Jody Whitesides | Just Looking for Some Touch

Jody Whitesides

If you haven’t heard of Jody Whitesides yet, well, you have now. And you’ll be hearing more.

At first glance he could be one of those Renaissance multi-hyphenates you love to hate — artist-producer-athlete-businessman-Josh Hartnett stand-in — and then you can’t, because he’s just so damned talented and funny. Politically savvy, too. Plus he bakes. Bakes! Scratch bread, scratch brownies, scratch pizza. I am not making this up.

Yeah, the guy totally cooks. Whitesides is a musician who plays, sings, writes, and produces. He’s got some cool videos on his website, and publishes his music on Spotify and iTunes. He’s so into process, he even makes instructional tech vids for musicians. And posts crazy gifs and vines on Twitter. That’s where I discovered him. And unlike a lot of popular Tweeps who can’t be bothered, he actually interacts with followers. Which is how I ended up at his website, being impressed enough to write all this.

Whitesides prolifically generates fun music that’s infectiously danceable. And he markets all his product himself, making him kind of a poster child for DIY music career success.

Before roaring off on said music career, Whitesides was a nationally ranked freestyle skier and BMX racer. Swapping his earmuffs for earworms, he went on to lend his voice for backing vocals to the Swedish hard rock band Talisman fronted by Jeff Scott Soto, and played some guitar for NKOTB’s Danny Woods. Whitesides has his own studio where he produced recordings for the comedy rock band Throwing Toasters and bass master Seth Horan, among others.

Until recently his bread and butter was scoring video games and film trailers, and creating anthems for various sports (notably “Do You Want to Play,” for the NFL and NHL) and TV shows (“Nightwatch New Orleans,” “Top Golf,” and Dwayne Johnson’s documentary series, “Hard Corps”).

Sounds like a sensory smorgasbord, right? It kind of is, but the main theme of his musical style is this: Nobody sits. His repertoire is a lush and expansive romp covering a wide swath: techno-dance and retro pop, acoustic and power ballads, and high-energy modern rock.

“I take influences from everything around me,” says Whitesides. He credits his artistic open-mindedness to a music teacher who once told him: “Mediocre artists steal from one source. Great artists steal from many.”

“I’ve held to that maxim,” he says. “No two of my songs are ever exactly alike. And no two people will generally compare me to the same artist. That becomes a Catch 22, but I’m okay with it.”

Whitesides, who claims he didn’t start talking until he was two, has plenty to say on his latest single, “Touch.” I listened to it and it’s tasty; you should too. Then I read his bio. That’s where I learned he’s a New Yorker who’s into bikes. Yo — what’s not to like? So I asked if I could interview him. He said yeah. Here we go!

Touch shoot, from Twitter

Q What’s the story behind Google refusing to advertise “Touch”? Is that specifically “Touch (Explicit)”? That was the best version! I love the Borg dancers.
A The official response was that the content of the video was “Too Adult.” It was for the clean version. I didn’t even bother to try advertising the explicit version. The weird thing is, no one is naked.

Q Your newest song, “Thump Thump Thump” — is it out yet?
A It is not out yet, but will be soon. It will be on Spotify!

Q How many/what kinds of instruments do you play?
A Technically I play about six. But I can pretty much play any stringed instrument in some fashion. Guitar, vocals, bass, mandolin, ukulele, percussion. I futz around on piano, drums, and kazoo.

Q What’s the most memorable gig you ever played?
A One time a group of drunk lesbians jumped up on stage and proceeded to grind all the members of the band. This was after they formally announced themselves while jumping on the bar in the back of the venue. It caused quite a ruckus and was entertaining for the audience. I did have to get them offstage once one of them nearly broke my teeth when she knocked the mic stand into my mouth while I was singing.

Q When you were younger, did your parents believe you’d make a living with music, or did they unsubtly push you in other directions? (Can you tell I hang out with musicians too much?)
A My parents never initially questioned my desire to learn to play. Actually, they supported it, probably because they were both artists of their own right. Commercial illustrator, and interior decorator. The one requirement was to attend college and get a degree. So I did. Then I went to music school. [Berklee College of Music and Musicians Institute] While they’ve never come out against it, there have been times when my mom has questioned if I should continue. The typical subtle hint type of stuff.

Q Major influences?
A Anything and everything I’ve ever heard influences me, for good or bad. While learning to play, I did focus on guitar god-type players — Hendrix, Satriani, Vai, Tabor, Wylde, Bettencourt. Once I graduated from music school, I started concentrating more on song writing. That’s a whole different ballgame from being an awesome guitar player.

Q What’s the best advice you ever got?
A “Never quit.” However, there was a teacher at music school who did say: “Never get a day job! You’ll get too comfortable and music will become secondary.” Sure enough, many friends from music school did end up getting day jobs, got comfortable and quit. I took that to heart. Never got a day job.

Q Share some things on your bucket list.
A Win the WSOP Main Event. Mountain bike the Rockies from Canada to Mexico. Start an annual New Year’s Eve event. Tour all 50 states with my music, then tour the world. Restore an old car. Learn to fly a plane.

Q What kinds of bicycles do you own? Specifics, please. Bike junkies here.
A I have a Specialized mountain bike and a Cannondale EVO road bike. I also have a JMC Black Shadow BMX bike that I used to race as a little kid. The big kid in me still likes to ride it around now and then.

Q The skiing — were you on the national team? Pro sponsored? Spend any time at the Olympic Training Center? (The caf slop! Cement beds! Prisonish WCs… Asking for a wistful ex-USAC official.)
A As a skier I was nationally ranked but never on the U.S. team. I had some sponsors over the course of my competitive skiing career. I’ve been to the OTC, but not to train. I wish I had made that level — I missed it by 1/10th of a point, one place out of making the team.

Q What kinds of goodies do you bake besides brownies and bread? Where did your love of kitchen arts originate?
A My most famous dish would be pizza from scratch. I make the dough, the sauce, and on occasion the cheese as well. I’m much more into cooking. My mom had my sister and I fend for ourselves by having us use recipes out of a children’s cookbook. Mom is an excellent cook too, but wanted us to be self-sufficient in the kitchen. A skill that has certainly impressed members of the opposite sex.

Q Got any pets?
A I do have a dog. His name is Dorian. Many people think he’s named after The Picture of Dorian Gray. He’s really named after a mode of the major scale — Dorian.

Q Desert island, five entertainment must-haves, any media.
A:
1. A guitar, to allow me to entertain myself with writing songs.
2. An internet connection.
3. From #2, I’ll be able to watch movies.
4. From #2, I’ll be able to read books.
5. From #2, I’ll be able to listen to other people’s music. 🙂

photog: Brian Gerber

Jody spots the drone bringing his Amazon delivery.

Jody Whitesides’ website: JodyWhitesides.com
Jody Whitesides is on IMDB
Jody Whitesides on Twitter: @JodyWhitesides
Studio photographs © 2016 Brian Gerber
Twitter photograph © 2016 Jody Whitesides
Everything else here Copyright © 2016 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

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I make no money from this blog. If you find it interesting or useful, please buy my book Dead Spot. The Kindle version’s only $5 and you’ll love it! Thanks.

DEAD SPOT on AmazonSydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.

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Film Review | Road to Hell

road to hell title

The Long-Awaited Film by Albert Pyun

Movie Review Copyright ©2014 Sydney Schuster – All Rights Reserved

roadtohell_IMDB.43123343

I watch an awful lot of movies. I own very few. One of them is Streets of Fire, the 1984 cult rock drama by Walter Hill about a mercenary soldier, Tom Cody. Another is Cyborg, the 1989 martial arts horror extravaganza by Albert Pyun starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. So when I heard years ago that Pyun was making a sequel to Streets of Fire, it stayed on my radar like gum stuck to my shoe.

I finally got to see it this week. Let me just say this: It is stunning.

Road to Hell, as it’s called, certainly lives up to its name. A largely self-financed labor of love, it was in production for five years and survived many setbacks before finally making its maiden tour of film festivals in 2012. So far it’s won three Best Picture awards: Yellow Fever (Belfast), XIII Costa del Sol Fantasy Film Festival (Spain), and the PollyGrind UnderGround Film Festival (Las Vegas, where it also scored Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Song, and Best Visual Effects). It recently began general theatrical showings. At its first screening, Road to Hell grossed enough to make Indiewire’s box office chart, and was the only independently distributed film in the bunch.

If you get the chance to see it, do not hesitate. Go!

That said, Road to Hell is not what you’d expect. If you’re a Hill fan, keep in mind that it’s an homage, not an official sequel. If you’re a Pyun fan, you’ll love it no matter what. One viewing tip: If you never saw Streets of Fire, watch that first and you’ll appreciate Road to Hell even more. (Rent it. It’s $3 on Amazon.) For fans of both Streets of Fire and Pyun, Road to Hell is totally worth the interminable wait.

So what’s it about? Okay, first let’s review. When we last saw our hero Tom Cody (Michael Paré), it was 1984. He’d just rescued the toothsome Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) from rubber-clad kidnappers and was leaving to attend a war, apparently because he liked guns more than her. Go figure. And she was leaving their slummy ’hood, The Richmond, for rock superstardom. Fair enough.

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STREETS OF FIRE, Michael Pare, 1984, (c)Universal Pictures

Plotwise, Streets of Fire is your boilerplate morality play with the usual suspects. The only characters with any emotional depth are Cody and his sister Reva (Deborah Van Valkenburgh). The rest are one-dimensional, almost cartoon-like. Or as Pyun explains it, “Cody was all about Ellen and Ellen was all about Ellen.” Which is perfect here, because anything more complex would just muddy an effort of this scale. Sort of the way Ben & Jerry’s flavors all have one too many ingredients so you buy Haagen-Dazs chocolate chip instead, just so your head won’t explode.

Why pay $3 to watch this? I hear you asking. Well, Streets of Fire has singing and dancing. It has brawls and car chases and motorcycles, and stuff exploding everywhere, and the obligatory mash scene is extra steamy. It has a huge cast of talent who became famous for doing something else. The action’s artily set against other-dimensional backdrops of garish 1950-ish tableaux mixed with 1980s hair and semiautomatic weapons.

You might guess a formula like that would never work. You’d be wrong. Not to mention the soundtrack is so bitchin, it had a life all its own. There are songs by Tom Petty, Stevie Nicks, Ry Cooder, Leiber and Stoller, Link Wray, Bob Seger, and Meat Loaf’s wife, Jim Steinman, produced by Jimmy Iovine. The Dan Hartman hit “I Can Dream About You” made Billboard‘s Top 10 chart. In 2007 Vanity Fair rated the film’s score Number 6 on its Best Soundtracks Ever list. Simply put, Streets of Fire is a pre-CG sensory feast.

A rock & roll fable, Hill called it. Others called Streets of Fire the first music video. MTV didn’t exist yet, and Hill famously said in interviews that he filmed all the concert scenes by the seat of his pants, having no precedent to follow.

“It’s cut in time with the music!” oozed viewers who’d never seen A Hard Day’s Night. “You can’t use my song!” snorted Bruce Springsteen when told Hill didn’t want him to sing it. “It wanted to be a comedy and it turned out to be a drama,” costar Rick Moranis groused to Empire magazine. “What is this crap?” said just about everyone at industry screenings.

Nobody got it. One reviewer picked on the stars’ noses. (“…the smallest noses in show business history; perhaps this is why, when their faces meet, so little happens.” — Susan Dworkin, Ms. Magazine, August 1984)

It opened the same week as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Doom being the operative term here, box office was half what the film cost to make. ($14.5 M cost, $8 M gross.) And so Streets of Fire bombed resoundingly, thus claiming its rightful place in the pantheon of Eye Candy Rock Movies We Love, Now.

According to Hill, Streets of Fire was to be the first film in a Tom Cody trilogy. When it tanked at the box office, The Bombers Strike Back and Return of the Sorels sank with it. (Paré claimed the sequels were abandoned because everyone involved left Universal, who owned the rights to the franchise and wouldn’t play nice.)

For three decades, Streets of Fire fans waited patiently for someone to salvage the wreckage. Albert Pyun is their Argo.

Pyun, for those who don’t know, apprenticed to Akira Kurosawa in the 1970s and debuted as a feature film director in 1982, with The Sword and the Sorcerer, one of the top-grossing indie films of all time. His 50-some movies include the horrorfests Nemesis (1992) and Infection (2005), which won best picture and best director awards at VI Semana Internacional de Cine Fantástico y de Terror de Estepona. In 2013 he received the Indie Genre Spirit Award at the Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival.

Pyun first met Paré in the 1990s. Both were making movies for Cannon Pictures then, albeit not together, and racking up industry cred — Paré was upcycling his image to action hero after a decade of mostly forgettable TV roles and romance films, while Pyun was establishing himself as a director who could quickly make profitable movies, often two at a time.

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Michael Pare in “Houston Knights” (left) and “The Women’s Club” (right)

“We discussed the Road to Hell movie with Paré in 2007, in Spain” at a film festival, says Pyun’s longtime collaborator, Cynthia Curnan. “Albert and Michael had wanted to work together for a long time.”

With Pyun directing, Curnan writing and producing, and the preternaturally handsome Paré in nearly every scene, they started shooting Road to Hell in 2008. The result is more a tribute to Streets of Fire than a followup: not so much singing and dancing, way more violence and blood, all of it set against staggeringly beautiful scenery.

But that’s Pyun’s forté. Shocking visual effects, coupled with edgy dialogue by Curnan that makes you believe ordinary people can triumph in extraordinary circumstances. Like Streets of Fire, Road to Hell is way, way ahead of its time.

Much of the film’s carnage is suggested rather than shown (probably as a result of budget constraints and lost footage — I’ll get to that). There’s a lot of outside-the-letterbox mayhem and sex. Personally, I like this approach. It leaves more room for the characters to develop and the plot to run on its own wheels. A great director is one who presents stories as well as he does entrails.

I don’t want to give away too much plot here. Me, I thought I knew what to expect and still had a visceral reaction at key moments, so I’ll let some other reviewer mess up that pleasure for you.

Suffice it to say that Road to Hell didn’t win PollyGrind’s best effects award for nothing. Much like Streets of Fire, many scenes have mesmerizing other-worldly backdrops. Every color-saturated shot is carefully framed, almost like a postcard — a picture postcard from Hell.

Hell Valley, that is. That’s where we hook up with Cody again, returning from his precious war with a bad case of post traumatic stress disorder. He still has too many weapons. Hell, he is a weapon.

Having had 29 years to reconsider his earlier poor decision, he’s now on his way back to The Richmond to reconnect with the hot girlfriend who got away. Along the way he meets two new characters: Caitlin (Clare Kramer) and Ash (Courtney Peldon), a pair of fetchingly underdressed misanthropes having car trouble on Route 666.

The women are luminous and electric, even while changing a tire that’s bigger than they are, and so reprehensible it’s hard to feel sorry for them. They’re loud and pottymouthed. They kill people for fun. Caitlin thinks she’s found her soul mate in Cody.

Kramer simmers in her role. She was my favorite villain — the mean, funny, fashion-victim god Glory — in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and she makes a good baddie here. Peldon cooks, too. Her best moments come when she realizes her use-by date has expired, and she utters barely a word. It’s all on her beautiful, horrified face.

Speaking of meaningful looks, one part I was compelled to rewatch several times is the scene where Cody meets Caitlin and Ash. Look carefully. You’ll see the face of a softer, younger Cody, the one who wants to believe in love, in a pitched battle with harder, older, no-bullshit Cody who’d rather just kill. Paré’s face actually changes, then changes back. It’s more than acting (bygones, Michael) and it’s not a digital manipulation.

The technical explanation? “A camera malfunction damaged all the shots,” says Curnan. “We had to wait for technology to advance to fix them. We couldn’t afford to rotoscope each frame.” Five years after they started, they were reshooting and repairing scenes. This sequence was among them. What you see is an epic Jekyll/Hyde duel between a 40-something Paré and a 50-something Paré, duking it out for realsies.

And it’s freakin’ awesome. There isn’t a makeup artist alive who could believably achieve what Pyun accomplished here. That he arrived at it while making lemonade out of lemons is the stuff of legends.

If you don’t understand what I mean, or think I’m full of crap, or both, I refer you to 1989’s Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives!, in which a then-30ish Paré alternated between a 20ish Eddie and a 40ish one wholly via makeup, and succeeded at neither. Clare Kramer had an alter ego in Buffy who was more believable, and he was a guy. Not for nothing, but in 1977 Luis Buñuel ingeniously used two actors (Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina) to play one character, Conchita, in That Obscure Object of Desire. No makeup magic there and no one laughed, either, at least not when they weren’t supposed to.

My point is, there are ways to do this sort of thing believably and too often it isn’t, due more to lack of imagination than budget. Film history is littered with detritus from failed id-versus-ego slapdowns. (The Curse of the Werewolf? The ShiningMary Reilly? Sybil? Anyone?) I say do it right or go home, and Pyun nails it.

Among Road to Hell’s other visual treats are the spectacular Nevada desert, subbing for purgatory here with enhancements recalling a bad acid trip (and cleverly referencing Streets of Fire‘s original artwork).

Road to Hell

Streets of Fire posterAnother thing I liked immensely is the juxtaposition of multiple timelines in the present (Cody’s, Ellen Dream’s, and Reva’s) with the Ellen Aim flashbacks. The present-time scenes are all different styles: a graphic novel look for Tom Cody, a cinema verité one for Ellen Dream, and a documentary feel for Reva Cody. They’re knitted artfully with the happy-fuzzy uber-romanticized memories of Ellen Aim. When they all collide at the end, you know exactly where you are.

Anyway, Van Valkenburgh reliably reprises the role of Reva. She does a fine job of tethering the day-glo present to a noir past necessarily relegated to viewer memory. It’s good to see her again. Ellen Aim is played by the sexy Anita Leeman. Other characters from Streets of Fire are mentioned but never shown at all (except for Cody’s sidekick McCoy and arch enemy Raven, briefly and gorily). As always, Brick Bardo (Scott Paulin) is in the mix, too.

Michael Paré of course plays Tom Cody. Michael Paré rocks Tom Cody. It’s impossible to imagine anyone else in that role, ever. If there’s ever a sequel to the sequel, they’ll just have to wheel Paré out and let him gum the scenery. That’s how much he owns the part.

The Cody in Road to Hell is disillusioned and surly, seeking some type of redemption while questioning whether he even deserves it. He’s so discombobulated, he even toys with the idea of badgirl Caitlin as a viable alternative to Ellen, I guess in case his childhood sweetheart who’s probably an altacocker now doesn’t work out. Caitlin’s hot. She’s there. She gives MRE new meaning. So what if she’s depraved?

Granted, it’s a lot of story packed into a compact space and I’ve only told you half of it, like I promised I wouldn’t. Pyun and Curnan cleverly manage to convey all this in terms of biblical allegory. Don’t worry. It’s fun, not preachy.

The unique concept gives an interesting spin to a plot that, in the hands of lesser storytellers, could easily be not so special. I dare you not to love the backstory exposition humorously offered by Gabriel, of all people — yes, the archangel given the unenviable job of telling the Virgin Mary that the rabbit died. Joei Fulco plays the part — yes, she’s a woman. Instead of a horn, this Gabriel wields a mean guitar and modern slang. Her mission: Snatch Cody from the jaws of hell. Woot!

One of many other scripty things Curnan does especially well is sandwich very funny quips in between body blows. Consider this one, delivered ominously by a grinning, up-to-no-good Cody: “I’ve hunted up here. I hunt wabbit. The two-legged breed.” And this, blurted by Ellen Aim’s eternally disappointed daughter (Roxy Gunn) during a confrontation about to turn postal: “I needed you my whole life, asshole!”

Streets of Fire fans will delight in the strategic reuse of signature lines throughout Road to Hell. There are slick cross references, too: a flat tire that changes everything; OTT bondage; Ellen suffers idiotic fan questions about her creative process. Her band sports the same name as Torchie’s band, the Blasters. Cody coldcocks chicks. He even mentions his “dark side,” a sly wink at another Paré cult musical, Eddie and the Cruisers.

Much to the relief of everyone except Springsteen, there’s finally an actual song called “Streets of Fire,” written for the movie by musical director Tony Riparetti and sung the hell out of by Fulco. The whole score is quite good. Two Jim Steinman songs from Streets of Fire were dusted off and performed again, this time by Gunn, and arguably better: “Nowhere Fast” and “Tonight Is What It Means to Be Young.” Gunn is a guitarist and vocalist who wrote and performed many of the film’s excellent tunes. Vegas Rocks! Magazine called Road to Hell “one of the best music-driven films of the year.”

I love Pyun’s willingness to take big chances on relative unknowns, a kind of artistic bravura that really pays off here. Newcomers Fulco and Gunn pull double duty supplying both pipes and pivotal character portrayals, and never miss a beat. Fulco, amazingly, is only about 15 here and has since moved on to leading roles in feature films. She’s going to be a huge star. Quadruple-threat Gunn also has a big career ahead. Her band The Roxy Gunn Project is a favorite on Vegas stages, with a rapidly growing fan base. Both Fulco’s and Gunn’s lungs should be gilded and enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Best of all, Road to Hell has a twist ending you’ll never expect. I foresee it winning a lot more awards. And fans. Go see it. You’re welcome.




Albert Pyun Movies on Facebook
Road to Hell on IMDB

Content of this blog Copyright ©2014 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved.
Road to Hell material Copyright ©2014 Albert Pyun Movies and Curnan Pictures ★ Images used with permission
Streets of Fire photo of Michael Paré and film poster art © RKO Universal Pictures

I make no money from this blog. If you find it interesting or useful, please buy my book Dead Spot. The Kindle version’s only $5 and you’ll love it! Thanks.

DEAD SPOT on Amazon

Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.

The Stiff That Wouldn’t Die | Eddie and the Cruisers

This is a story I wrote around 1992. It’s kinda long, but if you like showbiz dirt, stick with it.

It was never published but got thisclose three times. The first magazine decided I didn’t bash celebrities hard or fast or famous enough. The second magazine changed hands before the piece could run, and it got lost in the shuffle. The third magazine, whose content typically derived from repeating other mags’ reportage, demurred because they didn’t understand where the quotes from named sources came from. It’s called “getting an interview,” dogs — bite me!

The story appears here in its original 1992 form, except for a few updates and outtakes too good to leave out. Therefore, some information will seem dated. It is what it is. Real good!

A hack director wants to make the Springsteen story. A desperate band wants a recording contract. A bad actor tells everyone he’s a rock star. A bargain-hunting backer gets a surprise windfall. What do you get?

The Stiff That Wouldn't DieCopyright © 2011 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

Go ahead—name one good thing about movie musicals.

That’s right. Unless you’re a Julie Andrews fan, you can’t. That’s because most musicals are on autodestruct. They cost too much. They rarely turn a profit. They age badly, and they ruined Elvis. Often, stars as untalented as they are famous must be dubbed surreptitiously. Poor Marni Nixon is still apologizing because bad swimmer Natalie Wood really wanted to sing in West Side Story.

Sadly, movie musicals often launch stars from other media into the footnotes of film history. Remember Light of Day with Joan Jett? The Allnighter with Suzanna Hoffs? One Trick Pony with Paul Simon? Didn’t think so.

Drifting in this swamp of flotsam is a pair of floaters that were all this and worse. They were low budget and looked it. Their plots defied credulity. The first one’s music was blatantly anachronistic. How the cult bombathon Eddie and the Cruisers got to be the innovative musical of the 1980s is really two intertwining tales of how Hollywood steamrollered a perfectly good novel twice, and a small-town bar band rescued two panting dogs from B-movie hell.

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It all started around 1980, when former Ashley Famous (now ICM) talent agent Martin Davidson decided he could make a better dead rocker film than 1978’s The Buddy Holly Story, or even 1979’s The Rose. Davidson had a hook. His dead rocker would be Bruce Springsteen.

Davidson, you may remember, was immortalized in the Julia Phillips Hollywood tell-all You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again as a writer-screwing philistine. [At a party, he screamed at people that Charles Webb, who was cheated out of screenwriter pay for the Oscar-winning film adaptation of his book The Graduate, deserved to be a shoe salesman in the East Village, which he was. — ss]

After co-directing the sleeper hit The Lords of Flatbush in 1974, Davidson optioned the novel Eddie and the Cruisers, an entertaining yarn about the premature dispatch of an enigmatic rock‘n’roll idol. He then convinced Canadian investors Aurora Film Partners to give him $7 million to film it.

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It was a perfectly good book, but because Davidson couldn’t leave well enough alone and Aurora was essentially an investment outfit, Eddie wound up as a tax shelter for dentists.

The production values say it all: Actors’ mouths sing when the soundtrack doesn’t; a boom mic swoops through a shot; props move by themselves; a car drives into oncoming traffic in the Lincoln Tunnel. Lines of dialog howl. “You got your Edsels, Norges, Dumonts — and Eddie Wilson, together at last, creating our own incredible monument to nothing!” Sheesh.

The book Davidson adapted deserved better. Former Wall Street Journal reporter P.F. Kluge authored the lively mystery about a fictional 1950s New Jersey band and its Rubic’s Cube of a front man, Eddie Wilson. Strictly a seashore cover band at first, the Cruisers switch to original material and catch fire. Mistakenly thinking he’s Mozart, Eddie embarks upon an overly ambitious, ill-fated musical experiment. He and the session tapes disappear, and the grumpy Cruisers disband at their career apex.

Thanks to a fairly convoluted plot line, everyone is hounding the surviving Cruisers now, two decades later. The story’s narrator is former keyboardist Frank Ridgeway (Tom Berenger), whom we find mired in a midlife crisis, brooding about his year as a Cruiser and searching for Eddie’s lost tapes. Frank’s sojourn is rudely impacted by bad people who are also chasing his maguffin.

From 1980 to 1982, everyone involved with the cinematic Eddie was chasing something too — a film start. Along the way were financing delays, two fired screenwriters, and an unusable score by, of all people, Joe “You Light Up My Life” Brooks. Brooks was canned [and indicted on 11 counts of rape] and the screenplay was finished by Davidson and his sister Arlene, with uncompensated and uncredited assistance from Kluge.

In another time-honored Hollywood tradition, the final script diverged wildly from the source material. For example, the 1950s flashbacks moved to the 1960s. Eddie’s groundbreaking jazz fusion foray morphed into a post-medicated-Beatles style concept album. The book’s linchpin, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, became Arthur Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell.  A homicidal Rolling Stone writer and his oversexed girlfriend were replaced by one character, an insipid Diane Sawyerish TV reporter who never takes notes (Ellen Barkin). In the book, the missing tapes are in someone’s sock drawer; in the movie they’ve sat in a junkyard for twenty years, miraculously undeteriorated.

From the time he sold Martin Davidson the film rights to his novel, Kluge never really expected his creation to survive intact. “If a butcher buys a cow,” he says he told friends, “is he gonna make changes?”

On top of all that was the Eddie problem. Kluge’s character was a skinny, no-frills Buddy Holly sort. Davidson’s unswerving vision was Bruce Springsteen.

The director denied having a fixation, claiming in interviews that Dion and Jim Morrison were his true inspirations. But someone sent Springsteen a script. And Springsteen’s then-girlfriend, actress Joyce Hyser, was a finalist for the part of Eddie’s girlfriend. Davidson even asked Springsteen’s sound-alike friend, Southside Johnny Lyon of the Asbury Jukes, to produce the score.

No one was bothered that Springsteen, then 33 but not dead, was a tad hoary to play an 18-year-old. No one considered that he might be a budget buster, too. Or that the E Street sound was neither technologically nor historically possible in 1962. In any case, Lyon declined, Hyser lost, and Bruce never called back. [Southside Johnny did record three songs for the film as himself with the Jukes, all of which were cut out.]

A more cost-effective unknown won the Eddie role. Twenty-four-year-old Michael Paré looked like a Calvin Klein ad, had an intractable Brooklyn accent, and couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. Paré’s main talents were effecting a smug superciliousness and filling out jeans nicely, the only skills Davidson apparently figured a rock star needed.

Paré had twelve lines of dialog. But he — and not top-billed Berenger — got the star treatment: a feature in Interview, fashion layouts in Vanity Fair. He careened over the top in interviews, claiming he was a Culinary Institute of America grad (he dropped out halfway through the program), Tavern on the Green’s head chef (just a cook, says Tavern), and a top Zoli model (the agency has no payroll record of him). [An actual top Zoli model of the era told me he saw Paré at some go-sees; that’s apparently as far as he got.] Paré also allegedly studied acting with Uta Hagen. Judge for yourself.

On the dork side: Michael Paré helps model Nancy Donahue with a chiropractic adjustment.

On the dork side: Michael Paré helps model Nancy Donahue with a chiropractic adjustment.

In 1981 the Irish guy with the French name played an Italian kid in ABC’s “The Greatest American Hero,” and a Brooklyn kid in the TV movie Crazy Times. [Paré told Seventeen magazine he also was a crowd scene extra in The Chosen and Fort Apache the Bronx.] This was his entire resume when he was cast, without a test, as rebel wasp Eddie Wilson.

Michael Pare and another woman on Greatest American Hero.

Michael Paré and another woman in “The Greatest American Hero.”

Arlene Davidson boasted to Cosmopolitan magazine that Paré didn’t need to test. “We took one look at him and knew we’d found our Eddie.” [Whatever. In the Seventeen story, Marty Davidson says he thought Paré was “a breath of fresh air” when they first met. After filming started, Davidson tried to fire him.]

Long story short, in the end it took three people to build Eddie Wilson. Paré merely supplied the Thighmastered body. The virtuoso lead guitar licks were provided by Gary Gramolini, and the rhythm guitar work and suspiciously Bosslike singing voice are John Cafferty’s. Both musicians are from a Rhode Island-based band called Beaver Brown. The other members — don’t call them Cruisers, thanks — are keyboardist Bobby Cotoia, bassist Pat Lupo, saxophonist Michael “Tunes” Antunes, original drummer Kenny Jo Silva, and new drummer Jackie Santos.

The band honked around the same club circuit for twenty years with (and managed to outlast) the now-defunct E Street Band. The two white groups with black saxophonists and whisky-voiced front men have been compared relentlessly.

“When you have a group of people the same age, who basically listened to the same radio frequencies at the same time, there are certain things that you all draw from,” Antunes explains without even waiting for the question he still hears every day. “We think of it as a compliment.”

The main difference can be summed up pretty quickly. Cafferty is one of the great underrated vocalists of the century. By comparison, Springsteen croons with all the mellifluousness of a garbage truck on pick-up day. Bruce singing anything makes you want more beer. Cafferty singing “Drift Away” makes you weep in it.

Rolling Stone called Beaver Brown “perhaps the most popular bar band on the East Coast.” Nevertheless, the group couldn’t get a recording contract during its first decade. Bands that sound like Springsteen, recording poobahs kept telling them, don’t sell.

Then in 1982, along came Martin Davidson. He had a deal with Scotti Brothers Records for a soundtrack album for Eddie and the Cruisers. Scotti Brothers is best known for supplying Stallone film soundtracks to your neighborhood bargain bin.

The Scotti sibs are Ben, Fred and Tony. Ben’s an ex-football star (Redskins, Eagles, 49ers) and pugilist (he KOed teammate John Mellekas during an argument over who killed JFK). Tony was a colorful casualty in the granddaddy trash film Valley of the Dolls, and more recently oversaw the bankruptcy of Orion Pictures. Fred’s the one who got permission for Weird Al Yankovic’s Coolio parody “Amish Paradise” that Coolio claims he never gave. All three Scotti brothers exec-produced the tranny comedy mess He’s My Girl. The Scottis know talent. They planned to release the Eddie soundtrack through CBS — Springsteen’s distributor. All they needed was musicians.

Left: Tony Scotti & counterculture casualty Sharon Tate. Right: Ben Scotti gets his arabesque on.

Left: Tony Scotti & counterculture casualty Sharon Tate. Right: Ben Scotti gets his arabesque on.

Fred Scotti in 2007 (left). Kenny Vance (right).

Left: Fred Scotti in 2007. Right: Kenny Vance.

Beaver Brown, Davidson’s fourth choice in his attempt to invoke Springsteen (unless John Mellencamp and Alex Chilton also declined [as it turns out, Rick Springfield was a contender]) was recruited by Davidson’s long-suffering musical director, Kenny Vance. Vance was with Jay and the Americans once. Check it out: His is the tenor singing voice of Cruiser bassist Sal Amato (acted by Axis carmaker shill Matthew Laurance). [Laurance made German car ads for American TV.]

In a neat in-joke, Vance also plays Lew Eisen, the despotic mogul of the film’s Satin Records — the kind of creep you know Vance has met a few times for real. Vance/Eisen hasn’t heard “Revolver” yet and rebuffs Eddie’s artistic experiment. Vance gets the enviable cinematic task of telling Paré/Eddie he’s no musician.

Eddie takes the news personally and drives his ’57 Chevy off a bridge. He doesn’t bob up with wacky Kennedyesque excuses and a limp date, so everyone assumes he drowned. Except the next day, the Cruiser tapes maligned by Eisen inexplicably vanish from the studio. Is Eddie really alive? Duh.

The movie relies heavily on flashback to 1962-1964, when the Beatles still backed Tony Sheridan and the Boss still hid girlie magazines under his bunkbed. Here the soundtrack falters only in that stylistically, some of the songs couldn’t have been performed that way at that time. But the music is great, as its cult-like legion of followers still attests. That includes “some real rabid fans from Japan that fly to the United States to see us play,” says Beaver Brown bassist Pat Lupo.

“Marty pretty much gave Kenny and the band a free hand in the music,” says Lupo. “He liked us a lot and he trusted us. Marty took a big shot in giving us as much creative control as he did. We had never scored a film before.”

To help with the visual cues informing the film’s period look, Vance recycled Southside Johnny Lyon as his technical adviser. Lyon was tasked with shaping six unknowns into the onscreen Cruisers, a massive feat considering four weren’t musicians and two weren’t  actors. The latter — cabaret veteran Helen Schneider and Beaver Brown saxophonist Michael Antunes — turned in the only authentic performances as band members: Schneider as Eddie’s dishy squeeze Joann, and Antunes as Wendell Newton, a doomed character from the novel whom Davidson admitted to Rolling Stone that he rewrote with E Street’s Clarence Clemons in mind. Davidson gave himself a role, too, as Barkin’s clueless news colleague.

The period costumes were covered by expert shopper Sandy Davidson, Martin’s wife. In bowling shirts, skinny lapels, and pre-Spandex stretch knits, all the Cruisers look correct. All of them, that is, except Eddie. Somebody dressed Eddie like … well, like John Cafferty.

Cafferty’s trademark rolled-sleeve black Ts, tatty jeans, and Cuban heel roach-chasers are the exact same not-very-’62 costume Paré wore in the film. Arlene Davidson says the vintage outfits worn by the rest of the cast looked stupid on Paré’s overpumped chassis.

“We were forced to use the only clothes on hand that fit,” she recalls. “The T-shirts and jeans are what he looked best in.” So it was just a coincidence. Really.

No one would go on record about the very special relationship between guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Cafferty and pseudo-guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Paré. In a press release, a quote attributed to Tony Scotti lauded the “tremendous collaboration between … Michael Paré and John Cafferty” — a collaboration, say insiders, that consisted of Paré catching exactly one of Cafferty’s performances, which he left early and then parroted shamelessly.

Officially everyone scoffs at any rivalry. But Paré stated in many interviews that he “played” Cafferty’s music. (The only “playing” by Paré was in the rooftop scene where the Cruisers perform “On the Dark Side” for the first time, accompanied by a loud and painfully off-beat whumping sound. It’s Paré’s foot.)

Paré did, in fact, make an album of his own. An album, in fact, that you’ll never hear. It consists of nine songs in which he pathetically apes Cafferty, who (among other things) can hit every note and doesn’t sing through his nose. [And btw, there’s no “playing” by Paré on his album, either, only “singing.”] The producer shopped it around for years before finally giving up.

Cafferty doesn’t like to talk about Paré. Pretty much all that’s on record is what he told Rolling Stone in 1983: “It’s really hard for me to deal with the fact that ‘Tender Years,’ my most important song, is in a film and somebody else is lip-syncing it.”

Tender Years singles

But one memorable night in 1991, he made up for years of silence. At a gig at the Lone Star Roadhouse in New York City, a free-range zombie actually asked him, “How did that guy in the Eddie movies write all those great songs?” Cafferty went ballistic. “That guy,” he exploded, “didn’t write nuthin’!”

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Cafferty and Paré collided head on and fast, creating their own incredible monument to nothing when Eddie and the Cruisers was released in September 1983. Promotion was cryptic and minimal. The ads were all pictures and no words. Roger Ebert called the film “all buildup and no payoff.”

Variety crowned it “a mish-mash of a film.” The New York Times deadpanned: “Eddie’s final declaration [about the Edsels and Norges, et al] stretches the material’s potential for melodrama to its limit, and beyond.”

Other reviews proclaimed it flat out stank, with Rolling Stone using four pages to say just how much. “A dumb, hackneyed melodrama,” wrote Steve Pond. “Isn’t it a little early to make The Bruce Springsteen Story?”

1980s advertising for Eddie and the Cruisers - UK poster (left), US newspaper ad (right)

1980s advertising for Eddie and the Cruisers – UK poster (left), US newspaper ad (right)

The film opened in only eleven cities, shrank to two after five weeks, then disappeared. Filmgoers were more interested in seeing Risky Business and Return of the Jedi. According to Variety, Eddie grossed just under $1.7 million, or about 24 percent of what it cost to make.

The soundtrack went begging too, at first. It was released as an Eddie and the Cruisers record, with Paré on the cover instead of the band that made it. Some of its ten Cafferty/Beaver Brown cuts smack of E Street circa 1977. Others, however, pay delightful homage to Elvis Presley, Dion, and Bobby Freeman.

In July 1984 HBO began a 26-time national run of the Eddie movie, and 17,000 soundtracks sold within a four-day period. Rather unexpectedly, it was soon number 9 on Billboard’s album chart.

The press was all over the then-12-year-old band, hailing them as overnight sensations. In early interviews, Cafferty dismissed his iconic song “On the Dark Side” as “a vehicle for actors.” A year later that stoogemobile reached number 7 on Billboard’s singles chart and number 1 as an MTV music video. It’s still his biggest hit. [In 2015 Spin ranked it number 14 on its 50 Best Fictional Songs of All Time list.]

In August 1984 the soundtrack went gold. By October it had gone platinum. Eventually it sold over 3 million copies, although no one was sure to whom.

Citing what they called an “independent study,” Scotti Brothers claimed Eddie had an astounding 90 percent recognition rate among film viewers age 12-24 following its cable debut.

Perhaps. But the most compelling thing about what happened is actually this: Before Eddie, cable was considered solely an instrument for squeezing the last dollar out of Hollywood flops. Post-Eddie it was perceived quite differently — as a powerful sales tool for direct marketing. Putting it another way, you may very well have Eddie and the Cruisers to blame for the Home Shopping Network.

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Eddie and the Cruisers is singular in moviedom for another reason: It’s the only dead rocker picture with a sequel.

Released in August 1989, Eddie and the Cruisers II — Eddie Lives! picks up the story where Eddie I dumped it. Eddie’s body was never found, it turns out, because he swam to Canada and got a day job.

The Davidsons weren’t involved with the sequel, which the Scotti brothers commandeered.

According to P.F. Kluge, the Scottis didn’t like the first script they’d commissioned from screenwriter Zev Cohen. They hired Kluge to cowrite a replacement with executive producer Jim Stewart. The Scottis didn’t like that script, either. Kluge says they had Cohen rewrite the Kluge/Stewart script. Then they retooled Kluge’s sequel fee by deducting his screenplay fee from it — after they’d grossed $18 million from Eddie I soundtrack sales.

Eddie’s creator is admirably restrained about being treated like an ATM by the Scottis. “I don’t resent their making money out of it,” says Kluge. “I hope they’re satisfied with the work they do.”

Although Variety called it “one of the most commercial indie pics since Dirty Dancing,” the work in question is exactly what you’d expect from seven producers, a splatter pic director (Jean-Claude Lord — Visiting Hours, The Vindicator), and Aurora, which got in on the action again mostly to take advantage of a new 166 percent Quebecois film tax write-off. It shows.

eddie 2

In Eddie II it’s 1984 or thereabouts, and “dead” Eddie has become a legend. The lost experimental tapes have turned up at last. The same unscrupulous music company exec who called Eddie a jerkoff in 1964 is now issuing recordings of “new” Eddie material, a la Jimi Hendrix. Cha-ching!

Eddie’s really torqued now, and he’s dying to tell someone he’s not dead. His passion for life renewed, our hero straps on a new girlfriend named Diane, slathers on some hair product, and organizes a new band with a black saxophonist who play music ahead of their time. Bloodsucking opportunists glom onto Eddie. He goes looking for a bridge in a used Chevy. Diane convinces him that music is more important than greedy sleazebags. Eddie triumphs.

Eddie II lasted about four weeks in theaters, grossing (according to Variety) five figures or less. Scotti Brothers won’t talk about it. The film then retreated to video and cable.

People who wouldn’t be caught dead watching it in movie houses apparently felt more benevolent at home with their blinds drawn. Eddie II spent three months on Variety’s Top 50 video rental list. The soundtrack recording sold over 500,000 copies.

Michael Paré reprised the Eddie role. John Cafferty and Beaver Brown wrote and performed all ten new numbers for Eddie’s ’80s band. The soundtrack album cover has a photo of Paré “playing” them.

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The band’s popular Eddie catalog alternates traditional rock‘n’roll with smoldering, throbbing stuff about death, resurrection, and devil women that Cafferty wrote to order for directors in the habit of requesting abstruse nonsense. (“Music with Eddie’s pulse” was one such directive.)

Still, it’s all solid stuff, and the Eddie scores stand as a textbook example of astute soundtrack craftsmanship. They transcend being just good music as they adroitly cover details the scripts leave out, such as plots, and what might have constituted artistic rebellion against stultifying Eisenhower-era Top 40.

What happened to Beaver Brown’s careers then, or didn’t happen, is weird. They made two other albums with Scotti Brothers, who didn’t bother promoting either one. Two singles from the first LP, “Tough All Over,” made the Top 20 anyway. The other album, “Roadhouse,” was even more textured and sophisticated and gone in a blink.

tough all over, roadhouse[Author’s update: In 1997 Cafferty sued Scotti Brothers Records in a landmark federal case for copyright infringement, false advertising, unfair competition, breach of contract, and breach of fiduciary duty. He wasn’t paid royalties for an album of live performances and other records (Scotti Brothers claimed they gave them away to customers). Cafferty also claimed that the release of previously unreleased Beaver Brown music and rerelease of Beaver Brown albums as Eddie and the Cruisers records were breaches of contract, and forced him to unfairly compete against himself. He asked the court to order Scotti Brothers to return his property. Cafferty lost the case, and Scotti Brothers (now All American Communications) retained ownership of his recordings.]

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We are now left with one nagging question: Would today’s discriminating moviegoers, after sorting out seating arrangements with their Glocks, be receptive to Eddie III?

The Scotti brothers are certainly ready. Like Satin Records, they keep releasing music outtakes from the first two movies, without notifying the band or paying them.

Beaver Brown’s Pat Lupo says, “I really don’t know what their plans are. Then again, you’re talking to a band member. We’re probably the least informed of anybody.”

Asked if he had news of Eddie III, P.F. Kluge replied, “Good Lord, no!”

Michael Paré was too busy making straight-to-video flicks to return calls for this story, but back in 1989 he claimed in an AP interview that Eddie III was a done deal. He has since appeared in many non-Eddie films naked and on a Spy Magazine list of celebrity prostitutes.

[Fun Fact: Paré portrayed a demonic rock star who gets BBQed by Satan in the 1995 crapfest Raging Angels, directed by the incomparable Alan Smithee.]

Arlene Davidson, the frequent target of low-wattage admirers bearing Eddie scripts, says it’s a short bus she won’t drive again. “There was nothing to work on on Eddie II — no real story. The movie had nothing to say. No way will there be an Eddie III.”

[In 2015 Paré told the Washington Post he’s writing a script for Eddie III himself.]

eddie and the cruisers iii posters

Meanwhile, Beaver Brown still plays clubs. Kluge still writes books and teaches college in Ohio. Martin Davidson went on to direct the box office turkey Heart of Dixie. Scotti Brothers keeps releasing Cafferty/Beaver Brown albums with silly fake concert photos of Paré on the covers. [And Kenny Vance produced an Eddie and the Cruisers stage musical in 2001 and kinda forgot to notify all the movie people about it.]

In 1991 Scotti Brothers issued a CD called “The Unreleased Tapes.” It featured “lost” Eddie songs (four Cafferty/Beaver Brown numbers lopped off the last soundtrack) and a super-special bonus, presumably to save money by not buying new material from Beaver Brown: gripping dialog from both movies! It’s deja vu all over again.

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Above: Michael Paré and Matthew Laurance explain the magic.
“We were horrible. Southside Johnny worked with us as a band. He would get really upset.”


Above: John Cafferty and Beaver Brown performing on American Bandstand in 1986.


Above: Michael Paré 1989 interview about Eddie and the Cruisers II.
“I take [the band] out on the road. We put together a whole new bunch of songs. [They never actually played them. — ss] We had two weeks to rehearse.”


Above: Michael Paré 2012 interview. About Eddie and the Cruisers II (17:35):
“The director came to me and said, ‘I can’t stand this script or the music in this movie.’ And I had to work for this guy for seven more weeks knowing he hated the fucking movie. You can’t print this.”


Above: This is Michael Paré’s demo reel. Eddie Wilson isn’t on it.

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Read this interesting scholarly post by Oxford University Press about Eddie and the Cruisers!

Text copyright © 2011 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved.

I make no money from this blog. If you find it interesting or useful, please buy my book Dead Spot. The Kindle version‘s only $5 and you’ll love it! Thanks.

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Photo of Michael Paré and Nancy Donahue © Vanity Fair.
Photo of Michael Paré in The Greatest American Hero © Stephen J. Cannell Productions/ABC.
Eddie and the Cruisers book cover © P.F. Kluge
Photos of Tony Scotti and Ben Scotti © Twentieth Century Fox, © Philadelphia Eagles.
Photo of Fred Scotti © Kevin Cable and David Rossi.
Photo of Kenny Vance © Kenny Vance and Josh Aronson.
Advertising photos © Lee Barnes and © NaturesJoy’s Clippings Pinups Books.
Album covers © Scotti Brothers Records/All American Communications.
Eddie and the Cruisers III movie posters © Kevin Matterson (left) and © Jeff Webber, Andrew Huff, Shylo Bisnett for Gapers Block (right).

Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.