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Waylon, Bad Blake and Me

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I met the original 'Bad Blake' at the Quiet Knight in Chicago. It was an old roadhouse bar with a stage that had somehow been put down near the El tracks on Belmont. A friend and I had gone to see Waylon Jennings and got there during the first show. Even though it was three degrees outside it seemed appropriate to drink cold beer and shoot pool as an electric bass guitar thumped through the wall behind the bar with such authority that our bottles jiggled in ¾ time. The show ended, people filed out, some into the bar. I walked up to get two fresh cold ones. A burly guy in a black leather vest growled at me, what was I drinking as I tried to signal the bartender...Carta Blanca, my reply, I'll have one too, and I'm buying, the big guy said in a manner that made it so.

I walked back with two free beers and my friend said...Man, Waylon Jennings just bought us beers.

Thinking back, that could have been Jeff Bridges. I say that because he becomes Waylon in Crazy Heart. Looks like him, dresses like him, sings like him. I could love Crazy Heart. How can you not love any movie that Jeff Bridges and the great Robert Duvall are in? But, here's the rub: Crazy Heart would have to stand on a really tall stepladder just to kiss the ass of Tender Mercies. And, Robert Duvall already won a best acting Oscar for his Bad Blake. Hell, I'm not complaining, if Jeff Bridges wins, he deserves it. Tender Mercies or not, he should have won five by now.

But, also, jokes aside, they ought to start every Oscar Ceremony by giving Robert Duvall one just because he's Robert Duvall.

They should have given him three for The Apostle and maybe a Pulitzer and a Nobel as well. It was that great a movie. If you believe Jeff Bridges channeled Waylon Jennings in Crazy Heart I must say that Robert Duvall has been channeling my father in every movie he has made since The Apostle. You may have read of my father in "Breakfast in Ocilla," my last post. Somehow or other, Duvall's DNA must of got all mixed up with my dad's. That sort of redneck bantam pride that distinguishes Southern men of a certain generation. The voice and the accent, the thin Scots-Irish nose and thin lips and the vanity of badly dyed hair. The razors edge between tranquility and rage, just below the surface, that Duvall seems to have, and my dad always had. Duvall has that Southern male yin and yang, a yin and yang with grits, that most other Southerners, black and white, have in abundance.

Southern men of a certain age, stomachs sucked in, diminished chests stuck out, defying age, hell, spitting on age, strutting their stuff in front of women forty years younger, as if the women would notice...I love Robert Duvall for putting that on the screen. I loved my dad for living his entire life like that until his final breath.

And, I love country and western biopics, which surely Crazy Heart is at heart. There aren't any bad ones. They all are poor boy or girl making it, making it despite, or because, of too much drinking, too many drugs, too many bad women, too many bad men. I had a friend who disliked movies made in the seventies. Something about the bad clothes, troweled on make up, and everyone looking dirty. A point to be made I suppose, but such an attitude would make you miss the first of the great country and western bios, Payday. Rip Torn (who was recently arrested in Connecticut for trying to rob a bank) plays a sort of Hank Williams. The scene in the back seat of the car with the groupie, I would argue, is worth seeing a seventies movie for.

'Got a good woman, what's wrong with me? What makes me fall in love with every woman I see,' Bad Blake Waylon Jennings sang.

'If you feel I don't love you, feel again'...'She's thinkin' singles and I'm drinkin' doubles'...'My wife ran off with my best friend, and I miss him'... Good God Almighty, country songs are mini screenplays in themselves, and provide more great dialogue in four stanzas than most movies give you in two hours.

Tender Mercies, Coal Miner's Daughter, Sweet Dreams, Walk the Line...some of those titles are great songs. All are great movies. All are great American movies.

All vehicles for great acting as well. I don't think Joaquin Phoenix has ever gotten over not winning an Oscar for becoming Johnny Cash. It's been all down hill for him since. Sissy Spacek will always be one of my favorite actresses for being Loretta Lynn. In these movies actors don't just act, they become. Shoot, Tommy Lee Jones, improbable red hair and all, should have gotten a couple of Oscars for playing Loretta Lynn's husband Mooney. One for an authentic Southern accent (as rare in movies as sincerity is in politics), the other for best first name ever.

So the Academy has honored Tender Mercies 2.0 and I could carp about it but somehow can't. Crazy Heart is a good movie and it honors the genre. The music seems authentic, the story moves along, and Jeff Bridges looks great. I can chew over why they remade Tender Mercies but, as I write this, I feel better about the fact that they did.

I guess I should see it again. Maybe my feathers were ruffled a bit by loyalty to Mac Sledge, or even to the man who bought me a Carta Blanca on that cold Chicago night. Perhaps, I should shrug off such distant loyalties and embrace the new. Jeff ain't Waylon, he's not Robert Duvall, but he's believable and sympathetic and you want Bad Blake to find happiness. You want that little boy to be happy; you want love to triumph and for it all to work out. That's what any art attempts to do: make you feel what the artist wants to express. On that count Crazy Heart does as good a job as Tender Mercies and it does have my two favorite male movie stars in it.

Maybe I'm making too much out of it all. I should be satisfied with the gospel according to Waylon, Bad Blake, Mac Sledge, and Maury Dann, not to worry about any dang thing other than the truth of country lyrics:

There's only two things in life that make it worth livin'
That's guitars that tune good and firm feelin' women...