In 1964, Eddie Wilson had it all. He had genius, he had vision, he had the hottest rock & roll band in the country. Then suddenly one night his car went off a bridge. His body was never found.
Twenty years later, reporter Maggie Foley (Ellen Barkin) sets out to discover the truth about the supposed suicide of the lead singer of the 1960’s rock group Eddie and the Cruisers. Needing a news angle, Maggie wonders if he is still alive.
The movie is set on the Jersey shore, Bruce Springsteen‘s home turf and the soundtrack features John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, perhaps the most popular bar band on the East Coast at the time, and one with which Springsteen himself occasionally appeared.
To top things off, Eddie Wilson (Michael Paré) may look like John Cougar, but the songs that he lip-synchs in the film are the closest things to Springsteen this side of The River.
And how’s this for an opening scene: Eddie Wilson stands in front of a microphone, sweat dripping down his face, singing with gritty intensity.
Behind him, a piano pounds away in a riff blatantly reminiscent of Springsteen‘s She’s The One. The camera pans out and stops, framing one word on a banner hanging behind Paré. The word is ‘spring’.
Film director Martin Davidson swears it was a coincidence. But it was no coincidence that the film’s technical adviser was John Lyon (a.k.a Southside Johnny), an old Springsteen compatriot. Or that the film’s soundtrack LP marked the major label debut of Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, a group that previously had been shunned by every record company because its soul-spiked music sounded uncannily like, albeit slightly inferior to, Springsteen‘s.
Davidson was unconcerned with the Springsteen comparisons. He said, for instance, that he passed on actress Joyce Hyser for the female lead, even though she was among the three final candidates and was, he knew, Springsteen’s girlfriend at the time.
Eddie and the Cruisers first appeared in 1980 as a novel by journalist/novelist P.F. Kluge. The fictional Eddie Wilson was a late-Fifties rock star driven to make music that lasts and eventually, to combine black and white music in a new synthesis.
The tapes for that latter project disappear when Eddie dies in a car wreck shortly after finishing the record.
Kluge’s book was changed considerably for the movie. Eddie’s lost album became the first concept album, not a black-and-white fusion, and in the film, a television reporter suspects that Eddie may still be alive.
Liberties were taken stylistically too. An East Coast band called Eddie & The Cruisers in the late 50s or early 60s would have had greased hair, shiny suits, and Italian surnames, and been singing doo-wop. They would not have been wearing cut-off t-shirts.