With your blogger’s Hornet as “local color,” “The Blues Brothers” is named to the Library of Congress National Film Registry

Jake Blues ( Dan Aykroyd) and Elwood Blues (John Belushi) with their now-iconic Bluesmobile in thew promotional poster the movie “The Blues Brothers.” Courtesy hourz.com

History rewind to early 1980:

I was driving east on Milwaukee I-94, heading home after my slightly nerve-wracking part-time job as a school bus driver (a job to augment free-lancing for The Milwaukee Journal). It was always stressful, yet gratifying, having other people’s precious children in your hands, to deliver them safely to school, or home (even the obligatory brat-distraction every few rides).

My nose had just rid itself of the funky Red Star Yeast smell ever-permeating the 16th street overpass (back then). So, as I now enjoyed the sunny afternoon and approaching lakefront, I noticed a car, with smoke billowing from its hood, speeding down the still-under-construction Lakefront Freeway, which had gone so long uncompleted, it was dubbed “the freeway to nowhere.”  Another car followed in hot pursuit.

My God, I thought instantly, two cars headed for the end of the unfinished freeway segment which leads to pure, thin air, high above the lakefront !

In the next moment, I noticed a mobile film camera unit following the cars. Crazy, man!

Then I recalled the news that director John Landis had brought the production company, for his forthcoming big-budget comedy The Blues Brothers, up to Milwaukee from Chicago, where all of the film is ostensibly set, and shot. However, for a climactic chase scene, Landis needed an elevated freeway that ended in pure nothingness, and Milwaukee had it.

Having by chance seen this bit of filming in person, I looked forward to the movie, starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, which turned out to be one of the zaniest and most brilliant car-chase comedies since It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Plus, it was a hip sort of roots musical, with one of the greatest arrays of musical talent ever performing in a scripted film.

And now, The Blues Brothers has received one of the ultimate formal recognitions, having been inducted into the 2021 National Film Registry of the Library of Congress (I didn’t know about this until my sister Sheila Lynch emailed me yesterday with the news.).

There’s no question it’s a great comedy (at times over the top, of car after crashing car) worthy of the registry, and absolutely bursting with stirring blues, soul and gospel music by such legendary onscreen performers, including Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Ray Charles, Cab Calloway, Chaka Kahn, and the Blues Brothers’ (Belushi and Aykroyd) own rhythm section, comprising the great studio musicians best known collectively as the MGs, as in Booker T and the MGs. The movie’s soundtrack is a classic of that those genres of recorded music.

Here’s a video clip from Aretha’s knock-out performance of “Think” in the film, where she plays an under-appreciated, overworked waitress at a cafe the boys stop at for lunch.

The bros also commiserate with one of the mightiest of soul brothers, Ray Charles (That’s what I said!). Courtesy IMDb

Jake and Elwood Blues do a rave-up with, among others, legendary R&B guitarist Steve Cropper (white long-sleeve shirt, in background) Courtesy https://oneroomwithaview.wordpress.com 1

And it’s got a very redeeming storyline (with a script co-written by Akyroyd and Landis)  in which paroled convict Jake and his blood brother Elwood, set out on “a mission from God” to save from foreclosure the Roman Catholic orphanage in which they were raised. To do so, they must reunite their R&B band and organize a performance to earn $5,000 needed to pay the orphanage’s property tax bill. Along the way, they are targeted by a homicidal “mystery woman”, Neo-Nazis, and a country and western band— all while being relentlessly pursued by the police.

During the high-speed chase from a battalion of cop cars, on Wacker Drive with its numerous buttress I-beams under the Chicago “L,” with the Bluesmobile surging up to 120 mph (according to their speedometer), the brothers still find a moment of cultural acknowledgement.

“Up ahead is the Honorable Richard G. Daley Plaza,” driver Jake announces.

“Isn’t that Picasso there?” Elwood asks (referencing Picasso’s untitled monumental sculpture, known as “Chicago Picasso”) .


Here’s the Library of Congress announcement of the 25 new films inducted for 2021: https://blogs.loc.gov/now-see-hear/2020/12/library-of-congresses-announced-25-new-films-for-the-national-film-registry/

The brothers journey actually begins the night before — or in the wee hours of the morning (the film’s timeline isn’t exactly bulletproof) somewhere in Northern Illinois, where Jake and Elwood begin their quest to transport the money they’ve raised to save their childhood orphanage to Chicago City Hall in their decommissioned cop car with the famous line: “There’s 106 miles to Chicago. We’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark out, and we’re wearing sunglasses.”

When I saw the film in the movie theater, I enjoyed it immensely and near the end, came the final freeway chase scene between The Blues Brothers and another even more nefarious foe, Neo-Nazis, led by the comic actor Henry Gibson. Then, in an editing flash, I recognized the Milwaukee interchange and skyline, as the chase’s backdrop.

In this stunt scene from “The Blues Brothers,” the Bluesmobile flies over another car in a scene, I believe, from the segment filmed in in Milwaukee. Courtesy Universal/Kobal/Shutterstock. 

Sure enough, they’d used that segment in the film. Then, in one scene of the chase I noticed, in the background, a small white car following slowly behind, off to the right. I squinted, blinked my eyes, and then exclaimed right in the theater, “That’s my car!”

Several annoyed moviegoers turned to glare at me. But sure enough, it was me driving my white AMC Hornet with its bent-up front bumper (from an accident shortly after I bought it from Big Bills used car lot on Center and Fond du Lac Avenue). I’d never dreamed my car would be in a scene.

So, The Hornet and I had become “local color” in The Blues Brothers, even if only mainly white, with some rust highlights and a crooked chrome bumper.

In this clip (below) from that final scene, my Hornet is clearly visible for several seconds at the 1:20 mark, puttering along on the other side of traffic cones, as the Blues Brothers’ stolen cop car continues its epic flight scene from the Neo-Nazis.

The scene, by the way, has a priceless throwaway line – from one Nazi to the other –  that seems like an oblique homage to Joe E. Brown’s classic closing line from another great comedy, Some Like it Hot.

 If you freeze the frame at 1:24, and look closely, you might even make out my smashed-in front bumper (with the chrome bumper pushed up above the white body frame on the left side, as the photo of my car below shows)

The Blues Brothers vehicle, the so-called Bluesmobile, is seen in the movie poster photo at top with Jake and Elwood. The stolen cop car, a souped-up 1974 Dodge Monaco sedan, was chosen as one of the most iconic cars in movie history by GQ magazine.  2

So, in my small world, my little old AMC Hornet has become just a wee bit iconic, I daresay. The jalopy was a 3-speed stick shift on the column, and fun to drive. Here’s a photo of my “famous”‘ rust-bucket shortly before I traded it in for another used car, which would have another historic story attached to it, a tale for another time.

Kevin with his (iconic? or I comic?) AMC Hornet on the day he traded it in for a little red tin can called a Ford Fiesta. 


1 This is actually a shot of the Blues Brothers performing on Saturday Night Live, the “brothers” genesis as well-known co-comedians. Most of the performance stills of the band from the movie are from the other side of a chain-link fence and poorly discernible. The fence was erected because the band was playing a warm-up gig in a country music bar, with a really tough crowd, before their successful big fundraising concert.

2 GQ commented, “The Bluesmobile makes the (most iconic movie cars) list not just because it was a cool car driven by cool dudes doing cool stunts, but because of the chaos left in its wake. The cars were so battered by all the stunts and crashes that there was a 24-hour body shop on set. By the end of the filming, 103 cars had been trashed, a record for any film, right up until a total of 104 was reached… by the sequel, Blues Brothers 2000.”



Talking talk radio without much progress in Milwaukee…ah, but Chicago!


Democracy Now! reporter Amy Goodman holds a cell phone to her mike for her audience to Allan Nairn speaking to 500 people attending a demonstration for East Timor across from United Nations in New York, in September 2000. The moment illustrates how long Goodman has been on the forefront of progressive journalism. Nairn fell into in military custody in West Timor, after having been arrested in East Timor in 2000 “to prevent the denial of events by the US Mass Media whose owners supply the military and death squads their arms and instruments of mass murder,” according to the website that posted the photo. Goodman’s exposure of Nairn’s predicament helped eventually return him safely to the U.S. when Washington learned from her of the situation. Courtesy:http://www.usthefolks.com/Allan_Nairn.html www.usthefolks.com.

The Milwaukee Talk Radio Project Community is an organization worth supporting, especially if you are not dead-set on voting for Donald Trump or Ted Cruz in Wisconsin’s primary on April 5th.

As they point out fairly, without Milwaukee’s stifling conservative talk radio monopoly we’d have no Gov. Scott Walker. Without Rush Limbaugh’s long, strange trip of a reign on national airwaves — and the recent suicidal contortions of the Republican party — we might not have not have the current preconditions for Donald Trump’s increasingly scary racist, misogynistic,  authoritarian governmental dynamic. Trump recently added nuclear head-tipped saber-rattling against ISIS to his bully pulpit rhetoric. And still, his economically-desperate, lap-it-up faithful somehow believe in this “Superman” confidence man.

Where does that leave Milwaukee in the national political debate? Milwaukee radio does have WNOV’s local urban-orientation talk at 860 AM. Otherwise, Southeastern Wisconsin is lost in an airwaves wilderness where even our unspoiled trees lean right, as if meekly offering their necks up to chopping for a new development or Trump-esque resort. So if you care about fair and balanced discourse on your city’s local radio, do look into The Milwaukee Talk Radio Project Community, an activist support group working to bring progressive talk radio to Milwaukee: https://www.facebook.com/milwaukeeradioprogress/

However, you can stream Madison’s prog-talk radio WXXM 92.1 The Mic on you smart phones, tablet and computers. Try it if you haven’t. I have to plug one of that station’s very strong locally- oriented program with a national literary, cultural and musical scope. That is Stuart Levitan’s Books and Beats from 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays. Stu, a free-spirited lawyer-activist and a former labor-relations negotiator, consistently interviews authors of very substantial, interesting and topical books, and interviews many big-time musicians who come to the Madison area, with his vintage baby-boomer Dylan-to-Deadhead tastes on his sleeve. Full disclosure, he’s a former good neighbor of mine, and a cultural journalist colleague, so I’m slightly biased. But he’s also the author of the fascinating and extremely well-received Madison: An Illustrated Sesquicentennial History, Volume I, 1856–1931., So check out The Mic if you  haven’t here:  http://www.iheart.com/live/the-mic-921-2665/

But I don’t have a smart phone partly due to a manual physical disability, and I love to listen to talk radio while driving my car — then  I switch to a music station during commercials (like WMSE) on my reasonably good car speaker system — like millions still do nationwide. You can allegedly get a stream hook-up to The Mic on WKKV100.7 – HD 3 if you have an HD radio. Well, I have one in my house, and I can’t get it and I miss it, from having lived  in Madison for nearly 20 years. (What am I doing wrong, thoughts?)

Some of my moderate to right-leaning friends say some of my Facebook postings suggest “I lived in Madison for too long.” I’m not sure how different my politics would be had I not moved to Madison from Milwaukee in 1989 (then returning here in 2009). I sure am sympathetic to the plights and challenges of small business people, for sure.

But I’m also a union person, going back at least to my days at The Milwaukee Journal when our then-still fledging Newspaper Guild Local 51 crucially helped me get my part-time staff job back, with full nine-months back pay, after I was improperly dismissed. Well-known liberal Milwaukee columnist and pundit Joel McNally was the bracing steward for our Local 51 chapter at the time. Even though The Journal-Sentinel  in recent years has drastically downsized his staff, as have most newspapers around the country, the Milwaukee paper’s employee union remains, battling gamely for the rights of its members.1

That’s a lot of background throat-clearing to announce that, given Milwaukee’s dearth of balanced talk radio, my new favorite non-musical radio station is Chicago’s Progressive Talk.com WCPT 820 AM which I just discovered on the dial recently. 820 AM has an huge regional broadcast range from sunrise to sunset. FCC rules require them to drop their range in the evening. Among others, the station features progressive talk-can-be-slightly-madcap Stephanie Miller, Bill Press, the superbly incisive Thom Hartmann, and the award-winning (including The 2012 Gandhi Peace Award) invaluable reporter and author Amy Goodman for Democracy Now! (see photo above) with Juan Gonzales, which airs on over 800 stations nationwide, but not in historically-progressive but purple Wisconsin’s largest city.

I really fell for the Chicago station hard yesterday afternoon when a streaming listener, a middle-aged sounding woman from the state of Washington, called up to remind her fellow state voters that Washington state’s caucus is happening this Saturday and not to miss it! But after a bit of a detour comment which I can’t recall, the woman ended her call by musing this lovable mutt of a political non-sequitur: “You know, I think dogs are really in charge of us. After all, they have us following behind us wherever they go — picking up their poop.” Host Norman Goldman was so thrown — clearly caught without a “doggie bag” —  that he didn’t know how to respond. So the woman added in conclusion. “In my house, my cat is charge.”

As for me, that is pretty much true in my one-cat house with Queen Chloe, and of my girlfirend’s two-cat and two-dog house, until recently when her two geriatric canines sadly died in relatively quick succession. But the balance of political power in her house has evened somewhat, between the two male cats, one an alpha male, the other a classic scardy cat, but capable of guerrilla ambushes of the alpha.  Where my girlfriend stands is, well, kind of like John Kasich. And I suspect the Washington woman was groping for a political analogy herself.

I love that kind of live radio, with the droll real-life observations of what sounded like an ordinary middle-class woman, the kind whom I hope will make a big difference in the national election. She’d probably just come in from out of the cold Northwest rain with her poop-filled bag and her dog probably shook all its wet fur off — all over her legs.

The tone of the Chicago station is unpretentious, interesting and heartening, given that it’s the heart of the Midwest politically, culturally and otherwise. I heard some some pointed critique of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmauel’s very shaky hold on fair, transparent  government and insufficiently diverse administration, and how Republican Illinois governor Bruce Rauner is starving that great blue working-class state with a shoestring budget that would’ve had Oliver Twist pleading for a shoelace for his hole-in-the-sole shoes, along with more food, please. Rauner sounds like one of those hole-in-the-soul GOP politicos, not unlike our own governor.

If my memory serves me from hearing The Mic consistently in the mid 2000s, I’ve sensed a subtle difference of tone and focus between the Chicago and Madison stations. WCPT seems to chew more on the nuts and bolts of “real politics” than The Mic in Madison, though the national commentary is somewhat comparable, especially considering that they share some of the same national talk show hosts as The Chicago station. There is at least a grain of truth to the cliché that Madison is “64 square miles surrounded by reality;” witness the Walker administration.

However, I still love the city, and I just returned to it last week for two wonderful cultural offerings, the very distinctive Harlem Renaissance Museum with Martel Chapman’s arrestingly delightful cubist-jazz portraits and scenes, and a fairly transporting concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, led by John DeMain, with guest pianist Emanuel Ax (see my previous post). The city also has a surprisingly vibrant and well-organized jazz scene.

Sometimes you just need another, perhaps fresh take on “reality” — and artistic culture frequently provides that. Nevertheless, we need more democratic airwaves, which actually belong to the people.

And regardless of the Chicago station’s presence — with somewhat spotty reception in Milwaukee — we still need our own station in Brewtown. We are no political outlier of The Windy City. Plus, they’re probably Cubs and Bears fans.

Milwaukee radio needs more democracy, to help to “Make Donald Drumph Again.”


  1. The Newspaper Guild still has over 34,000 members in the US and Canada. For information on Local 51: http://www.milwaukeenewsguild.org/about-the-guild/