So today is Earth Day – a chance for many of us to start believing in the good of the world again following tax season. But instead of delving into fuel efficiency and conservation, I would like to take a moment to commemorate indulgence, fiery car crashes and the blues. On this day in 1978 Saturday Night Live aired its first Blues Brothers skit, which later became the backbone of my five-movie rotation growing up, situated on my personal timeline right between Bambi and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
My parents, admirably, didn’t believe childhood should be spent staring at a screen, so we had no cable T.V. And only on occasions did our old television set have any moving objects on it – movie days. Sometimes we rented movies, but I recall watching an inordinate amount of my dad’s favorite movies that we conveniently owned. In my youngest years, when I was still accustomed to cartoons, my dad fed me a steady diet of Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, both of which had well-made cartoon films.
Then I got a bit older – maybe 8 – and he figured I was ready for the Blues Brothers.
I never really knew what was going on. Cars wrecked and blew up. A chubby guy dressed in black sang songs. People shot at each other. Most significantly, I didn’t understand the blues, yet I was drawn to the movie. I think it was John Belushi. Let’s face it, even if you don’t understand exactly what he’s doing onscreen, which is frequent, he’s still hilarious. He looks funny no matter what he’s doing.
Today I have a different appreciation for the Blues Brothers. My sentiments toward Belushi haven’t changed. He makes me laugh even harder now. Today, though, I love the blues and that makes all the difference in what one ultimately thinks about the movie. For blues and soul fans, it’s a classic. Of course there are the cameos from legends like John Lee Hooker, James Brown and Ray Charles. But the Blues Brothers band itself is a fantastic collection of blues stars.
For the non-blues fan, the movie could come off as a “dispiriting indulgence” or a “monument to waste, noise and misplaced cool,” as two critics wrote. I can understand the indulgence, waste and noise complaints, but Belushi wearing shades 24 hours a day and howling the blues could never qualify as misplaced cool. I think it’s perfectly placed.
On this Earth Day, despite my appreciation of the day, I feel compelled to remind us of the beauties of waste and indulgence, just as long as they’re tempered by the blues. It has been 30 years since two white guys dared to wear shades at night and belt the blues on SNL, and today I pay tribute.
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