Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"Eddie & the Cruisers" 30 Years Later

“Eddie & the Cruisers” – 30 Years after Hollywood Came to the Jersey Shore

Tony Marts Reunion - this Saturday at the Ocean City Music Pier, features Billy Walton's great band, and they will play some of the songs from the movie. Billy is now lead guitarist with Southside Johnny, who was a consultant for the film.

It’s been thirty years since Hollywood came to the Jersey Shore to film “Eddie & the Cruisers,” but it’s still fondly remembered for documenting the times and the places that were very special to a lot of people.

Set in the 60’s and filmed on location on the Ocean City (NJ) beach and boardwalk and Somers Point Bay Avenue nightclubs, “Eddie & the Cruisers” tried to capture the early spirit of  rock & roll and did capture the basic landscape of another, bygone era, a landscape that for the most part, no longer exists.

Based on a novel by P.F. Kluge (Viking Press, 1980), the story of Eddie Wilson and his band The Parkway Cruisers is founded on fact, as Kluge spent some of his formative years at the Jersey Shore and taught high school in Vineland, as does the protagonist – Frank Ridgeway, aka “Wordman,” played by Tom Berringer in the movie.

Berringer portays a college student working the summer at the Jersey Shore as a day time clean up guy at Tony Marts. Berringer’s Ridgeway is pushing a broom around the tile floor, stools up on the bar, when in walks Eddie Wilson. There’s a sign just above the front doors that reads:“Through these doors walk the most beautiful girls in the world.”

Eddie, in his leather jacket, arm around his girl - the lead singer (Helen Schneider) and the rest of the band, says “Tell Tony Eddie & the Cruisers are here.”

If any band actually did that, Tony would have fired them before they ever played a note, because Anthony Marotta was treated with respect and didn’t take anything from anybody, especially some young punks in a band who wanted him to give them a job. Tony fired a band a week, “Get atta here you bums!” was often heard, but Tony wasn’t a character in the movie, though maybe he should have.

Berringer, as Frank Ridgeway the English major, writes a few songs, is taught how to play a few songs on the piano, and is recruited into the band. In Kluge’s book Berringer’s character takes Eddie and the band on a road trip to visit Walt Whitman’s home in Camden, where Eddie is profoundly moved by the dichotomy between the literary home of the poet and the surrounding ghetto. Berringer gives him a copy of Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” which becomes the title of a mysterious, radical recording that is lost when Eddie dies in a car crash - he drives his ’57 Chevy into the bay off the causeway bridge.

Both Kluge and Berringer went on to bigger and better things – Kluge a professor of literature and writer in residence at – College and Berringer a superstar with many popular credits (“Big Chill,”), as did other then unknown actors in the movie that became stars – Helen Schneider, Joe Pantoliano (See: Boardwalk Journal June 2012), Matthew Laurance and Ellen Barkin.

But the movie bombed, crashed at the box office, without any marketing it came and went without much notice.

Then, a few years later, the movie was released on HBO pay per view TV – in cable’s early years, and sales of the movie soundtrack suddenly shot up on the charts (like a bullet), with three of the songs hitting the pop charts as singles – “On the Darkside,” “Wild Summer Nights” and “Tender Years.”

The movie and the music had found a new, younger audience who were beyond the nostalgia and realized the music really was good. They recognized, hey, that’s the story their mom and dad experienced when they were teenagers and rock & roll was new and revolutionary.

The Beaver Brown Band, a real New Hampshire garage band led by John Cafferty, took their name from the Beaver Brown paint cans they sat on when jamming in the garage. They suddenly had three hit songs, record contract offers and got on the Chitlin’ Circuit, and the HBO revival of the almost forgotten movie also called for a followup, and suddenly there was money available for reviving the lead character even though they had killed him off in the original.

After a brief hint of big time success, Cafferty and Beaver Brown fell back into the bar circuit and I caught them playing an off night at a Cape May sports bar, where black sax man Wendell Newton was still holding his own. As Michael “Tunes” Antunes, Newton was a member of the Parkway Cruisers as well as the Beaver Brown band, but they killed him off in the film, dying of a drug overdose at a McArthur Blvd. motel. He’s replaced by Philadelphia sax and bagpiper, the late Rufus Harley.

“I ain’t dead,” Newton said to me. “That was just Hollywood.”

But mot of the “Eddie & the Cruisers” cast had moved on to bigger and better things and couldn’t be enticed back to do an Eddie II. Without Berringer or Schneider or Barkin in the lineup, the follow up “Eddie Lives,” wasn’t really that bad, it just lacked most of the same lead characters and Tony Marts was gone and out of the picture.

One scene that was left on the cutting room floor had Berringer/Ridgeway returning to Tony Marts years later and finding the place closed and boarded up – much like it actually was after the last night in late September 1982, a few months after the film was made.

Harris Berman, who had previously bought Bay Shores across the street, tore it down and built the Waterfront, also purchased Tony Marts and tore that down to build Egos, which was billed as the East Coast’s most lavish disco.

Capturing some of the streetscapes and landmarks that are now gone is one the best attributes of the original “Eddie & the Cruisers” movie, which includes scenes of the Ocean City beach and boardwalk, and Somers Point’s Bay Avenue. There’s a scene of the band practicing on the second floor roof which overlooks the bay, Dolfin Dock and the Clam Bar.

The indoor scenes of Tony Marts are pretty accurate as well, showing the college pennants on the walls and ceiling, the half dozen bars and the main stage as it was in its last years, against the far south wall.

While Kluge is non committed in naming any one band that inspired Eddie & the Parkway Cruisers, a number of groups come quickly to mind – Johnny Caswell & the Crystal Mansion,” who had a number of local hits, “Levon & the Hawks,” who spent the summer of ’65 at Tony Marts, and the Soul Survivors (“Expressway to Your Heart).

More to come on this. 

Were you there when they made "Eddie & the Cruisers"? 
Do you have any photos?

If so I'd like to hear from you. 


Rebecca Dauber said...

I'd love to know if there are any future events like this. I missed the one last summer in OC.

budfoucher said...

It was not Eddie himself who said "Tell Tony ...." It was Sal, and is one of the most quoted lines from the picture!

Patricia Broussard said...

They should have a third show to release the missing tapes. That way it would put a closer of the show. Maybe halve the girl pregnant with Eddie's kid and he wants to bring back that time for his dad. It's a thought anyway.

Unknown said...

I was in the crowd at Tony Mart when the movie was filmed. They used all the regulars. Also, some of the filming was done at the old Black Horse Motel in Blackwood, NJ which is also torn down. I was a bar back at Tonys in 79/80/81. We used to close it stock it and mop it then off to Mother's. Those were the days.