“Don’t You (Forget About Me)” Captures the Ache of Fleeting Friendships

“Don’t You (Forget About Me)” could have had many lives before the life it eventually had. But the song had to work hard to be recorded at all. No one particularly wanted to sing it, and it was turned down by the Fixx, Bryan Ferry, and Billy Idol before landing back in the lap of the band Simple Minds, who had initially rejected the idea of recording it, because they wanted to do only their own material. It had been written by Keith Forsey and Steve Schiff with a film in mind: The Breakfast Club, a movie about five teenagers coming to terms with each other during a stint in Saturday school detention. The crew couldn’t be any more motley, hitting every high school stereotype imaginable: jock, prom queen, nerd, troublemaking outcast, quiet outsider. The song would be pivotal in framing the film, playing once at the opening, and then more prominently at the closing.

In 1985, the year of the film’s release, Simple Minds had seen success in the U.K., their homeland, and even earned some popularity in Australia and Canada. But they were virtually unknown in the US, despite being six albums into their career by the time the year started. They needed a swing at a hit, and so they found themselves with a reject—a song no one wanted, not even themselves.

The song hanging over the end of the film freezes and crystallizes a moment that the viewer knows might not exist when the sun sets on the weekend.

“Don’t You (Forget About Me)” flourishes during the film’s climax, when all five students emerge from their Saturday school sentence renewed, different than they were when they entered. By the end, the jock is kissing the weirdo! The prom queen has fallen for the troublemaker! The nerd is . . . still a nerd, but confident! To watch The Breakfast Club is to suspend a particular type of disbelief, to buy into the idea that after years in school together, in opposite worlds, these people would cut through their resentments and their teenage insecurities to form lasting bonds with each other. The song is effective here because of the plea that rests in the chorus, the title sung with an aching and longing confidence by lead singer Jim Kerr. It urges an eternal remembering that is distinctly high-school. The way I scrawled in copies of yearbooks during my senior year, promising to stay in touch or come visit people who I perhaps genuinely wanted to see but knew that I wouldn’t.

The Breakfast Club works best if the viewer doesn’t think about what will happen on Monday. Or Sunday, even, the day in between when the teens will have time to reflect and readjust to their comforts. Sure, the inevitability that the group will drift and lose touch when the morning school bell chimes gets mentioned briefly at the center of the film, but it’s a vehicle to further the self-realization of the group. They come to see that they all hate having to live up to what people think of them, and want to find some righteous path toward liberation from their social standing. It all sounds great in the moment, but for anyone who has enjoyed or endured high school, it can read as a ruse. The song hanging over the end of the film freezes and crystallizes a moment that the viewer knows might not exist when the sun sets on the weekend.

The fragile nature of friendship reflected in both the film and the song seemed to echo in real life. “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” was a number-one hit for Simple Minds and broke them out in the United States. They took the song that no one wanted and fashioned it into a beautiful moment, not unlike the way the film’s five teenagers used their confinement to fight themselves into a brief respite from the lives they had outside of each other. But once the song got big, Simple Minds began to fall apart. A band known for its firm camaraderie began to fracture. The group had grown up together and been lifelong friends, but the newfound fame didn’t suit each of the members equally. The lineup began to undergo shifts and the friendships began to strain. A song about holding onto memory did this, it seems. The band couldn’t save itself, despite the message nested in their own song.

I suppose there is a Monday morning coming for each of us, no matter what revelations rest in a weekend or even a lifetime of friendship. I’ve got high school pals I don’t talk to and high school enemies I sometimes see in the supermarket or at a concert and we nod and hug and act is if we were always cool with each other, and never once walked past each other in a hallway, or cursed each other’s names quietly in the back of a classroom. Time allows for the lie of affection to grow between people, and what makes The Breakfast Club and “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” work together in tandem is that the movie spends its entire runtime attempting to cash in on a hard-to-believe myth, and the closing scene, awash with the song, makes the myth believable. If only for a few minutes.