My eight year old daughter recently asked me what my favourite film is. She probably meant which is my favourite film of hers … but I quickly replied The Blues Brothers.
Not the best film ever made, and a close run for my top place to Excalibur, but the Blues Brothers was the film that got me started listening to blues, r&b (old-style) and soul. Before that, I’d listened mainly to prog rock and John Denver – so you can understand how mega-influential this film was (and still is in the Gaskell household). I saw it as a student on the first day of its release at Fulham Road ABC, and was instantly hooked. Now, I’m proud to say, Juliet also appreciates the soundtrack – her favourite being the Ray Charles number ‘Shake your tailfeather’.
All this brings me to Bob Woodward’s great biography of John Belushi – Wired: The short life and fast times of John Belushi.
Woodward (he of All the President’s Men), tells it like it really was. Wired is the life story of an immensely talented but fatally insecure and self-destructive man. Belushi could have been a contender, but allowed drugs to overtake his life, alienating him from the Hollywood system he craved acceptance from, and let destroy him.
Woodward’s investigative journalism has uncovered the facts, but they do not make pleasant reading. The first parts of this biography takes us through the organised mayhem that was Saturday Night Live and into the Blues Brothers movie. Reading about the creative processes involved in the making of great comedy is fascinating. Even at this relatively early stage in his career, you can see his insecurity emerging, as the rival sketch writers and comedians all try to get their material in the show, and Belushi felt left out, as when Chevy Chase joined the gang. Drugs were everywhere though and everybody used them, but not everyone got totally hooked the way Belushi did.
In the second half of the book, Belushi hits Hollywood and his habit rapidly gets out of control; the text becomes just a catalogue of drug transactions, and less and less about acting and comedy. It gets sadder and sadder as Belushi gets increasingly pathetic. Woodward’s attention to detail frankly makes the latter chapters boring and overlong, and when Belushi finally dies you’re almost relieved. However the book is essential reading for anyone interested in US culture in the 70s and 80s, and certainly does nothing to glamorize drugs. Read it and weep.