I finally watched the movie “Crazy Heart” last night. I hadn’t been avoiding it. It was out at a busy time for me and I just didn’t get around to seeing it in the theater. However, I will undoubtedly make up for missing it in the theater by purchasing it and watching it over and over and over and over again in the comfort of my home.
So much of my life is tied to pop culture and such. So many songs reflected my experiences or encouraged me to go after new experiences. So many movies created a reality that was anything but real. But this movie, these 111 minutes, created a world that is both all to familiar and so so so out of reach.
To me, this was a collection of stories that had enough overlapping to create a cohesive film. I cannot deal with them as a whole, but must deconstruct them in order to give each part it’s due.
Part 1: Pick Up Bands
We first find Bad Blake driving down an endless highway in a brokedown but reliable suburban. He pulls into a parking lot of a bowling alley and his whole story can be summed up in him stumbling out of his vehicle, belt undone, looking for a whiskey. In the biggest slap imaginable for a traveling musician….he doesn’t have a bar tab. Once a musician starts buying their own drinks, it’s a slippery slope. It doesn’t matter if they are playing a bowling alley or an arena, a musician should never have to buy their own whiskey…..
After that humiliation, Bad takes to his complimentary room in the local motor lodge with a bottle of whiskey (given to him by a benevolent liquor store owner) and spends some time drinking. In general, Bad spends a lot of time drinking. This is a habit that usually makes me cringe, but for Bad and other guitar slinging wordsmiths of his ilk…..it’s ok. A knock at the door brings notice of his band for the evening (the leader of which is Ryan Bingham who is now an Oscar winner and once asked me to sneak him into the VIP section of a club so he could get free beer—-musicians DO NOT buy their own drinks!!!) The concept of a pick up band is a true mystery to me. So many of the bands I love, I love because of the intense camaraderie and how the music flows from them as a group, not a collection of individuals. But the pick up band has to not only play the notes, but not let the crowd know that they just learned the songs and perhaps don’t even know the person they are playing behind. They are not bogged down with rehearsal and history, they simply are magicians and play their hearts out for little to no recognition. I can’t decide who has it harder, the person playing with a pick up band behind them or the pick up band themselves. Regardless, I love both of these pieces of the quilt that is music……
Part 2: Stardom, or lack thereof
I never really got the impression that Bad Blake wanted to be a star. He had some success “back in the day” but it was fleeting. I think he wanted to get his whiskey for free and know that he wouldn’t have to sleep alone if he didn’t want to. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t seem to begrudge others (Tommy Sweet) theirs. For a good portion of the movie I thought that perhaps Tommy was Bad’s son. While I was wrong from a genetic standpoint, he was most definitely the closest thing Bad had to an offspring that he actually raised. I can imagine a young Tommy soaking up all Bad had to offer and Bad lapping up the attention. But when the tables turned and Bad needed Tommy more then Tommy needed Bad, I bet the whiskey tab went sky high. Tommy owed Bad a lot, and in Bad’s mind, that was a debt that might never be sufficiently repaid. Tommy tried, as much as any successful musician can try. In the end it seemed like things worked out and Bad was a bit closer to being the star he never wanted to be.
Part 3: The Songs
Songwriters are the most magical of musicians. String as few words together as possible, but tell the best stories ever. Some songwriters sit in rooms with other writers and plug away at proven formulas. These are not the magicians. The magicians are the ones who strum a guitar and words and phrases come from some mystical place. I’ve watched songs be birthed this way….and it is as miraculous as any birth can be. Which brings me to the part of this movie that is sticking with me….
Part 4: The Love(?) Story
I have been in this situation. A grungy backstage area. A bottle of whiskey. A crappy couch. A great conversation. A life changing moment that never is far from the front of my memory. The topic of the conversation is unimportant. It’s what isn’t being said. It’s the body language. The uncontrollable smiles. It’s heaven on Earth for a certain group of us. This scene made me smile to myself and swear that I would start going out to see music again. But then, there was a scene that broke my heart. Bad is at Jean’s house recovering from a car wreck and he starts writing a song. He starts writing a GREAT song. This kills Jean because she knows that this moment is incredibly important for her, but just another moment to Bad. Not only does she know this….but she expresses it to him. She calls him on his life, but not in anger or judgment, but in the anguish she feels at that moment and the anguish she knows she will feel later. So many moments are core shaking to one participant and the status quo for the other….and this fact has broken my heart more times then I care to recall.
I could go on and on and on about this movie. I could ask questions like “Why does he have a white hat on when he leaves the “groupie” in Clovis, NM?” “Why can he make biscuits so well?” etc….etc….etc…..but sometimes the joy in in the not knowing.