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An Ode To 1980s Christian Slater

Photo: Bart Sherkow / Shutterstock
christian slater

In the late 1980s, it was Christan Slater who told me puberty had certainly arrived. 

My earliest love was Bill Murray but I was so young; it was literally grade-school stuff. On the cusp of teendom, I crushed on Coreys, flipped for Michael J. Fox, cocked a head at Kirk Cameron (who now, well... you must get lessons in regret somehow).

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But those guys were mere posers (and posters  thanks, Bop and Tiger Beat!) compared to Christian Slater. Christian Slater was 3-D, break-me-off-a-piece-of-that blood flow to my nether regions, but in a cerebral way. (Mmmhmm, I'm going to make it noble.)

For sure, no one purloined my adolescent loins the way he did: from the moment he uttered his first "Greetings and salutations" (oh, god, a guy with a vocabulary!) on-screen in Heathers, as Winona Ryder's mirage-like rebel relief to her Heathers and their social-scheming, I was greeting and salivating over the prospect of a romance with this devilishly grinning dude. 

I wanted so badly to be Ryder's Veronica, smart-girling as she posed what she knows is a stupid question of the week  "You inherit five million dollars the same day aliens land on earth and say they're going to blow it up in two days. What do you do?" to Slater's J.D. Alas. I could only watch but at least my questions about what went into the ultimate guy were answered.

What more did I need than a cocky eyebrow raise and the perfect response  "That's the stupidest question I've ever heard." to assure me I wanted no baby-faced heartthrob, but a guy who knew, or would at least pretend to know, the whole heartthrob thing was stupid?

As a girl who was maybe a bit of a misfit a good-girl, honors-student, no-talent-at-flirting and fancying herself some kind of future great writer/thinker/something artsy with a Sassy-mag wardrobe well, Christian more than tapped into my non-conformist aspirations. He got it, with his hand-through-the-already-mussed-hair and a sly grin that I refused to credit Jack Nicholson with inventing.

This guy knew there was more to life than pom-poms and keggers. Or I told myself he did, knowing full well I'd never make cheerleading or be invited to many parties.

Slater's smirky impertinence struck me as more than just an act. He, the real him, knew, too. He knew it was all bullsh*t, all conformist sameness, as he tossed off lines like "Seven schools in seven states and the only thing different is my locker combination."

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The fact that I fell hard for a character who was actually a murderous sociopath? I could overlook that. It was just a movie, after all. Besides, as my infatuation hit peak fan-girl, I learned that Video City was carrying his new movie.

I gathered a group of girlfriends firm in their Slaterdom. (None of them as devoted as me, but I wouldn't be the one to tell them.) The plans were normal sleepover stuff: practicing dance moves to a VHS tape of Madonna's Blonde Ambition tour, prank phone calls from a landline, and then a double-feature of Heathers and the new movie, Pump Up The Volume. 

A slick of Chippendales (that's what you call them in a group) couldn't have ignited my friends' parents' impropriety meter faster.

"Tell them we're just watching Gleaming the Cube," I urged one girl, naming an ultimately harmless (i.e. mostly sex-free) skateboarding movie where Slater has to solve his brother's murder (hey, it was the '80s).

But really, we were pumping up the volume, memorizing every line and look of Slater's lead, Max Hunter, introverted, thoughtful high school student by day and Happy Harry Hard-On, a dirty-minded, freedom-fighting, good-music-playing ham radio personality by night. And we were holding our breath as Samantha Mathis' character undressed for him on-screen.

It was another part he played so well, I couldn't necessarily separate the actor from the role. Or didn't want to. Because here was this heartthrob, again, driving a high school movie with his sex appeal that came in great part to his ability to assure me that the world was so much bigger than high school.

If you ask me, Leo DiCaprio's Titanic performance outsider guy telling insider girl that the trappings of the life she knows don't really matter when you get down to it wouldn't really exist without Slater's Heathers and Pump Up the Volume performances.

It's to his credit that I don't know what celebrity crush replaced him. There may not have been one, as I entered high school, bringing me into a world of real boys who ignored me as well (if not better) than my Christian Slater poster could.

He made a couple of ill-fated choices in the early '90s, eschewing teen rebel-dom for Kuffs (why?) and bad boy Lucky Luciano in Mobsters, a movie where he should have been hot but came off like a cartoon. An illusion-bubble-bursting cartoon.

Maybe it taught me that no one is perfect.

And my love didn't fade entirely so in 1993, fresh off the heels of my first real boyfriend (whose best line was calling me a Porsche in a sea of Yugos) dumping me, I found Slater again in the Quentin Tarantino-scripted True Romance. He played shy but utterly romantic loner-slash-movie buff Clarence Worley who falls for a hooker, marries her, and willingly gets caught up in all the bloodshed it takes to keep her.

It was maybe who I'd wanted Christian Slater to be all along: A grown-up version of the guy on the outside who knows true love matters more than the rest of the garbage we worry about.

All I knew for certain was that Patricia Arquette's character, admiring him amid the carnage, echoed exactly what I'd thought of Slater all along: "You're so cool." And he was, not least for making me feel like no matter how gangly and awkward I may have been at the time, there was something so cool about me, too.

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Iva-Marie Palmer is a pop culture writer and published YA author. Visit her website for more information or follow her on Twitter.