Crazy Heart (hearts) the music

I’m 37 years old, going to be 38 in a few months.  I grew up in the mid-atlantic region of the USA and when I went to college, the only criteria I put down for my roommate survey was “no country music”.  I ended up getting matched up with one of the greatest guitar players I’ve ever met or heard, but that’s another story.

During my life, I’ve seen a renaissance in Nashville, where a few singers have become immensely popular and fabulously wealthy playing something called ‘Country’ music.  For me, there’s a tendency to hear this material and think it is overproduced, redneck garbage.  That’s not a nice thing to say, but a lot of what I hear in passing turns my stomach.

The question is, how could I, so in love with music and so in love with guitar, pass such harsh judgment on an entire genre of popular music?

Crazy Heart did not help me answer that question, but it did take me inside the life of a country song: the booze, the women, the road, the trucks, the prejudice (“you speak any Mexican?”), bein’ broke; hell, the only thing that was missing was an old hound dog.  It also showed me something I wasn’t quite expecting – musical genius.

As good an actor as you may think Jeff Bridges is, this was truly the ‘performance of a lifetime’ as advertised.  It is by means of that beautiful performance (in a film about performance) that the musical genius comes across, and it made me feel like my soul was in flight.

Bridges doesn’t do it himself, and a great debt is owed to the amazing T-Bone Burnett who produced the film and co-wrote the music.  But it is Bridges’ performance that makes the magic come off the screen with ten times more sincerity than any “three-dee” experience you may have had in the past few months.  He plays guitar and sings like he’s been doing it for years – because he has.  He brings every ounce of emotion and delicacy to a story as old as story-telling: the old master, fallen on hard times, on a path of self-destruction, against the odds, to make the magic happen and give it ‘one more try.’

And if the story brings only little originality (and includes a highly unnecessary epilogue), Bridges’ performance and the beautiful original music elevates this movie-going experience to something special, almost heart-rending.

The country music is portrayed with both warts and beauty.  Some is overproduced garbage, but some is the simple and sincere chord progression, leaning on the blues, tex-Mex and folk, that tells the story of love and loss.  The result is irresistible.

This is a love letter to American music; singing, songwriting and guitar playing.  The instruments, amplifiers and musical performances are all real.  The people on camera are playing and singing.  The performance footage puts you on stage with the all the excitement and intensity of any ‘real’ concert film (Last Waltz, Hail Hail Rock ‘n’ Roll, Rust Never Sleeps, etc.).  And Jeff Bridges absolutely seals the deal with a subtle and emotional portrayal that is easily the best performance by the extraordinarily gifted actor.