Posts Tagged ‘country music’

‘Crazy Heart’: It’s in the music–A divine call?

Friday, June 25th, 2010

It’s not in the acting; although, Jeff Bridges does an outstanding job portraying a country singer waging a losing battle with fading fame and booze.

It’s not in the romance; although, Maggie Gyllenhaal is captivating as the younger lover of the troubled star.

It’s not in the script; although, the story moves intelligently from bowling alley to big stage with lots of foreshadowing in dialogue and drama.

It’s not in the booze; although, for a change, there’s some deep reality to the hope provided through 12-step programs, and in the end, sobriety trumps a doomed sexual liaison.

It’s none of these that make “Crazy Heart” one of the outstanding movies of 2009; it’s in the music!

For one thing, Bridges is as admirable a singer as he is an actor, and his renditions of “A Hold on You,” “Fallin’ and Flyin,’” “Brand New Angel,” and snippets of the Academy Award winning song, “The Weary Kind,” mesmerize.

It helps to be a fan of country music to enjoy “Crazy Heart,” but the people who put this film together are connoisseurs of the genre.

Consider the songs that fill the background and carry Bridges’ staggering performance along its travels from drunkenness to degeneracy to dalliance to dangerous neglect to deliverance: Buck Owens singing “Hello, Trouble”; the Louvin Brothers singing “My Baby’s Gone”; Kitty Wells singing “Searching”; Waylon Jennings singing “Are You Sure Hank Did It This Way”; Lucinda Williams singing “Joy”; George Jones singing “The Color of the Blues”; the Delmore Brothers singing “I Let a Freight Train Carry Me On”; and in a happy transition scene (a balloon ride symbolic of transcendence), Townes Van Zandt singing “If I Needed You.” The music of “Crazy Heart” is more than window-dressing; it’s the dynamic driving the script.

Bridges’ cry for help: “I want to be sober,” and the portrayal of his session at a treatment facility should hearten the evangelists of 12-Step programs.

In that regard, I believe I detected a lyric change that might credit the emphasis 12-Step programs place on divine intervention.

Recovering from drunkenness, Bridges’ character, Bad (Otis) Blake, entertains in his friend’s bar with the song, “Brand New Angel.”

I’ve trooped through Web sites seeking the lyrics of this Greg Brown song. The chorus of which goes:
“Open the gates, welcome him in;
“there’s a brand new angel, a brand new angel . . .

The final line in the versions I searched is given as:
“With an old idea”; or
“With an old violin.

However, if you listen carefully to Jeff Bridges’ film rendition (not the soundtrack cut), the final line appears to be:
“Who doesn’t know me.”

Can this be God’s call to open the gates?

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UPDATE: December 2016

Listen to Bridges on the clip below. His lyric on this soundtrack clip is none of the suggestions I’ve made above. Clearly, he sings “a brand new angel with an old Amen!” However, I’m planning to watch the film again to check once more.

Cowboy Contemplative: Heaven or Home?

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

Cowboy Contemplative: Singing our way home

[in memory of Mom]

Years ago a popular country song recorded by Tanya Tucker extolled the bliss of Texas. The song was “Texas When I Die,” and was written by a Tennessean (born in Arkansas), Ed Bruce (along with a couple of collaborators). Bruce actually cut a much better version of the song than Tucker’s, but her version moved further up the charts.

It begins with this repeated quatrain:

“When I die, I may not go to heaven;

I don’t know if they let cowboys in.

If they don’t, then bury me in Texas

‘cause Texas is as close as I’ve been.”

I have no connection whatsoever to Texas, so when I heard and fell in love with Bruce’s song, I toyed with the lyrics and made it my own.

“When I die, I may not go to heaven;

I don’t know if they let cowboys in.

If they don’t, then bury me in Brooklyn

‘cause Brooklyn is as close as I’ve been.”

New York actually gets dissed in Bruce’s lyrics, as does Detroit, Milwaukee, and—one could extrapolate—also Hell, while San Antone and Willie Nelson and Texas beer are given a treatment close to apotheosis. But no matter, for me Brooklyn—with or without Schaeffer or Rheingold beers—is sweeter than San Antone or Houston or Big D.

One could, of course, plug in one’s own place of heavenly memories: “. . . then bury me in Boston/‘cause Beantown is as close as I’ve been.” Or, for less urban devotees, how about, “. . . then bury me in Springfield /‘cause Main Street is as close as I’ve been.”

For me, it was living in Brooklyn, believe it not, that drew me as a teenager to the thrall of country and western music. At the time, a New Jersey radio station, WAAT, beamed Don Larkin’s “Hometown Frolic” into the region with its theme song, the Gene Autry standard, “I’m Back in the Saddle Again.” (Nora Ephron and Tom Hanks proved that song a favorite even to the Sleepless in Seattle!) If confronted with the quasi-Biblical query, “Can anything good come out of Jersey?” I would have quickly and confidently responded, “country music.”

So while my high school buddies in Brooklyn were losing themselves in Alan Freed and the rhythm and blues music that evolved into rock ‘n’ roll, I was steeping myself in Hank Williams, Webb Pierce, Faron Young, Hank Thompson, Eddy Arnold, Hank Snow, Slim Whitman, and cowboy favorites such as Autry, Tex Ritter, Ernest Tubb, Roy Rogers, and Rogers’ original compatriots, the Sons of the Pioneers. My adolescent fantasy of singing on the “Grand Ole Opry” ranked second only to playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and I learned about five chords on the guitar and about 500 country and western songs.

At that time, the only thing truly cowboy about that line-up of singers I mention is that several of them wore cowboy hats and occasionally appeared in chaps and spurs. Over the years, I’ve come to recognize that “cowboy” is an attitude and a mindset more than a way of life or vocation; like me, most of the singers I mentioned above probably weren’t comfortable around horses, steers, or ranch waste; nevertheless, they extolled the way of the cowboy.

I think what cowboy singers promoted and what appealed to me as a boy was what I now can identify as the life of a “cowboy contemplative.” My heroes didn’t respond to life with Clint Eastwood macho aided by a big six-shooter; they backed off, rode alone, extolled the trail, preferred the dogies to the barroom, and sang quiet ballads.

Even when they did have to turn to the gun, they acted and then, like Alan Ladd’s “Shane” or the legendary Lone Ranger, rode into the distance to be alone with themselves—and perhaps, with God—and to sing a song (I just know the Lone Ranger sang when he was alone).

And they may well have asked the question repeated in Bruce’s “Texas When I Die,” which wonders if cowboys get to heaven (they do, as surely as ragamuffins enter God’s kingdom) and asserts those dying cowboys are ready to accept the next best thing: home.

Though she was neither a cowgirl nor a singer but surely a psalm-loving contemplative, it’s no wonder my mother always said of those who’d recently died, “They’ve gone home.”

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Writer’s Note: Ed Bruce, the writer of “Texas When I Die,” and the writer and original singer of “Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys,” in the twilight of his career has cut two successful gospel albums—“Changed” and “Sing About Jesus”—and, as noted on his official Web site, has become an ambassador of God’s life-changing love in Jesus Christ.

P.S. If you’ve read this far and would like to know more about my own cowboy contemplative life, you can click a link on this blog for “Poetry by ARA” to find my poem entitled, “One of Their Kind.” Or, just click here.

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Listen to hear Ed Bruce’s recording