Vintage Cable Box: “Eddie And The Cruisers”, 1983

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“They’ll find a way to screw us, they always do. Guys like you and me, they strike oil under your garden and all you get is dead tomatoes.”

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“Eddie And The Cruisers”, 1983 (Tom Berenger), Embassy Pictures

We start off with a live, rousing Springsteen-esque anthem, “On The Darkside”. Sultry rock journalist Ellen Barkin gives us the exposition. They were the biggest, baddest band in the land! Eddie and The Cruisers! Barkin wants to write a story based on her wild theory that Eddie is still alive. His car went off a bridge one night when the band was in free-fall after recording a concept album called “A Season In Hell”; a follow-up to their successful debut. The label refused to release the album and dropped the band. Barkin wants to find the tapes that went missing a day after Eddie’s disappearance.

Keyboardist Tom Berenger (affectionately known as “Word Man”) teaches high school literature. While a fulfilling job, it doesn’t hold a candle to those lost nights of his youth performing with the band. He flashes back to the Jersey Shore, 1962, where he first encounters hot backing vocalist Joann Carlino (Helen Schneider), boyfriend and front-man Eddie Wilson (Michael Paré), douchebag bass player Sal Amato (Matthew Laurance), and the rest, including a drug-addicted saxophonist, and a frenetic personal manager named “Doc” (Joe Pantoliano). Impressed with Berenger’s musical acumen, Eddie asks him to join the band.

Barkin dogs Berenger for her story (pun!). She wants to know what happened that fateful night of Eddie’s disappearance. Berenger returns to his trailer home to find the place has been ransacked. Obviously somebody’s looking for those tapes. He hooks up with “Doc”, now working as a disc jockey spinning oldies but goodies. He wants the tapes so he can get a cut of the loot from sales and promotion, and he wants to bring the group back together, but Berenger ain’t buying what “Doc” is selling.

Berenger seems to be taking a trip through his past, touching base with “Doc”, Sal (who has revived the act with an impostor Eddie), and finally, Joann, with whom he consummates their long-standing mutual infatuation. In a particularly charming scene that traces the evolution of their hit song, “On The Darkside” from a simple keyboard riff to a fully-realized and produced pop song, Berenger listens to Sal’s revival and can only bemoan the lack of charisma and energy. Flashing back to the past, Berenger remembers the band’s initial success. “Wild Summer Nights” and “Tender Years” become big hits.

Things take an inevitable down-turn.  Eddie spies “Word Man” and Joann getting friendly, which causes a rift in their relationship.  Wendell, the saxophonist, drops dead of a drug overdose, and the band is in ruins.  Back in the present, Joann tells “Word Man” she keeps getting strange phone calls, and her place is also ransacked.  She tells him about the last night she spent with Eddie after the acrimony at the studio in the wake of “A Season In Hell”.  He takes her to a bizarre junkyard museum.  Joann tells him she took the tapes and hid them in the museum.  Together, they retrieve the tapes, but somebody’s been watching them this whole time.  Is it Eddie?

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“Eddie And The Cruisers” is a fast-paced rock n’ roll mystery movie. It’s a movie I watched constantly on cable. While given a small release in theaters, all but forgotten, the film became enormously popular on cable television. In fact the success of the movie played in constant cable rotation inspired a sequel, “Eddie Lives” in 1989. As Eddie, Michael Paré is a charismatic and good-looking front-man. He almost made me believe he was truly singing the John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band signature tunes that energize this movie’s soundtrack.

Martin Davidson directs (from a script he wrote with Arlene Davidson) with a sure hand and a love of music and music lore. Frequent collaborator Joseph Brooks produced the movie. Brooks also wrote the nausea-inducing, “You Light Up My Life”, and was charged with sexually assaulting eleven woman in his East Side apartment between 2005 and 2008. He committed suicide in 2011. His son, Nicholas, was sentenced to 25 years to life for the murder of his girlfriend, Sylvie Cachay in 2011. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird).  We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images.  We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates.  About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties. 

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