Review: The Blues Brothers

The Blues Brothers is a book by Daniel de Visé about the movie of the same name, and the band, and its two founders, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. Mostly, though, it’s about the comedic, talented and self-destructive force that was John Belushi. It’s chock full of detail, from the obtuse to the titillating. The author had the cooperation of Dan Aykroyd and John’s widow Judy.

Dan and John created the Blues Brothers as characters on Saturday Night Live. They were part characters and part guest band. John wasn’t a great singer and Dan wasn’t a great harmonica player, but they used deadpan humour and a great backing band to make an iconic act.

I watched the movie The Blues Brothers many years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. Car crashes, great music, iconic quotes (“We’re on a mission from God”) and a manic story line made for a great movie. Late and way over budget, the movie was a smash hit.

Sadly, John Belushi fell into the grip of drugs early in his short career and never managed to get away from them for long. He died in 1982 at the age of 33.

This book follows John from childhood through his comedic beginnings at Chicago’s Second City, where he met Dan, through their short SNL career and on to John’s movie career. It is far more about John than Dan, probably for several reasons: John was the more outspoken of the two, Dan doesn’t like the limelight, and John’s story is over while Dan’s continues on.

The book is fascinating. I learned a lot about John, and the book shows him as a far more nuanced person than the popular image of a loud, funny, drugged-out guy who was Bluto from Animal House and Jake from The Blues Brothers. For example, I had no idea that he was a football star in school before he took a hard left into comedy.

The Blues Brothers does talk about the movie – the challenges of getting it approved, the many filming obstacles and adventures, and its critical “failure” and commercial success – but the book is really about John. And that’s okay.

My thanks to NetGalley and publisher Grove Atlantic for the opportunity to preview the book as an ARC (advanced reader copy). The book is coming out in March 2024 and you can preorder it using the links on the publisher’s page. I was not compensated for this review other than being able to read the ARC.