Every year there's a movie so small and sensitive it's a miracle it gets made, but it's really good, and people who love small, sensitive movies think there's fresh hope for the movie business. This year that movie is Crazy Heart, starring Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Robert Duvall and an uncredited Colin Farrell. The subject: a once-great country singer who calls himself named Bad Blake. Bad, that is, mostly to himself and anyone who gets close...
Jeff Bridges --- who won the Golden Globe for Best Actor (Drama) and is a certain Oscar nominee --- gives the kind of broke-down performance that makes you want to take him home and put him to bed in the guest room. And the movie's theme song, "The Weary Kind," is also a heartbreaker:
Your heart's on the loose
You rolled them sevens with nothing to lose
And this ain't no place for the weary kind...
One reason we love movies like Crazy Heart is because they're more than movies --- they may kiss every cliche on the mouth, but they're true. As Emmylou Harris puts it: "One thing they don't tell you about the blues/ When you got 'em/ You keep on falling/ Cause there ain't no bottom/ There ain't no end..."
Bob Woodruff is Bad Blake. With one sadder difference --- he may have been great, but he never made it. In the early '90s, he came to Nashville, a New York kid hopped up on country music with a bushel of songs in his pocket. He was the real deal in a fake town --- he made country music fit for Saturday night honky-tonkin'. A major label took a chance and gave him a big debut, with three videos to launch the CD. And it sank. Then he made an even better CD for an obscure label. But the company folded. And then --- well, as he told it to the Houston Press....
I began to despair of ever making another record for a label, or getting any songs cut by other recording artists and fell into a pretty deep depression.I moved back to New York City to be closer to my mother who was very sick, and I took a job in a warehouse. I began to use heroin regularly, and by the time my mother died I was strung out on the drug. I played the odd show in NYC and also toured in Sweden, but less and less time was devoted to my career in music. As time went on, my addiction proved to be a full-time job. I tried to quit cold turkey many times but to no avail. Eventually I went into detox, some rehabs and even got on methadone maintenance a couple times.
In 2003 I was kicked out of a rehab in Long Island, and I began a series of failed attempts to get clean in the country homes of ex-girlfriends around the nation. I had the ill manners to OD in several of these poor women's bathrooms, which did not seem to inspire their trust in my sincerity or ability to quit using.
After a particularly harrowing event in Nebraska, when I was forced by paramedics to drink several cups of liquid charcoal --- a viscous, foul-tasting mixture which neutralized and flushed the drugs out of my system and for a week or so allowed me to honestly declare that my shit did not stink --- I wound up in an intensive care unit in Omaha.
The late and saintly Buddy Arnold from Musicians Assistance Program (MAP) was called, and he agreed to place me in one more rehab, providing it was the same one that he himself had gotten clean at in L.A. back in the '70's (Buddy had already placed me in a couple of treatment facilities back east, including the one I was thrown out of).
That's the how and why I came to L.A. Happily, I've been clean now for nearly 4 years.
Clean --- and pretty much forgotten. His friend Alice Sebold hooked him up with Peter Jackson, and Woodruff wrote some songs for 'The Lovely Bones' --- but then Jackson decided to use old classics.
So this is the state of Bob Woodruff today.
What do you get for your investment?
On "Dreams and Saturday Nights,' you'll find fiddles and foot stomps. Songs of youthful folly ("When we got married, we were so much in love/ we were just kids") and, not long after, the world closing in ("I've seen a lot of people die and it looks easy/ it's getting easier to hate you all the time"). Lots of need and resentment and "the day I walked in on you and Cody." Simple, stupid life, all of it wry and raw, all of it sounding like old favorites you just happen never to have heard before.
Like "Poisoned at the Well"......
"Desire Road" is the Bob Woodruff CD I bought first, and if I play it often, it's because I find it flawless. It opens with a dazzling violin-and-guitar slam, a shot of drums, and then we're in a version of John Fogerty's "Almost Saturday Night" that's so exuberant it alone is worth the price of the CD. He's clever as he tries to stay sane in the face of loss of love: "I try to keep my train of thought/ from going down that track." Throughout, there's that thin, can't-be-from-New-York voice set against a killer Nashville band.
We never can see around the bend. Both of Bob Woodruff's CDs have a mandolin and a country-dance beat. They call for a pitcher of beer and a woman in tight jeans. And while they chart all the ones who got away, they're full of dumb hope for better --- this is the blue-collar sound of optimism.
If there's any justice, Bob Woodruff gets a comeback --- and these CDs become collector's items. If not, let's tip a hat to one who might have been a household name. And let's cherish what we have of him.
[Cross-posted from HeadButler.com]
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