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 (Michæl 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.