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Kenny Rogers Was A Big Part Of 20th Century Pop Culture And Deserved Better

Kenny Rogers deserved better. But, then again, I guess we all deserve a little better right now. So, with things currently how they are, it’s unfortunate, but not terribly surprising, that Kenny Rogers’ passing was greeted with an almost collective ambivalence. Which just goes to prove how dire the circumstances are now because Rogers was a giant and such a huge part of popular culture in past decades.

Yes, most people know him for his duet with Dolly Parton, “Islands in the Stream.” Or for both singing and staring about a cardplayer who knew when to stop playing. (For me, the strangest entry into Rogers canon is the song “Coward of the County,” which has some seriously disturbing lyrics for such a mainstream song.)

But, I think there’s a sweet spot era of people who were first introduced to Kenny Rogers via his acting in movies like the 1982 racecar driving motion picture, Six Pack. Now, Six Pack was one of those movies that played on HBO pretty much nonstop in the early days of HBO. And as a latchkey kid, only child, and now member of the *New Greatest Generation, yes, I watched Six Pack many, many, many times.

*There’s been an unusual amount of pieces written lately about the heroism of Gen X because we are used to isolating ourselves and not being particularly needy or social. Look, if someone wants to send accolades my way because instead of “going outside” after school I’d go home and play Excitebike, I’ll certainly take them. It didn’t feel particulary heroic at the time, but I guess someone had to defeat Soda Popinski. But it also feels a little disingenuous to proclaim Gen X is good at anything, really. This seems out of character. So, please, just leave me alone and let me watch Six Pack in peace.

I’m always fascinated when a movie isn’t on streaming, it’s not even available to purchase on iTunes (or whatever it’s called these days), but it is available in full, through multiple sources, for free on YouTube. Does this mean the rights holder has just given up? Basically the effort to put this on some sort of streaming platform isn’t worth the trouble and if people really want to watch it so bad, well, have at it? Anyway, after scouring every other possible option, I watched a, let’s say, “serviceable” version on YouTube.

I have to say, for a movie I watched repeatedly as a little kid, I remember very little about Six Pack. The opening scene – which shows us down-on-his-luck race car driver Brewster Baker, solemnly driving along with his race car in tow – opens with my favorite Kenny Rogers song, “Love Will Turn You Around,” which immediately made me feel a rare emotion called “happiness.” And the good news is, somehow this song plays three times during the duration of Six Pack. This is not a complaint!

The premise of Six Pack, about six orphans who join Brewster Baker’s racing team, is a lot weirder than I remember. Well, at least when I was a kid it didn’t seem that crazy that me and five other friends my age would just hang out with Kenny Rogers and race cars. He seemed like a cool guy! But, now, from the other side, if I were a rival race car driver and Brewster Baker is just hanging out with six kids all the time, it would raise some questions.

Also, I had no idea two of the kids would turn into famous people. Diane Lane and Anthony Michael Hall make up a third of the “Six Pack orphans” who Baker meets after they steal his engine. It turns out a corrupt Texas sheriff (hm, I wonder where that idea came from), played by *Barry Corbin, was making them do this.

(*We don’t talk about Barry Corbin enough. What a run he had in the early ‘80s – pretty much playing the same variation of a tough-talking character with a southern drawl. And you probably know him best as General Beringer in WarGames. You know, the guy who gets to tell Dabney Coleman, “your new defense system sucks.” Anyway, I just looked him up and he’s still acting. I don’t have time to write a whole “In appreciation of Barry Corbin” piece (though, with no new movies, check in with me in a few weeks), so, for now, let this serve as an “appreciation of Barry Corbin” paragraph.)

Anyway, as it turns out, Six Pack is a perfectly pleasant movie. For a movie where not a whole heck of a lot happens, I was enjoying my time watching it. Good clean fun! They all live happily ever after at the end. Isn’t that what any of us want right now? Well, I guess except for the theft. And when the kids break Brewster out of jail at gunpoint. But, hey, these are scrappy orphans, they had to do what they had to do.

(Here’s a strange thing: In the ’70s and ’80s, a lot of movies had television spinoffs, which was always weird because it usually ignores the events of the movie and had an entirely new cast. M*A*S*H* is probably the most famous version of this phenomenon. Anyway, it seems they tried to do this with Six Pack, only with Don Johnson(!) playing Brewster Baker and Joaquin Phoenix(!!) as one of the “six pack.” Sadly, this wasn’t picked up.

For a million reasons, I wish last week had just been devoted to remembering Kenny Rogers. So, this is my small part in remembering Rogers again. And this is especially for us noble Generation X latchkey kids who are helping to save the world by staying home and watching Six Pack once again, just like we used to. (Barf.)

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.