Eddie and the Cruisers


 Eddie Wilson: I want something great, I want something that nobody’s ever done before.
Sal Amato: Why? We ain’t great, we’re just some guys from Jersey.
Eddie Wilson: If we can’t be great, then there’s no sense in ever playing music again.

I have a bit of a soft spot for this movie. I actually saw it in the theater, but everyone else waited for cable where endless playings eventually led to “On the Dark Side” becoming a big hit for John Cafferty, whose Beaver Brown band gave Eddie and the Cruisers’ music its New Jersey sound.           

Back in the early ‘80s there was something of a Jim Morrison craze. He even made the cover of Rolling Stone under a headline that ran something like “Jim Morrison: He’s hot, he’s sexy, he’s dead!” There was a time when everyone I knew seemed to be madly flipping through the book “No One Here Gets Out Alive”, which suggested that the Rimbaud worshipping Lizard King had faked his own death. The three living Doors didn’t really do that much to squelch the rumors. After all people hadn’t cared about the Doors for years. Ray Manzerek was and is forever happy to talk about Morrison to anyone who wants to listen. It’s how he stays something of a rock star.
Pretty soon the Elvis fans got jealous and started talking about John Burrows appearances at Michigan Burger Kings. Did Elvis die mysteriously in France reading spooky poetry? Well, no but nobody could stand to see the big guy dead either. It made for a nice fairy tale, and it’s actually not a bad hook for a movie.
I tend to doubt that you will ever see this movie double billed with Citizen Kane, but the two movies are structured pretty similarly. Instead of the nonsense of the sled, we have Ellen Barkin trying to find out if Eddie Wilson really died when his car went off that bridge. To make things fun, the master tapes for the band’s never released second album, A Season in Hell are missing too. It makes for a pretty amusing Behind the Music episode.
Eddie and the Cruisers essentially pops Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band into the year 1963 right down to the Black Saxophone player, Wendell Newton. Wendell never says a word but he does O.D. on heroin, most likely because that’s what the writers felt Black Saxophone players do. Eddie (Michael Pare) feels pretty lousy about it but he eventually just goes out and gets another Black Saxophone player.
Essentially, Eddie and his crew recorded one classic best selling Rock and Roll album. For the follow up Eddie decides that he is going to record his Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The film makers desperately wanted to make Eddie to appear way ahead of his time. Brian Wilson didn’t have a nervous breakdown trying to out do the Beatles until a number of years later. If I ever make a movie about a Rock and Roll singer, I will have him doing Elvis Presley songs in 1928. I will claim that my lead character can’t possibly be derivative just because he’s doing Elvis’ whole act since he will have been doing it 28 years earlier..
Response to Eddie’s big creative achievement is decidedly negative. He’s told the album is unreleasable. Pretty soon Eddie’s car is in the Ocean and the master tapes are gone. Apparently, there was no E True Hollywood Story or A&E Biography shows in ‘63 and the case lies dormant for twenty years when the Cruisers begin to enjoy a resurgence of popularity.
Eddie and the Cruisers has a nice feel for Rock and Roll, and it does a pretty good job of revealing the damage done to the survivors when that larger than life figure in your life disappears forever, but the thing that makes this movie lovable to me is that Eddie wants to do something great. He has the revolutionary idea that even though he is uneducated flotsam from the Jersey shore that he can add something beautiful and significant to the world. In the end that is the great promise Rock and Roll has always held out to kids around the world. Admittedly, most Rock Stars only use the music as a  ladder to sex and glory, and even the ambitious guys are often most likely to spit out a Tarkus or a Chicago 17  instead of a Pet Sounds or a Tommy, but God bless the Eddie Wilsons who’d rather chuck the whole thing away than for a moment tarnish their most pure and worthwhile dreams.
The music, which was stigmatized at the time for being too much of a Springsteen cloning, still actually sounds pretty damn good. Sure, the ending does rely on a junkyard staying exactly the same for twenty years, and this may be the only movie ever where the victims of a stalking  give the stalker what he wants, send him off on his way and wish him well, but it still works for me every time. Hell, I even sort of enjoyed the goofy flop Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives!, where Eddie turns out to be a Canadian construction worker. Cable couldn’t even save it. I’m not recommending it, I may not even admit to having seen it at a party or a bar, but yeah I kind of dug that one too.

One Response to “Eddie and the Cruisers”

  1. Brad,

    I too love the movie Eddie and the Cruisers and I actually tripped upon this page because I have really been getting into the whole Brian Wilson and the legend of his (until 2004) unfinished album for the Beach Boys “SMILE”. As I read more and more about the making and shelving (and alleged at the time but untrue destruction of the master tapes) of Smile back in 1966/67, I then was reminded of seeing Eddie and the Cruisers back in the 1980’s and started to draw alot of coincidences between the movie and what happened with Brian Wilson and SMILE. And there are quite a few and I can’t help but think the person who wrote Eddie must have been a Brain Wilson fan and intrigued by the SMILE legend. Some examples: 1) Brian Wilson was at odds with Mike Love over the direction that Beach Boys music was taking, Love wanted to stick to the old “formula” and Brian wanted to move ahead and use the talents of composition he was given – This is similar to the Eddie and Sal conflicts
    2) There is a scene in Eddie when the group is practicing and Eddie stops them because they are rushing through the song and so Eddie asks Frank “The Wordman” to give an example of a dramatic pause (something he calls a “sesuro?”) and he reads from a book. This is similar to Good Vibrations and its ground breaking “pause” in the latter part of the song after it builds up after slowing down. This pause was controversial at the time but Brian felt it was something his song needed and he had actually used this technique before and would use it again on SMILE.
    3) One of the parts of SMILE was the “Elements suite” and part of that was a composition called “Fire” and the legend of SMILE has it that Brian freaked out that on the day they recorded it, there was a nearby warehouse that burned down and that there was also a sudden rash of fires in LA. Listening to some bootlegs of “Fire” over the years and then Brian’s released recording of it in 2004 shows that the beginning of the Eddie and the Cruisers “Season in Hell (Fire Suite)” sounds a lot like the Brian recordings from 1966/67 and later 2004! Not to mention the coincidence of name of the Eddie and the Cruisers song!
    4) Brain Wilson was ahead of his time and he was simply not allowed to do what he wanted or planned or dreamed and instead gave up and chose to retreat from life or “disappear”. Some claim he had a mental breakdown, others say it was drugs, others say he was trying to catch the Beatles, all may have contributed to his withdrawal from life. Whereas acts such as the Beatles and later Led Zeppelin were lauded for their changes/evolving sounds, Brian and the Beach Boys were shunned when they changed because many saw them only as a faddish surf band. But Pet Sounds and Smile (and even later recordings) were all evolutionary and although different from most of their well known tunes, never the less great in their own right and better appreciated 20,30,40 years later. Again tons of coincidences to Eddie and the Cruisers here with the recording of “Season in Hell Album” and Eddie “disappearing” because nobody understood or accepted his “new” music and Sal complained about it “breaking his fingers”. The Beach Boys complained that they would have a hard time playing Brian’s new music in concert. It wasn’t until 20 years later in Eddie that people realized how good “Season in Hell” was.
    5) Eddie and Brian share the same last name Wilson – coincidence?
    I am sure there are many more coincidences. And I know there is a lot of Eddie that is Morrison like as well, but I cannot help but think that Eddie was to be more of Brian Wilson than he was to be of Morrison, or at least equal parts Brian and Jim.

    And thank God that Brian Wilson did not choose the Jim Morrison way to get out because even though Brian wasted a few decades of his life, at least he did not die and today he is kicking out music and performing at the age of 65! And in the movies we got to find out that Eddie lives! Again, another coincidence?

    Feel free to contact me. And if you are not very aware of the Brian Wilson story and his Pet Sounds and Smile era stories (I noticed you did mention Pet Sounds in your posting) because I encourage you to look into it more, listen to the music, read the books (there are quite a few) and you too will find the story of Brian Wilson just as intriguing as the the story of Eddie Wilson, but with one difference, Brian is real and can still be enjoyed today, kind of a movie that does not end!

    Thanks for the posting! It gave me somebody to share my coincidental thoughts with as I discover more about SMILE.

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