The Blues Brothers: An Epic Friendship, the Rise of Improv, and the Making of an American Film Classic

  • By Daniel de Visé
  • Atlantic Monthly Press
  • 400 pp.

An outstanding chronicle of Belushi and Aykroyd’s magical, comical bond.

The Blues Brothers: An Epic Friendship, the Rise of Improv, and the Making of an American Film Classic

The chemistry fueling human relationships and connections can be magical and (despite the best efforts of songwriters and poets to capture it) pretty darn inscrutable, too. We don’t always love who we expect to love, or we surprise ourselves by being drawn — physically or otherwise — to someone who’s “not our type.” 

Such a complex friendship is at the core of Daniel de Visé’s terrific new book about comedians and film stars John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. While The Blues Brothers is ostensibly about the making of the iconic 1980 film of the same name, the book delivers far more. It’s a superb social history of the 1970s in America, where political turmoil reigned, the counterculture clawed its way into the mainstream, and edgy comedians began to replace rock stars as some of the decade’s most interesting commentators and figures. 

From across the pond, England’s Monty Python’s Flying Circus set the stage for a new kind of surreal, intelligent sketch comedy; in the U.S., it was National Lampoon; and in Canada, Second City Television served as the primordial ooze from whence the earliest comic cavepeople began to walk upright and into small-stage venues. 

Opposites in many ways, Akroyd and Belushi were both drawn to the anarchic, take-it-to-the-edge brand of comedy, but from their own unique perspectives: Akroyd more cerebral, Belushi more kinetic. Yet they recognized almost immediately something in the other. 

As Belushi’s widow and fellow comic, Judy, reflects in the book, “Who’s to say what makes people friends? It seemed that John and Danny were attracted by some similar energy, almost like magnets. They were on the same wavelength and understood each other, although they didn’t always think alike.” The Blues Brothers shines when it examines the mysterious connection between these disparate forces of nature. 

De Visé also treats us to an entertaining history of a transformative era in popular culture. We see National Lampoon grow and fade as a creative force; we enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the rise of “Saturday Night Live” to cultural-icon status; and we get to know dozens of talented, complex figures as they grapple with fame and their own inner demons. 

For those of a certain age, the sword of Damocles hanging over the entire story is Belushi’s untimely death in March 1982 from an accidental drug overdose. Even as he and Aykroyd are skyrocketing to success as a team with “The Blues Brothers” (and in solo endeavors), there’s a sense of foreboding from the opening pages. Belushi’s wild lifestyle wasn’t built for the long haul. 

In one of the many poignant memories found in the book, SNL cast members recall the gallows humor of an early sketch where Belushi plays himself as an old man visiting the gravesites of his fellow cast members. The joke is that he’s the one who somehow outlived them all. Of course, in the less forgiving world of real life, his drinking and drugging removed him from the stage far earlier than his contemporaries, most of whom are still with us. 

Thanks to de Visé, we now have an excellent time capsule that captures — via the bond between Aykroyd and Belushi — the electric joy of making special connections, the exhilaration of riding the arc of a flourishing partnership, and the pain of inevitable loss which, for all of us, remains the price of allowing others into our lives. 

Michael Causey hosts the “A Good Hour” radio program on WOWD 94.3 FM and

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