Jersey Boys is the fascinating true story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons; their rise to fame, their struggles, their fall, and Frankie’s re-emerging as a solo act. It was directed by Clint Eastwood, and that’s usually a pretty good bet—this one didn’t disappoint. It was rated R for language throughout. Other than the language, however, the content was generally mild (see content advisory on IMDB for more details). (I say this to say, in my opinion, there was less offensive material in this movie than in many PG-13 movies…for what it’s worth.) I love true stories and think there is a lot we can learn from the real lives of other people. Here are a few of the things that stood out to me in Jersey Boys.
The Mixed Bag of Fame
It’s easy to think how “lucky” people are who have fame and success, but it’s good to be reminded once in a while that it comes with a price. Nick makes the comment, “All due respect, Mr. DeCarlo, you sell 100 million records and see how you handle it.” Fame and success are hard to handle. Few people are prepared for it, are mature enough to handle it.
- Why did the guys have a hard time handling their success? What were some of their struggles?
- What do you think would be a struggle for you if you suddenly became famous and wealthy?
- Do you think it would be harder to be born into fame, or to have a rags-to-riches experience?
- Do you think it makes a difference how quickly success occurs?
The catalyst for the band’s break up was Tommy’s money issues. He had borrowed about half a million dollars from the mob and if he didn’t pay it back, they were going to come after the band members (and their families) to get their dues. So the band agreed to pay off his debts, they had to. Tommy was too proud to repent and change, however, so the band split.
Tommy borrowed from dangerous men (the mob). And he kept borrowing. He never paid anything off; he just kept digging a bigger and bigger hole until it was far too large for him to get out of, even with all his fame and success.
- Why did Tommy feel that he had to borrow money in the first place?
- Why do you think Tommy hid this from the band when he was borrowing money for the band?
- Do you think that, if he had discussed their financial need and available options with the other band mates they may have been able to come up with some better solutions? What might have come from that discussion? Why wouldn’t Tommy have wanted to have that discussion?
- Do you think there are times when it is okay to borrow money?
- Do you think the Bible gives counsel about money, borrowing and lending, debt, etc? If so, what do you know about what the Bible says about these things?
Recognizing When There’s Trouble
Nick said that, “Tommy will tell you the trouble started that day at the Ed Sullivan show with the $150,000 [when his debts were first made known]. But that was Tom. He was always working so far down the road he couldn’t see what was going on around him. Truth is, trouble started a long time ago.” Tom was always in trouble, but between his pride and blind optimism, he never saw it. He was in and out of jail and proud of his rap sheet long before the band started. Then it was his debt and always expecting that the next big thing would get him out of it. He was always blind to the dangers of his present reality.
In truth, the band may have been guilty of the same to some degree. Frankie knew that Tommy was always in trouble, but never questioned if that trouble would affect them as a band. The band knew they didn’t have money to record an album, and never questioned when suddenly they were recording an album. I don’t know if they didn’t want to know, or were just so focused on the excitement that it didn’t cross their minds, but for whatever reason, they missed the fact that trouble had been brewing for a long time…and when it hit, it exploded.
It takes a lot of wisdom to be able to keep both the present and the future in sight. If you only see the present, you can despair of all the struggles and lose hope in the future. You can get bogged down. If you only see the future, however, you can end up like Tommy, blindsided by problems in the present that, left untended, grew to epic proportions. In order to prevent going to either extreme, you have two options: work to find that balance (but personality and giftings have a lot to do with your ability to do that—Tommy probably couldn’t because he was naturally such a visionary); or allow other people with different gifting to get involved and balance you (e.g. Tommy should have involved the band so that he could be the visionary, and naturally pragmatic Bobby could have offered the balance Tommy needed).
- How different might things have been for the Four Seasons if they had discovered Tommy’s issues with debt early on?
- How important is it to recognize when there are problems early on? In relationships, in business, in our spiritual life, etc.?
- Do you tend to be more like Tommy, a visionary always looking ahead and a little blind to reality, or are you more like Bobby, practical and cautious to make sure the present is in good order?
- Who do you have around you that helps provide balance in your perspective?
Grace and Forgiveness
“You’d think after everything that went down, Frankie would have cut Tommy out by now. But if you think that, you’re not from Jersey.” Frankie showed amazing patience, grace and forgiveness to his friend Tommy—because they were both from Jersey and that made them family. He repeatedly forgave offenses and in the end, he paid his debts. In full.
As offensive as Tommy was, he was nothing compared to the way we offend and betray and wrong the Lord. Our sins are a stench in his nose. We put his Son on a cross and killed him—the very one who was sent to save us. You’d think after everything that went down, God would have cut US out by now. But if you think that, you’re not God. God loved us so much He sent His Son, Jesus, to die for our sins. Jesus loved us so much he forgave us even as we were nailing him to the cross. He forgave all our debts with his life. Paid in full.
- How would you respond to Tommy if you were Frankie?
- Why do you think Frankie was more forgiving toward Tommy than the other band mates?
- Frankie gave incredible grace to Tommy, but in the end, Tommy didn’t seem to think he’d done anything wrong. (He still saw himself as an “up-standing guy”. How did you feel about his unrepentance and lack of gratitude?
- How do you feel about God’s willingness to forgive you? Does it bowl you over with humble gratitude, or do you respond a little more like Frankie, lacking in gratitude because you don’t feel you did anything wrong to begin with?