I’ve written quite a few songs over the years that have wound up in various films. Sometimes it’s been a case of the film production company screening a rough cut of their film for me, and me writing a song specifically for it. Other times, a song I’d already written was heard by someone attached to the film and requested to be included.
The first song I ever had used in a film was called “If I Turn You Away” for the movie St. Elmo’s Fire in 1985. I had only been in LA a couple years, doing a lot of session work as a background singer, when I met a young singer from Edmonton, Alberta, named Vikki Moss. Vikki had been chosen as one of the vocalists on the film’s soundtrack, and when she recorded the song, I had been asked to come and sing all the backgrounds.
Vikki was about my age (twenty-two at the time), blond, pretty, incredibly sweet, and fun to be around. I wasn’t dating anyone, and upon meeting her at the studio, I immediately turned on the charm and started kidding around with her. As the session neared its end, I was about to ask her to dinner that evening when a young guy strolled into the studio. It was Vikki’s boyfriend of two years. She introduced us, and I knew my dinner invitation was a goner. But her boyfriend seemed like a good guy, so instead of bailing altogether, I said, “You guys want to go grab some food?”
We went to a joint near the studio and had some laughs, and the next day when we returned to the studio to finish Vikki’s song, her boyfriend came along. He and I had really hit it off and he said, “You need to come visit us in Edmonton soon. I play hockey up there and you should come when we have a game.”
About three months later, I took them up on their invitation. They insisted I stay with them at their apartment downtown, which impressed me not only by their kindness but how gorgeous their place was. The next evening, Vikki and I headed over to the local arena to see her boyfriend’s hockey team play.
Now, back in 1985 I didn’t pay attention to anything except girls and music and not always in that order. I definitely didn’t follow sports much and had never in my life been a hockey fan, so this was my first hockey game since my dad took me to a Chicago Blackhawks game when I was seven. I didn’t know shit about hockey or the players, but Vikki’s boyfriend was now a buddy, and I was psyched to watch him play. He was amazing! Really skilled on the ice. The place was packed with thousands of fans going crazy.
Our team won the game and afterward, we all went to a local bar and I hung out with the team. We all got pretty ripped and there was a band playing. Vikki knew them and got up on the little stage in the corner and did a song as they backed her, and she then, over the microphone, said, “We have a friend in town from LA and he’s a great young songwriter but also a really good singer. Richard! Come up and do a song!”
I was a few kamikaze shots in and just drunk enough to be dumb enough not to say, “No, thanks!” So I got up onstage and the band just looked at me like, “So, what the fuck are we supposed to do with you?”
I hadn’t had any experience singing cover songs, so I was at a loss when the bass player started playing the bass line to Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” still a massive song on the radio then. I just went with it. But instead of trying to sing it like me, I dove into a full-on MJ impression, with shoulder flips and every “Uh” and “Hoo” from the record. The crowd of hockey players, and especially my new friends, laughed their asses off.
After a few hours’ sleep, morning came and I had to head for the airport to fly home to LA. Vikki was hungover and crashed out, so I asked her boyfriend if I could use their phone to call a taxi. He said, “No way, dude. I’ll drive you.”
We jumped into his very nice Mercedes coupe, and he parked just outside the terminal. This was way before 9/11 and you could still walk someone through security to their gate, but as he did, I started noticing people do a double take and stare.
We got to my gate just as boarding began. I said, “Man, that was such a great couple days. Thanks so much for everything,” to which he responded, “Richie”—he had started calling me that from day one—“you’re the best. I’m down in LA next month for a game and we’ve gotta hang.”
We hugged and as he turned to leave, I said, “Thanks again, Wayne!”
As Wayne walked back through the terminal, he was mobbed by fans. And even I was surrounded by people at the gate saying, “Are you friends with Gretzky? What’s he like?”
That is how out of touch with professional sports I was. I had no idea my new friend Wayne was “the Great One.”
Over the next couple of years, I hung out with Wayne, as well as several other members of the Edmonton Oilers, quite a bit. Large amounts of alcohol were always involved, and though I tried hard to keep up, my young, skinny, five-foot-ten self was no match for big, ripped, pro hockey players.
Wayne and I, for no reason I can think of other than “life,” lost touch, although we both welcomed sons into the world at the same hospital on the same day in 1992. I was walking down the hallway when behind me I heard, “Richie? Is that you?”
Vikki Moss’s song was included in the St. Elmo’s Fire soundtrack, and the album was nominated that year for a Best Motion Picture Soundtrack Album Grammy, becoming my first Grammy nomination as one of the songwriters. We lost to the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack, which was a huge hit for well over a year.
From STORIES TO TELL: A MEMOIR by Richard Marx. Copyright © 2021 by Richard Marx. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved. The book is out now; go buy it online or at your local book store, and support this scrappy young sports blogger.