……And so I dare to hope,
Though changed no doubt, from what I was
when first I came among these hills; when like a roe
I bounded o’er these mountains, by the sides
of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams
Wherever nature led; more like a man
flying from something he dreads
than one who sought a thing he loved.
William Wordsworth, 1798
“Do people change or don’t they? Now that’s worth talking about.”
That’s the central theme of the 1983 film, Eddie and The Cruisers. I remember this movie as being part of my favorite era of movies shown on HBO, along with forgotten classics like Kidco, The Outsiders, Curse of The Pink Panther, Mr. Mom, The Toy, Tootsie, and many many more. Just as Frank Ridgeway is instantly transported back to 1964 when he hears an Eddie look-a-like performing “On The Dark Side” at a club in 1983… when I hear it I’m taken straight back to 1984 at age 6, sitting in our den wondering if Eddie could still be alive.
Eddie and The Cruisers was reviewed poorly by critics. Roger Ebert wrote the following revealing critique:
Now, leaving aside the possibility that Eddie might, in fact, have gone down with his Chevy, this premise, has all sorts of possibilities. I will name some of them:
1. Eddie could have surfaced as another rock and roller.
2. Eddie could have been a Buddy Holly who never died, and he disappeared to escape discovery.
3. Eddie could have been horribly disfigured and decided to spend the rest of his life in a recording studio, masterminding other people’s music.
4. Eddie could have dropped out, in a grand existential gesture.
Now. I will not give away the ending to this movie. But I will make the following complaint: Even though one of the above possibilities does, indeed, turn out to be true, it is still not the ending of the movie!
The movie makes the fatal flaw of arriving at a dramatic conclusion that does not settle the Eddie Wilson mystery. Instead, all we get is a big buildup to a dumb revelation. What a disappointment.
What this tells me is that the theme of the film went right by Ebert’s head. He was looking for interesting plot twists and bombshells. The fact that there is no payoff is a central component of the narrative. It does not really matter whether Eddie is alive or dead. What we see in the film is how the characters haven’t changed. Sal is as bitter and envious as he was in 1964. Doc is still a conniving dreamer looking for an angle on a big score. Joann is still attractive, sentimental and gullible. Frank is still a mild mannered, romantic, preppy poet. We also get to see how the retrospective on Eddie and the possibility that he could be alive awakens their old ambitions and dreams.
This is a movie for people in their 30’s to really appreciate. Sal is still hanging on and playing as the old band, though the other members have long moved on with their lives. It reminds me of so many of the 60’s bands that play at Indian Casinos, where it would only be like 2 of the original members actually playing. Some of us are still musicians struggling to make it while our friends have gone on to the corporate world and started families. This is where I identify with Doc. He’s an opportunistic failure of a hustler whose dreams are dashed time and time again, yet he sees the lost tapes as a shot at redemption. The one person who does make an effort to change is of course Eddie, with his rock opera “Season in Hell” he wants to finally make something great. He is not content with who he is, unlike Sal who says “We ain’t great. We’re just a couple of guys from Jersey.”
Eddie and The Cruisers is a terrific film. Just don’t go looking for clever plot twists or elaborate storylines. Watch it to see how people don’t change. Ride along with The Cruisers as they relive their youthful dreams, and in the process lead us to re-awaken some of our own.
Brandon Adamson is the author of Skytrain to Nowhere