>A couple nights ago Julia and I went to see a movie which, considering some of the other movies nominated, I’m surprised isn’t up for Best Picture. Jeff Bridges is up for Best Actor, though, and if he doesn’t win it it will be a travesty. His love interest in the film, Maggie Gyllenhaal, is none-too-shabby in her Oscar-nominated (Best Supporting Actress) role either. I’m talking about the country music-themed Crazy Heart. And yeah, I can hear some of you weisenheimers already, so don’t bother: “Did this poser just say country music-themed? Isn’t he supposed to be some kind of metal guy or something?” Look, I’m a music fan. Yes, some forms are more likely to get my blood pumping than others, but I like stuff all over the map. About the only stuff I really can’t abide is the current era’s “pop” country (which, to me, is like this generation’s version of 80’s “hair metal”) and that real free-form style of jazz where it sounds like everyone in the band is soloing simultaneously in opposing keys. Oh yeah, and upbeat modern white-guy “blues” also makes me want to stab something more than just my eardrums. So back off me about country music, real country music, before I have a rage spike. And this thing absolutely is about real country music, in a whole bunch of ways.
The movie starts with some great shots of landscape, and a battered old truck driving through it. It is depicting a trip from New Mexico up to Pueblo, CO, where Bridges’ character, Bad Blake, has a gig. If you’ve never driven that part of the country, you should get off your ass and do it — it’s beautiful. These vistas stomped my road trip bug like some greasy pick n’ grinner hitting his tube screamer before flashing up and down the neck of his telecaster for a 48-bar solo. Damn, I just want to get out and drive, you know? Am I the only one who ever feels that way?
I’m not going to really talk about what this movie’s about. You can check out reviews for that. I’m just going to strongly suggest you go see it before it’s out of the theaters. Here’s the trailer:
I mainly want to talk about the things that really had an impact on me, and have stayed with me since seeing it. At the end of that drive which I already talked about, Blake rolls up to where his gig is going to be, in the lounge at a bowling alley. Not exactly the Grand Ole Opry. First thing he does is empty out the plastic jug of piss that is half full. Then he limps on inside, obviously suffering from a fairly acute case of road ass, and looks to recon where his gig is supposed to happen. He exchanges words with the manager, orders a beer and finds out that not only doesn’t he get to run a tab, but he’s paying full price. And so it goes. You can just feel his frustration in the set of his face and in his body language.
That, my friends, perfectly illustrates the glamorous world of touring (Julia has her own story-of-woe to tell about a tour stop in Pueblo, which involves an unplanned three days waiting for the van to be fixed). It could be a rock band, a country band, whomever. Unless you are big time (or middle-time with a trustafarian in your band), these days you aren’t cruising around in chartered buses. It’s long drives in shitty, smelly vans with bullshit to deal with at the end of every trip. It’s amazing how grateful one can be when you get somewhere and the people are actually holding up their end of the bargain. Look, a couple-three drink tickets for beer can make a huge difference when a group rolls in tired and stiff from 400+ miles between gigs. Not to mention the luxuries of a comped meal or, heaven of heavens, a decent friggin’ motel room. This movie captured all that — the grime, the stink, the sense of hopelessness — perfectly. And Bridges nailed the performance of a guy just dealing with it, simmering with anger while trying not to be an asshole, and falling into the bottle just to numb his senses. It’s a story of love, loss, and redemption, with characters as real as any who have ever stepped over the threshold of some dive and muttered, “So what the fuck do we have here. . . . “
Like Julia said afterward. At no point does it feel like we are watching Jeff Bridges. He is Bad Blake. He even did his own singing, and did a helluva job.
The next thing that jumped out at me is when a guy shows up at Blake’s motel to make arrangements for working out the material with the musicians who will be his backing band for the night. I immediately recognized the young-looking guy with the hat-head as Ryan Bingham, an artist I’ve been a huge fan of since his 2007 album Mescalito. That record is as good as anything I’ve picked up, and his latest, Roadhouse Blues, ain’t too shabby either. Here’s a bit from his bio:
He’s lived on his own since his mid-teens, when circumstances and substance abuse tore apart his nuclear family. Rather than get sucked into the system that’s destroyed so many adolescents, he took a road far less traveled – riding bulls on the highly-competitive rodeo circuit around the Midwest and southwest. It was on these long hauls that Bingham was able to get in touch with his musical muse, taking things public one night at a bar in Stephenville, Texas.
I just wish I’d taken the trip to see his band play The Filling Station in Bozeman, a dive I’ve played numerous times, when I had the chance. Seeing as how he did the title song to this movie, and is up for an Oscar for Best Song, the chances to see him in a small venue may have just passed us all by.
The last couple years I’ve been telling myself that I really need to get my chops together enough on the guitar to play a lot of these old standards, and write a few songs in that vein. Julia and I have spoken about it at length. It is something we can do together and have fun with, and have just been too busy with other projects to make it happen. We’ve sat outside downtown a couple times busking, and it’s been a blast. We intend to do more of that — throw our guitars in the vehicle wherever we go and have the means to at least earn enough for a meal, and probably meet some interesting people along the way. It is “music of the people” in so many more ways than a lot of the other stuff I love. I love the loud rock band, but sometimes the logistics — big amps, room big enough for the volume, electricity, etc. — can be irritating.
When I hear this kind of music, sometimes the emotions are as overwhelming as anything else has ever been. I’m happy that this movie, besides making me thankful I’ve never fallen prey to the bottle, reminded me how much I love this kind of music when it’s done well.