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Forty tender years ago, the musical period drama Eddie and the Cruisers debuted in theaters. While the cinematic, Citizen Kane-style saga of the mysterious disappearance of troubled New Jersey crooner Eddie Wilson was a box-office flop at the time — it grossed only $4 million and was pulled from theaters after a three-week run — it eventually became a cult classic.
Eddie and the Cruisers effectively launched a television revolution when it reached new audiences via cable and home video a full year after its release and then spawned a surprise No. 1 single, “On the Dark Side”; the soundtrack even sold 3 million copies when it was reissued to meet the public’s new demand in 1984. The film also launched the career of Hollywood heartthrob Michael “Eddie” Paré, who went on to star in another ‘80s “rock ‘n’ roll fable,” Streets of Fire, and had roles in The Philadelphia Experiment, The Virgin Suicides, and the even more cultish sequel Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives!
But Paré freely admits to Yahoo Entertainment that the original Eddie and the Cruisers film may have never found success on HBO or at top 40 radio if it had been his singing voice, not Rhode Island rocker John Cafferty’s, on that triple-platinum soundtrack. A struggling actor and part-time chef whose only previous roles had been in The Greatest American Hero and the 1981 TV movie Crazy Times, Paré initially hid from the filmmakers the fact that he “had never sung outside of the shower — and even then, the neighbors complained.” But he “dodged a bullet” at his first audition, and through what he calls “an act of God” or “some act of Hollywood magic,” he ultimately landed the breakout leading role.
“They didn't know I couldn't sing,” Paré laughs, remembering the fateful, stressful day he received an urgent phone call from his agent, summoning him to an Upper East Side townhouse in New York City to meet with Eddie director Martin Davidson, actor Matthew Laurance (who would go on to play Cruisers bassist Sal Amato), and a “very celebrated music guy” who’d written the score.
“This guy is really loaded. Me and Matt and Marty Davidson, we go downstairs and there's a cabinet with, like, 30 Emmys for music. I go, ‘Jesus, this is it. This is it,’” Paré recalls with a chuckle. The award-winning millionaire turned out to be composer Joseph Brooks, who’d penned ad jingles for Pepsi and Maxwell House, hits for Roberta Flack and the Walker Brothers, and Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life,” which was the best-selling single of 1977. Once Paré learned of Brooks’s credentials, “I figured this is the moment I was gonna get fired.”
“And it’s like, ‘OK, Joe's gonna play some of the music. You just don't worry, just do what he says,’” Paré continues. “And I still don't know what I’m doing. [Brooks] says, ‘OK, Michael, just stand next to the piano.’ … He gives me the sheet music and does the intro, and then he starts playing.” Paré panicked and deliberately flubbed his cue, over and over, biding for time. “Joe kept saying, ‘Michael, you missed it!” And I say, ‘Oh, sorry, man.’ So, I'm standing there and I'm starting to perspire. Like, I'm getting ready to faint. And Joe says, ‘All right, start again.’ … And I start breathing heavy and I start to black out. … I'm starting to faint. I'm hitting the chair.”
That was when a fed-up Davidson intervened, and according to Paré, stood up and exclaimed, “What the f*** is this? What the f*** is going on here?” Paré of course assumed he'd blown the audition. But it turned out Davidson wasn't upset by anything Paré had done.
“Marty says, ‘This isn't rock ‘n’ roll! We're outta here!’ … So, we get out on the street, and I'm like, ‘What the f*** was that, man?’ And Marty says, ‘I never wanted that guy to have anything to do with the movie. That guy writes this bullshit, “You Light Up My Life.’” That's not what we want in the movie.’ And I said, ‘Yeaaaah, that's bullshit, man! We need real rock ‘n’ roll!’ So, I kept my job.”
Brooks ended up getting just a producer credit on Eddie; the soundtrack was ultimately provided by a real rock ‘n’ roll act, the Springsteenian John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, after they were discovered in Greenwich Village by Jay and the Americans founder Kenny Vance, who’d been hired as a music supervisor/consultant to ensure an authentic early-‘60s sound. (George Thorogood and the J. Geils Band had also been in talks with Vance to supply the Cruisers’ music, and Southside Johnny additionally served as a technical advisor for the film.)
And, after a “two-month process,” Paré was officially cast as Eddie — a brooding Jersey Shore bar-band singer who at the peak of his fame becomes artistically frustrated and then vanishes from the public eye, after his record label refuses to release the Cruisers’ willfully uncommercial, Arthur Rimbaud-inspired, “dark and strange” sophomore album, A Season in Hell.
The tall, dark, and handsome Paré was completely believable as a smoldering, muscle-teed, Presley-meets-Morrison-like rock star. (“Elvis and the Doors were the videos I was watching to figure out what persona I had to be,” the actor reveals.) But he still had his work cut out for him when it came to the (lip-synched) daunting concert scenes. He says blues artist and actress Helen Schneider, who played his girlfriend and backup singer in the movie — a “real rock star” who had a huge following in Germany — was his “secret weapon,” showing him the rock ropes. But when he “had to shoot the f***ing rock ‘n’ roll concert” in May 1982, at the Tony Mart’s nightclub in Somers Point, N.J., Paré “kind of got really lucky.”
“Right up until the first concert, they were ready to replace me with Rick Springfield,” Paré claims. “If I f***ed up that first concert, Rick Springfield was gonna come in and take over. And Marty told me that the night before the concert: [Springfield] was at the [nearby] hotel. I think the first song we did was ‘Dark Side.’ Everybody knew that if I f***ed up that first take, they would've fired me. But I killed it. I went from the first syllable to the end. They were ready to cut me at any point, and I just didn't make any mistakes. It was like, ‘OK, this is it, kid. You're on!’ And then they started the click-track with the drums, tick, tick, tick. … That's Eddie and the Cruisers in a nutshell. The magic happened.”
Springfield had reportedly been Brooks’s first choice to play Eddie all along, while Davidson was concerned that the “Jessie’s Girl” and General Hospital superstar would upstage the rest of the cast and felt the role should go to a lesser-known actor. Springfield, for what it’s worth, confirmed to Yahoo Entertainment in 2021 that he was up for the role of Eddie, but he didn’t recall much else about the potential casting — he certainly didn’t recall waiting in some Somers Point hotel room, prepared to step in at the last minute if Paré wasn’t able to pull it off. But Springfield didn’t deny Paré's account, either.
“I think I was still on General Hospital when [the Eddie script] came across the desk. I'm not sure if I decided not to do it or if they decided to go with someone else, but you know, I don't remember what I had for breakfast,” Springfield laughed. “But yeah, there was definitely talk. I remember talking to people about it. I don't really know the story, and I probably should because I was involved in it, but the ‘80s were a bit of a blur to me.”
However it came about, it was at this point during production that everyone involved in the film knew that Eddie Wilson was the role Paré was born to play, and that Davidson had made the right call. “When the cinematographer and the editor and Marty saw the rushes, Marty started realizing that he was gonna sell this movie based on that [club scene],” says Paré. Paré says the original Eddie and the Cruisers script, which was based on P.F. Kluge’s 1980 novel of the same title and was more focused on Tom Beringer's character, lyricist Frank “Wordman” Ridgeway, then underwent a revision. “When they saw that rock ‘n’ roll footage, they decided, ‘Wait a minute, we're going to redirect this.’”
Paré was in fact such a convincing rocker that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association invited “Eddie and the Cruisers” to perform at the Golden Globes, not realizing they weren’t able to play live. Later, when Paré shot the finale for Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives! in between sets of Bon Jovi's New Jersey tour at Las Vegas’s Thomas & Mack Center, in front of a concert audience of 30,000 people, “Bon Jovi's guys said, ‘We'd like you guys to come on the road with us,’” Paré claims. “And again, my manager had to say, ‘Hey, they're not a real band. They're a movie band!’”
The Eddie Lives! sequel — which, as is easily deduced by its spoiler-y title, chronicles the AWOL Eddie’s return to the music scene two decades after the disillusioned rock star faked his own death and the A Season Is Hell master tapes went missing — was not a box-office hit. Its Cafferty/Vance-penned soundtrack also flopped. And unlike its predecessor, Eddie II didn’t enjoy a second life on cable TV or as a Blockbuster video rental; it’s not even widely available for streaming as of this writing. But that didn’t stop Paré and his best friend from penning an Eddie III screenplay, which he says he’s been shopping around for a few years. Looking back at the unlikely and delayed success of Eddie and the Cruisers, it’s not totally inconceivable that Eddie II could eventually find a new audience — thus prompting a movie studio to finally greenlight Paré’s proposed third Eddie flick.
But if that ever happens, we can assume that it won’t be Paré, or Springfield, doing Eddie’s singing.
The above interview is taken from Michael Paré’s appearance on the SiriusXM show “Volume West,” which took place before the WGA strike.
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