Why this song, why this film…? Director Philip Bulcock explains…
I first came across the song ‘Everybody Knows My Name’ while performing the role of Nick Massi as part of the original London West End cast of ‘Jersey Boys’, a show which charts the rise of the New Jersey band, ‘The Four Seasons’ – Nick was the original bassist and vocal arranger of the band.
The song is unique in the context of the show. It is the only song that is quoted but not performed, perhaps highlighting the strength of its inherent narrative and the fact that it wasn’t a hit for The Seasons and therefore one of the lesser known compositions of their oeuvre. I’m not sure why it wasn’t a hit, as it is, in my opinion, a brilliant track, but as far as I understand it, the reason could be that it was too similar sounding to ‘I got you Babe’ by ‘Sonny and Cher’ which was number one in the U.S., U.K. and Canada in 1965. Both songs have a very folky feel and if you listen there are indeed similarities. ‘The Doughboys’ formerly ‘The Ascots’ and another New Jersey band, released a cover version of the song in 1966 but it failed to chart.
Thus ‘Everybody Knows My Name’ is a bit of an anomaly and could be described as the known, but unknown song of Jersey Boys as well as indeed The Four Seasons catalogue – the mystery song if you like – to put a bit of spin on it. This attracted me to the song as it promised to be a great angle to pursue once the film was released but I also felt like I’d discovered an element of The Four Seasons story that wasn’t immediately apparent. And I don’t just mean the song itself with its lesser known status but also the very clear message within it.
I really am very grateful to have been part of Jersey Boys. It’s been categorised as a Juke-Box musical which does it no justice whatsoever and I’m sure the majority of people who have seen it will agree with me. What appealed to me about the show was principally the deftly written script and the direction with an emphasis on a filmic style of story-telling. Also, though the music is fantastic, it is treated as an equal part of the whole rather than the element the show relies upon, with the script serving just to get to the next song as quickly as possible. The subject matter, genre and audience were never condescended to, and the attention to detail exhibited in all aspects of the show was exemplary – something that is essential to create a real work of art. I don’t want to be seen to wax too lyrical here but the model of Jersey Boys deserves study in our modern world of disposable, commercial ‘works of art’ thrown together largely as a money-making venture built on marketing, celebrity profiles and other types of vacuous, non-life-enriching guff.
So I was mostly very happy to be involved in such a great piece. I say mostly because at the time and still now, even though the show is a massive success, I think it was marketed in a formulaic and pretty unimaginative way. This gritty story of four real-life, at-odds musicians was given somewhat the tits and teeth treatment which I thought was a substantial cop-out. I had conversations at the time about it, suggesting that the strength of the show was its lack of fluffiness and the visceral story was something that should be pushed to the fore, but to no avail. For me the ad-campaign should have featured black and white grainy shots of the four of us, sat around in the studio, clouds of cigarette smoke, unknown but knowing girls, booze, prisons, instruments, money …etc. But it wasn’t to be and Jersey Boys a show deserving of much more, was given a pretty generic, boring, safe, packaged West-End campaign. I never stopped thinking that was a pity and of course it was one of the main reasons I made this film. You can only complain about something so much before you have to put your money where your mouth is – so I quite literally did.
‘Everybody Knows My Name’ I hope, evokes the sense of desolation and loneliness that sometimes, and more often than one might imagine, comes with being in a successful band. It might also serve to scratch at that thin veneer of fame…a state of being that is sold to us and our children non-stop, as a kind of nirvana. It isn’t all that great, in fact it can easily and does, destroy the very thing that in the deserving cases garnered it – talent. Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe, who wrote the song certainly recognised that and I’m sure Frankie Valli, who sang the original version did too. To me this is what most fascinates about Jersey Boys and the story of the Four Seasons as diarised by their songs. The sense of what is lost rather than just what is gained, is palpable and not shied away from. It’s real, gritty, visceral and I’m proud to have been part of it just as I am proud of this film.
I hope you enjoy ‘Everybody Knows My Name’…along with another Jersey Boys based film that I heard just came out… directed by some well known American guy…? 😉