Thursday, 12 September 2013

Eddie and the Cruisers: babysitting with my cousin

The album cover for the soundtrack
for "Eddie and the Cruisers"
Sometimes in life, I really need to pay more attention.

The summer of 1984 I was visiting my cousin Fred in Brooks, when he had to babysit one night. He invited me along, but I really did not know what to expect. I was working on a story called “Swamp Rats”, so I brought a notepad along. Fred told me not to worry, because the family had pay TV and we could watch a movie.

Fred settled in on a movie, while I kind of scribbled away, only half paying attention through most of it. Then the music coming from the TV got good, but by then I had no idea what was going on. It turned out the movie we watched was “Eddie and the Cruisers”. The soundtrack would become one of my favourites of all time, and two songs off it are still favourites.

It would be 10 years before I saw that movie and paid attention, but just a few months until I heard the music again.

Heard it on the radio
Once again, riding the school bus one day, I heard this song that rang a bell. Again, I could not place it. However this time, unlike “All I Need” by Jack Wagner, there was no easy answer when I got home that night. Instead, it would be close to a month or maybe more, before I placed that song.

Just like I had no idea who Jack Wagner was, I had no clue who John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band were. In essence, they were Eddie and the Cruisers. Eventually, I put the two together. The song was, “On the Dark Side”, and it reminded me more of that summer night in 1984 in Brooks than the movie. A few months later, I was watching the tail end of “Solid Gold” on a Saturday night, when I heard another song that seemed strangely familiar. A few days later, it was on the radio in my sister’s car when we were driving somewhere. She told me it was “Tender Years”, from “Eddie and the Cruisers”.

Not too much after that, I joined Columbia House, and the first choice in a second round of purchases, three free ones for signing up my sister, was the “Eddie and the Cruisers Soundtrack”. I still have it, and listened to it not too long ago.

The movie’s better with age
Long after I wore out the tape, and learned every song off by heart, I had a chance to see the movie. I was living in res and my floormate Nick wanted to watch it, so he actually reserved the TV late one Saturday afternoon. I was not disappointed. In fact, I probably wasn’t in the right place in life back in 1984 to watch it. I sure was by 1993.

There are many things I appreciated that I wouldn’t have a decade earlier. The story was awesome, and all the snippets I recalled from so long ago, now made sense. The movie is essentially two stories – one in the present and one in the past, told through flashbacks. Ellen Barkin plays reporter Maggie Foley looking into the death of musician Eddie Wilson and the search for his band’s second album, which disappeared right after his death. The story told through flashbacks is about how Eddie and the Cruisers got their start, achieved fame, and fizzled after Eddie’s death. They started to record their own material when Frank Ridgeway, played by Tom Berenger, joins the band. Their second album is everything Eddie wanted to see in music, but the record company doesn’t buy it, and refuses to release it.

In the movie, the record company re-releases the first album, which achieves even more success the second time around. They commission a documentary, and there even is a hint of Eddie Wilson still being alive. All of this climaxes in a search, and discovery, for the lost second album.

The movie ends with Foley’s documentary piece being aired on TV, and watched through a store window. As the camera pulls back, we see a bearded, albeit older, Eddie Wilson watching.
The cast was awesome too. Tom Berenger would go on to star in two other movies I liked in the 1980s, playing Sergeant Barnes in “Platoon” and catcher Jake Taylor in “Major League”. I had loved Michael ParĂ© as student Tony Villacana on “The Greatest American Hero”. This movie would be one of a series he would do in the 1980s that all achieved some level of cult status. Along with “Eddie and the Cruisers”, he did “The Philadelphia Experiment”, and “Streets of Fire”. He would also star with Michael Beck in a TV series called, “Houston Knights”.

The comeback
It seems that me and Fred were not the only ones who discovered “Eddie and the Cruisers” that summer. Research shows the movie was a flop at the box office when released in 1983. It was re-released on pay TV in 1984 where it achieved cult status, and launched the popularity of those two songs. It is interesting that this somewhat parallels what happened to the fictitious first album in the movie.

Parting thoughts
A couple years ago I bought “Eddie and the Cruisers” on DVD and watched it again. I really like the structure of the flashbacks, and the element of surprise. I always liked the music, and finally was able, after all these years to put it all together, even better than I had in 1993.

It left me wondering, would I have got more out of it had I only paid attention in the summer of ’84?

(Incidentally, I really wasn't sure what to blog about this day. I had "Eddie and the Cruisers" on my list for awhile – then just like it was on cue, I heard it on a co-worker's computer, so that cinched it. I had to blog about it.)

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