So what does this song trigger exactly? The school play. While I managed to avoid seeing the original Footloose until my mid-20's I was on the stage crew for a high school production of Footloose The Musical.
This poster is much cooler than Sun Valley's 2002 Production Poster
I was on the stage crew for 3 of the 4 years of high school (I made a decision to not be involved in Grease my senior year since I felt like doing Grease was played out). I have distinct memories of all 3 years. My freshmen year I helped make the stage look like the front of a boat for our production of Anything Goes (this is still my all-time favorite musical because of that experience) or playing Bill Murray's character in the junior year production of Little Shop of Horrors being part of stage crew and drama club was always a fun and memorable time. However Footloose will always be my favorite experience. To put it simply it was the perfect blend of cast and crew. Everyone got along and as far as I can remember it was the only year I choose to attend the after party of a show.
I think one of the biggest reasons that I loved being a part of that show (and why this song in particular always connects with me) is that I had a massive crush on one of the background dancers. She was a cute girl named Julie who as far as I can remember never said a word to me. I'm Free was one of the bigger dance numbers in the play and from my position backstage I could see her perfectly. It's weird how I still remember exactly how most of the dance steps went despite not actually being on stage doing the dance.
It was around this time I downloaded the song on Napster (or maybe by now things had shifted to Limewire). I remember hating it for not other reason than it didn't sound EXACTLY like the way our drama club performed it. I remember thinking that Sun Valley's Drama Club's 2002 performance of "I'm Free" was the greatest version of that song the world has ever heard (I found a VHS tape of the show recently… it in fact… was not the greatest version the world had ever heard). Over time I grew to appreciate Kenny Loggins' version as it always reminded me of that period in my life.
I'm not sure why I didn't watch Footloose until I moved to L.A. Well… let me correct that, I know why I watched it in L.A. I just don't know why I didn't watch it before that time. I guess I just had no interest in it. Much like how I convinced myself that no version of I'm Free would be better than my high school's version I think I feared that watching the movie would tarnish the memories of that high school performance. I probably would have never watched it if it wasn't for my roommate in L.A. being freakishly obsessed with the movie.
My roommate was a man who I'd (not so) lovingly compared to Eeyore. There are some people who only focus on the fact that one day or another… it's gonna rain, and its better to assume it will every day and be prepared. I can't pretend that I haven't had my own experiences in having a negative outlook on life but I've never been that negative. This roommates negativity greatly affected me and my ability to enjoy my experience in Los Angeles (and directly influenced my stay being so short-lived… though I don't regret returning home). However the only shining light in this man's life was dance. He fucking LOVED to dance and it all stemmed from seeing Footloose as a child. He could not wrap his brain around the idea that I had never seen the movie and made me watch it. I'm glad he did because it really is a pretty great movie.
I do want to tell a side-story. His love of Footloose was so strong that around this time the Footloose Remake was about to be released. If he saw an advertisement for the remake he would flip it off and scream "fuck you", this didn't matter if it was a trailer at the movie theater or a billboard on the street… he'd do this every time. It was … bizarre.
Anyway, eventually I purchased the Footloose soundtrack from a used CD store and was reminded how much I love this song and the memories it provided me from the second I heard the opening notes. Each time the song plays I'm immediately reminded of that 15 year old convinced that a 17-year old dancer would fall head over heels for the geeky stage crew kid who admired her from a distance. I wish I could say my romantic life has advanced over the last decade but alas I still find myself being that guy in the shadows, admiring someone while listening to the songs that remind me of them.
Matt Kelly is the host of the popular podcast The Saint Mort Show, a frequent contributor to Geekscape.net, the founder of Chords for Cures and the co-writer/co-director of the upcoming comedy Describing the Moon.