Friday, August 19, 2011

Forgotten Books: Eddie and the Cruisers -- P. F. Kluge

A friend of mine has been recommending this book to me for years. He's also a fan of the movie based on it. I never saw the movie, and the book was too pricey on the used-book sites to interest me. But when he mentioned the book again recently, he said that the prices had come down. I took a look and discovered that the book had been reprinted a few years ago, so I guess it's not really forgotten. Even at that, however, I expect more people know the movie than have ever read the book. Which is interesting, because I read a summary of the movie, and it might as well have been made from an original script. It sounds very little like the novel from which it's derived, though apparently some of the dialogue is much the same.

There are probably a lot of ways to read the novel, depending on what you bring to it. I, for one, was surprised to find myself reading a riff on The Maltese Falcon. But maybe any book with a McGuffin that's the stuff of dreams would seem that way to me.

The first-person narrator is Frank Ridgeway, who for one year at the tail end of the '50s was a member of a band called Eddie and the Parkway Cruisers. His nickname was Wordman because he did a good bit of the songwriting, a big help to Eddie, who wanted to stop doing covers and do original songs. The band has a few minor hits and an album before Eddie dies in a car crash.

Twenty years later, Wordman is a high school teacher with a failed marriage when the album is re-released and becomes a big hit. A man calling himself a rock journalist interviews Wordman, who decides to take the summer off and see what happened to the Cruisers, and incidentally to find out for himself if Eddie really did make some tapes during a secret retreat with some of the kings of rock 'n' roll. Before long he's involved in deception, harassment, and maybe even murder. Lots of people want those tapes, if they exist. Who's behind things? The band's ex-manager, one of the band members, the supposed journalist, or Eddie himself, still alive, after all?

And what does the Wordman want? Like any good detective, he tells us that he wants to know what happened. "Money wasn't the point, or fame, or music. The truth was all." His quest isn't just for the truth, though. He's after something even more elusive: the past. He wants what he had when he was young, the feeling of being really alive with the future all ahead of him. Talk about the stuff of dreams! Fitzgerald had something to say about that, I believe.

There's a lot of good stuff in Eddie and the Cruisers about the power of music in the '50s, about ambition, about boats against the current. Check it out.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I remember one little girl who loved this movie.

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

Overlook Press has been reprinting Kluge's books, including _Eddie and the Cruisers_. I did not know that _Dog Day Afternoon_ was based on his coauthored Life magazine article, "The Boys in the Bank."

Anonymous said...

I never got this movie when it first came out and they (the ubiquitous "they") were trying to sell star Michael Pare as the "coming thing" (how'd that work out?).

The basic premise sounds the same but the book sounds more interesting. I'll check it out.


George said...

I liked the movie way back when so I'll pick up a copy of Kluge's book.

Richard R. said...

Though the title is familiar, I don't believe I saw the film and certainly didn't read this book. Now I want to.

Anonymous said...

I put the book on reserve at the library - there was a 2008 reprint with a new introduction by Sherman Alexie.


BISH said...

The movie and it's sequel are among my favorite guilty pleasures. Along with Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Roadhouse, I'll stay tuned in at whatever point my channel surfing brings me into the movie. The music alone (provided by Jackson Brown and his band, I believe) is reason to watch/listen.

I didn't know it was based on a book, but it sounds much like the movie and I'm definitley going to pick up a copy of the reprint.

Kent Morgan said...

I read the book when it first came out and for once I even know where it is in my basement. In recent years whenever I come across a book of fiction in my library that features music, I pull it out and put it near to my large non-fiction music collection that sits on shelves beside my juke box. I'll have to check out the movie.