Even if you’ve never seen 80s teen romance Say Anything, there’s one scene from the movie that everyone knows: desperate to win back his lost love Diane (Ione Skye), Lloyd (John Cusack) parks his car in front of her house and holds up a boombox, blaring out Peter Gabriel’s power ballad In Your Eyes.
The boombox scene rapidly became the most iconic moment in Say Anything, and it remains well-remembered to this day. However, things could have played out a little differently, as Peter Gabriel was not the artist – and In Your Eyes was not the song – that Cusack’s character was originally intended to play.
Released in 1989, Say Anything was the directorial debut of Cameron Crowe, the former rock music journalist who broke into movies as the writer of 1982 teen classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Having gotten into writing through music, Crowe (who went on to write and direct Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous) had a vested interest in using great tunes in his film.
When it came to Say Anything’s pivotal boombox scene, in which the lovelorn Lloyd literally expresses his feelings through music, everyone involved in the production was naturally aware that the song in question needed to be something special. According to actress Ione Skye, Crowe originally wanted Lloyd to be playing a track by British new wave rocker Elvis Costello.
Skye recalled in 2018, “Cameron Crowe really wanted Elvis Costello to do that song, and then [Costello] saw an early screening of it and didn’t want to. And we were all really bummed out.”
It’s easy to understand how any filmmaker would be upset to hear that one of their musical heroes didn’t like their movie. Even so, it’s curious that in Crowe’s version of events he makes no mention of Costello at all – though he has admitted that he originally had another very different artist in mind.
The writer-director recalls, “the sad truth is, I wrote that scene for Billy Idol’s To Be a Lover, if you can believe it. There was one day I liked that song, and that was the day I wrote the scene. By the next day, I knew it was a hideously wrong choice. We searched for the right song the whole time we were making Say Anything.”
Having failed to settle on a song when it came time to shoot it, “we ended up filming the scene to Party at Ground Zero by Fishbone.” because Cusack was a big fan of the band, although everyone knew right away the track “was really wrong – as wrong as To Be a Lover.”
Eventually Crowe found the song he’d been looking for considerably closer to home: on a mix tape he’d made for his then-wife, Heart guitarist Nancy Wilson. “I was driving to work one day and listening to a tape I’d made for our wedding… [which featured] In Your Eyes.
“I hear Peter Gabriel singing about driving in his car, thinking of this girl, and I’m like, “Wait a minute!” I ran into the editing room, we played the song to the scene, and it was perfect.”
In Your Eyes was originally released as a single by former Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel in 1986, and featured on his album So. It enjoyed a new lease of life after Say Anything when the boombox scene became widely celebrated.
Gabriel still performs the track live, and at one 2012 concert at the Hollywood Bowl, John Cusack briefly joined Gabriel on stage, handing the singer a boombox which he proceeded to hold aloft.
Say Anything’s boom box scene has been parodied many times over the years (famously in Deadpool and The Simpsons,) and more recent reappraisals of the film have criticised the character’s actions as stalkerish.
However, in the eyes of many it’s still a classic romantic moment. As Crowe says, “People have actually proposed with that move, playing the song outside the window. It’s one of my favorite scenes. It gave me chills when I first saw the movie.”