I know: It’s odd to choose one shot to represent this film and go with a shot that does not include the iconic title characters. Stay with me though…
Two weeks ago, I talked about being a believer in The Church of Rock & Roll. Well folks, the great thing about this musical parish is that it comes with James Brown as it’s pastor. If any one person can make you believe, it’s James.
Consider: a selfish, boorish scoundrel like Jake Blues finishes his sentence at Joliet. Moments after he steps back into society, he’s tasked by a nun to save the orphanage he grew up in. To say Jake isn’t enthused would be putting it mildly, but that’s before he attends a service at Triple Rock Church.
It’s then that he – and we – are witness to the testimony of Reverend Cleophus James, played by James Brown. During the sermon Reverend James asks Jake point-blank “Do you see the light?”. By then, Jake has – and true to character, he declares “Jesus H. Tap-Dancin Christ! I have seen the light!”
In several ways, that’s the power of music. It metaphorically has the power to make a man the size of Jake Blues do cartwheels down the aisle at service, and it can literally inspire ideas in all of our brains that will push us to do good things. The beauty of it is, it can inspire us no matter what we’ve done in our past. Music does not discriminate, and spurs even a lout to be a better person.
That’s the ultimate excuse behind so much of what Jake and Elwood go on to do. They are, as the iconic line says, “on a mission from God”. It allows them to squirm out of predicament after predicament, and gets the ball to bounce in their favour more than once. It further gives them the gift of gab when directly faced with people ready to stand in their way, and grants them an iota of leniency even after fleeing from a considerable amount of law enforcement (and causing massive collateral damage).
They are doing it all for a higher purpose – a purpose they learned in the melodies and harmonies of Reverend Cleophus James’ sermon. They are crusaders from The Church of Rock & Roll.
Taking the metaphor just one step further, The Blues Brothers spend most of the film playing soul music (instead of blues – go figure). Soul is largely inspired by the musical structure of gospel. While the knee-jerk reaction to this at the time was that it was blasphemy, it inevitably became so widely accepted that the lines between soul and gospel are now deeply blurred. Perhaps someone, somewhere understood that while soul music might come with a more profane message at times, it still has the power to spread happiness, comfort, and inspiration. Surely spreading good news such as this can’t be that sinful, can it?
Reverend Cleophus James didn’t think so, and if he can turn heathens like The Blues Brothers into pilgrims for good, then there is hope yet for The Church of Rock & Roll.
Here’s three more from THE BLUES BROTHERS for the road…