The Blues Brothers was about John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd riffing on the white-guys-playing-the-Chicago-blues concept, which was originally personified with utter sincerity by the scowling, grittily-posed, Rayban-wearing Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The Blues Brothers were nervy and funny when I first saw them perform on Saturday Night Live in April 1978, and they doubled down on that when I saw them live at Carnegie Hall later that year (or was it ’79?). But the coolness went all to hell with the release of John Landis‘s The Blues Brothers (’80).
What was it about The Blues Brothers that obliterated and suffocated? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe the fact that it was an unfunny, over-emphatic, overproduced super-whale that was made on cocaine (or so the legend went)?
I asked Landis about this wildly inflated, pushing-too-hard aspect when I interviewed him in ’82 for an American Werewolf in London piece. It was over breakfast at an Upper East Side hotel (Landis was hungrily wolfing down a plate of scrambled eggs and home fries), and I said that the “enormity” of The Blues Brothers seemed “somewhat incongruous with the humble origins of the Chicago Blues.”
That hit a nerve. “It wasn’t supposed to be a documentary about the humble origins of the Chicago Blues!” Landis replied. But the essence of the Chicago blues wasn’t about flamboyant energy and huge lavish musical numbers and car chases or mad slapstick, I said. And you movie seemed to take that Paul Butterfield current and amplify it beyond all measure or reason. Okay, I didn’t literally say all this to Landis but that was the basic implication. (I wasn’t impolitic enough to cal it “a cocaine movie” but that’s what it damn sure felt like.) As Landis argued with me the Universal publicist sitting at the table started making “no, no” faces, indicating that I should tone it down.
On any case I mostly hated The Blues Brothers from the get-go, and here it is 32 years later and I still hate it. And now Press Play‘s Aaron Aradillas has written an essay about it called “Cruel Summer.”