Everybody knows we lost a wonderful actor when we lost Patrick Swayze. His best films—The Outsiders, Dirty Dancing, Ghost, and Point Break—are now considered classics. Even Swayze's best worst films—Red Dawn and Road House—have achieved classic status. And there’s even a small, but ambitious, sect of emerging film theorists exploring the significance of what has recently been coined “Swayze's Forgotten Trilogy,” namely Steel Dawn, Tiger Warsaw and Next Of Kin. (The latter is not completely true, but it should be.)
And everybody knows that rappers loved Swayze. Due to his role in Ghost, some clever emcees started saying “Swayze” instead of “ghost,” meaning “to leave” or “to disappear” or “to bounce.” Method Man. Red Man. Nas. EPMD. Notorious BIG. Black Moon. Black Sheep. Young Jeezy. CL Smooth. All of them dropped “Swayze” at least once, and have contributed to elevating Swayze’s pop culture relevance.
But one thing about Swayze that hasn't been fully addressed is how much he loved music. That’s an understatement: Swayze didn’t just love music, he made music. He was a singer and a songwriter. His most popular song was “She's Like The Wind,” which he initially co-wrote with Stacy Widelitz for Grandview, U.S.A., the1984 film in which Swayze had a small role as a demolition derby driver named Ernie “Slam” Webster. For whatever reason, “She’s Like The Wind” wasn’t used in Grandview, U.S.A., but it ended up on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack three years later.
“She’s Like The Wind” peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100, climbed to number one on the Adult Contemporary chart, and helped propel the soundtrack to the top of the charts for several weeks. The lyrics are terribly clunky. “She’s like the wind through my tree,” Swayze sings. And in the next verse: “I look in the mirror and all I see, is a young old man with only a dream.” Ouch. The chorus is super defeated, but totally triumphant. “Just a fool to believe I have anything she needs,” Swayze sings, perhaps referencing the Doobie Brothers’ big hit “What A Fool Believes.” Despite its faults, it’s a stirring (hilarious) late-1980s love song with cheesy horns, cheesier keys, and the cheesiest electric guitars. Though none of them blew up quite like “She’s Like The Wind” did, Swayze wrote and performed songs for some of his other films, too.
In 1989, Swayze starred in Next Of Kin, where he played a Chicago police officer trying to track down the mobsters who killed his brother before his other brother (played by Liam Neeson) can kill them. The film didn’t go over too well. But Swayze had a song called “Brothers” on the soundtrack. It’s a duet with the country singer Larry Gatlin. And just like “She’s Like The Wind,” it’s very corny. “You’ve always known if anyone tried to get to you, they’d first have to get through me,” sings Swayze, emotionlessly. Given the film’s plot, it makes sense. But it doesn’t work outside of the story. And when Swayze hits that chord change in the middle of the tune, it’s a nightmare.
In the same year (1989) Swayze starred in Road House. Here he played Dalton, an NYU philosophy student-turned-badass bar bouncer hired to clean up a tough Missouri roadhouse. Swayze had two songs on the soundtrack: he sang the oddly religious “Raising Heaven (In Hell Tonight),” and he wrote and performed the slow-burning anthem “Cliff’s Edge.”
The lyrics are hilarious. “A one time nothing, a one time Adonis,” sings Swayze, “you forget how fast, the years pounce on us.” (Boy, do they!) It’s a road song, and it seems like he was going for something similar to what Bon Jovi did two years earlier with “Wanted Dead Or Alive.” But he failed. What’s interesting, though, is the chorus: “Riding with the dawn, with a ghost in my head, / Racing down the highway, just feeling dead.” Ghost, Swayze’s most popular film next to Dirty Dancing, came out the following year. Was he referencing his upcoming film? Was he looking into the future? How far could he see?
Swayze’s next song didn’t appear until 2003, on the soundtrack of One Last Dance. It was written and directed by Swayze’s wife, Lisa Niemi, who starred in the film alongside her husband. Like on Road House, Swayze unleashed two new songs: a heavy ballad about dancing (another one of his many loves and talents) called “When You Dance,” and a fist-pumping rock-n-roll ripper called “Finding My Way Back.”
“I shake these voices from my head, but they only scream louder instead,” he sings, as if picking up where the story left off back on “Cliff’s Edge.” He wasn’t able to get rid of the ghost he alluded to on that song. It lingered until the last second. “And then life warned me that nothing ever lasts.” The ghost got louder. “I lost me and I lost you.” Then the ghost was the only thing left. But Swayze’s last song doesn’t end on a sorrowful note: he transcends space and time and finds his way back to the place where it all started. He goes back to the beginning. Back to forever.
We’d be fools to believe these are Swayze’s only songs. There must be more. He loved composing and singing way too much to have only recorded six tunes. Nobody only records six tunes. He must have left tracks chilling in an archive somewhere, waiting to be discovered, waiting to be shared. Maybe they’re raw, lo-fi, bedroom four-track recordings. Maybe they’re fully formed, hi-fi, studio hits. No matter what the songs sound like, I want to hear them. And I’m not the only one. Until these lost tapes are made public, the specter of Swayze is haunting us.
Elliott Sharp knows that the truth is out there. He's on Twitter - @elliottsharp
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