Rambling about Crazy Heart, The Big Lebowski and T-Bone Burnett

I am not much of a country music fan, but there’s a soft place in my heart for the old Delta Blues based country music that no one does anymore. It probably comes from growing up in bluegrass and southern gospel music.

Last week, I watched the 2009 film Crazy Heart. I have no idea why I watched it because I don’t like much that the stars have made, and the DVD art looked like Big Lebowski 2: The Dude Does Country. Anyway, I popped the DVD into the player. Here’s what I thought.

Crazy Heart is the story of the traumatic wakeup call that life delivers to Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges). Blake is a country musician touring through New Mexico in a beat up pickup truck. He is a likable person who gets along with almost everyone he meets, but he is also a raging alcoholic. At fifty-seven, he comes to rock bottom and abandons his life of alcoholism, self-abuse and bitterness. After a kind of odd relationship with a single mother named Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal) falls apart, he manages to sober up and get straight. He writes a song, “The Weary One” that his friend Tommy Sweet (Colin Ferrell) records, and the song gives Blake the success he has been chasing on his own.

This film is not for those with a weak constitution. There were quite a few moments that required the fast forward button. But the film featured a number of themes that I think are important. Rather than the typical Hollywood film with the happy ending, Blake does not wind up with the girl and no one can forgive him for his failings. He does not become the hero at the end. Instead, he just manages to reach a place of normalcy.

Bridges manages to get out of his own way and make Blake a very believable character. You feel for the guy, even when you think he is a disgusting slob. You cheer for him when he changes. He is redeemed not by his innate goodness but by a shock to the system so powerful that he realizes his own wretchedness and seeks help. The film emphasizes the weariness and inability of “going it alone” and the need to be a part of a community for change.

Bridges won an Academy Award for the role, and he deserved it.

But Bridges isn’t the star of the movie. The star is the music. Unless you are thoroughly revolted by most modern country music as I am, you don’t realize that there was once a time when country was not just pop music with a twang. The songs from the soundtrack are written by some serious musicians – men I respect like T-Bone Burnett. The theme song, “The Weary Kind” won an Academy Award as well. The song and soundtrack won two Grammys as well.

The music on Crazy Heart is simply good. There’s nothing complicated or trendy about it. It does not appeal to any niche market. It is just straight Blues-based country – the likes of which I haven’t heard in quite awhile. And the film is built around the music, with surprising performances by both Bridges and Ferrell, as well as an appearance from rising star Ryan Bingham who performs what Bad Blake would call “real country.”

The soundtrack is worth listening to, but if you can stomach some of the awkward fast-forwarding, you might also want to check out the film because it will make the soundtrack more meaningful.

SIDENOTE:
This makes two albums that T-Bone Burnett was involved in that I have embraced despite my aversion to country music. (The other is Raising Sand by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant.) It is proof that all styles of music are 95% garbage, but the 5% is awesome when you find it.

TRIVIAL THOUGHT #1: For you Jeff Bridges fans, T-Bone also oversaw the music for Walk the Line and The Big Lebowski among a number of others.)

TRIVIAL THOUGHT #2: T-Bone played guitar for Bob Dylan in the 70’s as part of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Revue.

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