now?
Okay, not that anyone’s asking me, but I feel like the “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” closing scene in The Breakfast Club is just everything (not the jazz version). It’s what it means to be a teenager and to find a moment of understanding and solidarity in someone else! Us against the world, baby. And man, yeah, Duckie’s epic lip-synch to “Try a Little Tenderness”… nothing better.
I remember going to hear her sing at this club in the West Village (I think it was The Bitter End), and she wrote down the lyrics on a napkin because she had just written it and was hoping to get it on the soundtrack. I ended up giving the napkin to a friend of mine who was a huge fan of hers, and he just reminded me about it the other day. I kinda wish that I still had it, but then I remind myself about trying not to hold on to objects and give them so much importance. And it was nice of the 18-year-old me to give something that mattered to me to someone else. That should be the thing that matters…
Lately I’ve been listening to Sufjan Stevens a lot. I’ve loved his music since “Come On! Feel the Illinoise!” came out a decade ago, and like with anything, I go through phases—right now I’m back in that phase. His new album is beautiful. I’m also a big fan of Andrew Bird, and I listen to a ton of jazz music. And of course, I’m a slave to whatever my 11-year-old wants to listen to. It’s hard to know when that moment happens in life when you know about music because of your kids instead of the other way around. But luckily she has great taste in music, so there’s a lot of crossover. (Thank god she doesn’t fit into my shoes yet.)
Alright, it’s late and I should wrap this up. Maybe one day we’ll meet in person and have a follow-up conversation full of interruptions and excited interjections. As much as I love words on a page, I can’t help but feel that dialogue lives to be spoken.