Pop culture: Your childhood is dying… and it’s OK to be sad

In 2014, following the death of the actor Harold Ramis, I felt compelled to say something about the wave of negativity there was out there directed at those who express sadness when a celebrity dies. This article was originally posted on March 4th that year and was intended as an obituary, a criticism of modern digital attitudes and a recollection of the first time I met the Ghostbusters…

Being a child of the 1980s, I grew up in an age of real screen heroes. Long before Marvel Pictures cornered the heroism market, there were costumed champions saving us from inconceivable danger and boredom whose adventures would run for months (not weeks) at your local cinema. Some carried a whip, some carried a light saber, but in 1984 we were introduced to ones that carried something called a ‘proton pack’.

The Ghostbusters smoked cigarettes, drank booze and were willing to take on crippling debts to fund a ludicrous business model. They were three friends who wanted to live together in a converted fire station packed with gadgets and slide down a pole to get to work. In short, they were everything a seven-year-old kid like me wanted to be. Last week, one of The Ghostbusters – or at least the guy who played him – died. You could argue that, at my age, it’s not unusual for an actor I remember fondly from a favoured childhood feature to pass away, but as I walked for the hundredth time past the empty shell of a cinema where I was first introduced to him, I couldn’t help but feel genuinely sad.

It’s becoming pretty fashionable to use social media to point out the things we don’t like about one another. The most common complaints you’ll see are about people who take photos of their food, over-share relationship woes or send incessant requests to take part in candied puzzle games. Lately though, I’ve noticed quite a few comments ridiculing those for whom the passing of an actor or artist holds some personal significance. I can’t say who is right or wrong here and I can’t tell you how to use your social media, but I will say that the death of Harold Ramis is something I’m upset about. And I don’t care what you think.

Ramis was an established writer, actor and director who cut his teeth in TV before co-creating some of the most memorable comedy movies of the 1980s and 1990s. But to those of us of a certain age, he was much more than that – he was a fucking Ghostbuster. And without wanting to reduce his body of work to that one acting role, I can’t underestimate how important it was to me as a kid. Sure, there were other blockbusters that had an impact, but Ghostbusters was an absolute juggernaut. It was a film that came with great promise, tonnes of merchandise and just about the coolest theme song I’d ever heard – and I bought into the whole damned thing.

I remember convincing my mum to buy multiple packs of cereal I knew I’d never eat just for the free promotional stickers that came inside and listening to the read-along cassette and book of the film (I was far less spoiler sensitive as a child) pretty much on repeat. It was an age where movies were released in the US months ahead of the UK and by the time it did arrive, I could have stitched most of the thing together in my head. I knew the plot and the characters, had memorised countless photos and stickers, and had rewatched the same clips taped from TV over and over again. And yet, as we drove into town for the Friday night screening, I couldn’t have been more excited.

It was a dark December night in Manchester and there was a light coating of rain on the streets, the kind that makes the lights seem a little brighter and the cars a little louder. Having parked nearby, we made the short walk over to the Odeon on Oxford Road, a beautiful art deco theatre built by Paramount in the 1930s. It was the same cinema that gave me my first taste of film in Disney’s The Fox and the Hound just a few years earlier, along with countless other formative classics in those that followed. I was wearing my grey Ghostbusters sweater (with its slightly faded market-stall-knock-off logo) and had been listening to my read-along cassette all day. It’s fair to say I was ready to cross the streams.

As we walked out onto Oxford Rd, we caught sight of the queue, which by now was running out of The Odeon’s front doors, across the front of the building and right up around the side. We’d have a long wait on our hands, jostling slowly along the line and feeling a rush of excitement every time another screening-full of people left singing the theme tune and beaming with delight. As we got closer, I even remember we noticed local TV news presenter Tony Wilson (who would later spearhead Manchester’s late 80s renaissance through Factory Records and The Hacienda). It wasn’t unusual to see Wilson out and about in the city he loved, but this time he was cruising by in his red Jaguar with the window down, prompting my dad to mumble the word “wanker” as he passed. I met Tony on a couple of occasions some 15 years later. My dad couldn’t have been more wrong. He was an absolute gent. Anyway, I digress…

Before long, we were in, with just enough time to grab a Pepsi and a bag of Revels before taking our seats. The trailers ended, the lights dimmed and the chattering stopped (as was the custom in those days). The Columbia Pictures lady appeared on screen and the sound of a theremin wined lightly over her twinkling torch. In the halls of the New York Public Library, something terrifying was about to happen. The heavy atmosphere that seeped from those book-lined corridors was a lesson in suspense I’ll never forget – and I’m not ashamed to admit I was terrified. Luckily, after a blast of that electrifying theme song, three very likeable (and different) paranormal investigators would show up to ease the tension. The wise-ass “game show host”, the dopey-but-loveable spook enthusiast and the aloof, bespectacled genius.

The cultural impact of Ghostbusters, its sequels and the animated series that followed, can’t be argued with. It was huge. But on a personal level, it was unquestionably the biggest cinematic event I’ve ever lived through. It gave me four (yes, even you Winston) genuine heroes. They came, they saw, they kicked my ass and they stuck with me for the rest of my life. Now one of them has gone – and that is sad. Equally sad is that soon, that old Paramount cinema will also be destroyed, making way for some lifeless steel and concrete structure which looks exactly like the one next to it. When its walls are finally pulled down, I expect I’ll feel like another piece of my childhood has gone forever. But, like those given to me by Harold Ramis and friends, I know I can always take refuge in the memories and experiences I was left with.