The movie Crazy Heart (which one Jeff Bridges an happy widdle Oscar) easily became one of my favorite movies as I was watching it. Heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. And all the cheesy adjectives and clichés that point to genius and that sniffly feeling you get when you’re looking at a wreck but something about it still makes you believe in beautiful things.
Of course I had to read Crazy Heart, by Thomas Cobb. And no, I don’t mind that movie tie-in cover one bit.
“You know I don’t know much about books and stuff. I know movies, mostly. But books and movies make life more glamorous, you know? Lives come out better, or bigger than they are. But in books they write about special kinds of people. Country music is about people who aren’t real special, who are never going to be. They grow up, work, get married, slip around, and they die. And the music is the glamour of that kind of life. Maybe slipping around on your wife or husband ain’t the best thing in the world, but for a lot of folks, it’s what they got. And the music, it helps.”
I guess it’s an old story: the aging country music star now spending most of his alcoholic, chain-smoking days on the road, in seedy bars and bowling alleys. But Bad Blake lends it a shiver-on-your-spine kind of pathos that makes it all so fresh. Yes, he’s washed up and borderline pathetic. But he’s also a genuinely nice guy, if very flawed. He’s a charming old goat, too. You can’t help but cheer for him, and hope that he goddamned do something about his messed up life. Because as the story goes on, and he has these little victories and then the more frequent little failures, you’re for him. You want him to win a horse race, you want him to make it to his gig despite a bender the night before, you want him to get along with his girlfriend’s son, you want him to wow the crowd when he gets a chance he hasn’t had in years. You want him to step up, and you want the universe to make way for him, and you want him to put that damned drink down, dammit. You want him to calm a bit, but you still want that edge to Bad who’s brought on the ruination of nearly everyone around him, including himself. You want him to find love, and keep it.
But there’s something about love that’s like music. It’s a way that your body begins something and then becomes what it does. Their lovemaking, still a little strange, a little nervous, is like playing. It’s the counterpoint of single note and chord. It’s the tonic, dominant, sub-dominant, and the sudden ascent to relative minor. Their bodies are the same chords played an octave apart, the movement familiar from hundreds of times before, but still unexpected. Pleasing in the familiar strangeness of it all. He has the feeling, tangled into her, of being where he belongs, like a progression that takes an unexpected turn and ends up not where he thinks it is going, but where it has to go, as if he has known, without knowing he did.
Yes, the mentions and discussions about music went over my head. I don’t know anything about guitars except that the curve at the bottom fits my thigh real well when I hold one to myself. And that guitars are shmexeh. I am so sorry for being a cliché. If I were a guitar-playing kind of girl, I would’ve checked out the chords and notes and whathaveyous in the story. I settled for listening to the soundtrack. Heh. Which is odd, because me and country music, we’ve never been tight, y’see.
I guess that’s the thing, though. I’d never have picked up this book if I hadn’t seen the movie. And they’re both gritty and still and tender. Then again, I’d never have watched the movie if my aunt hadn’t dragged me to the cinema. So many preconceptions, and Bad Blake shattered them with the heel of one ratty white boot, and said, “Goddammit, I’ve led a fucked up life, and you sit still and listen to it, if you please.” I’m not the most musical person out there, and I can name about three country music singers and a handful of their songs. So, well, yeah. There are many things I love about Crazy Heart, and it surprising me’s probably the best of them.
I realize that I see-saw between the book and the movie; even while reading the images in my head see-sawed from Jeff Bridges to this shadowed fat guy in a bowling alley. I can’t separate the two, and I don’t think I want to. One is the elaboration of the other. The movie is nearly completely faithful to the book, and the book offers a more in-depth, graphic examination of Bad. And, well, the movie has Jeff Bridges, who lived and breathed Bad Blake: There’s a quiet scene in the movie where Bad is cleaning and tuning and polishing his guitar. And there was so much weight in those few minutes of intense concentration that, as with many other scenes, a great story is offered to you, and—gasp—you almost don’t need any words.
I am griping about the ending. It didn’t satisfy me so much. I am not asking for a happy ending—though I do think Bad Blake certainly deserves it—and I am not asking for Cobb to “sell out” and have Bad go on his merry way, everything he wants and needs handed to him as reward for all the shit he had to go through. But I wanted, I dunno, I wanted redemption, I suppose.
This is how the movie ends: Bad is sober, he’s writing songs for Tommy Sweet. He and Jean don’t end up together. Jean is engaged, in fact. But that’s okay. Somehow, that’s just okay. It was right. Bad hands Jean the royalties for his Tommy Sweet compositions, an envelope he’d just been handed by his agent. It’s for Buddy’s education. Jean and Bad are awkward, but they are fond of each other, and what’s wrong with one last interview? They walk off into the sunset. Tada.
In the book, well. When I began that last chapter, something was screaming at me not to read it. But I had to. I wanted to see if Cobb would give Bad a chance. No, he di-int. Bad is back in some seedy bar in the middle of nowhere, he’s drinking again, he’s with this random sad chick who just wants to get laid by some then-big star. And later, Bad is in a fucking ditch with a drink in his hand. Mud, rain, booze, a stranger unconscious in the passenger seat of his beat-up car—it’s all there. How could you, Mr. Cobb? The author, he kicked me right where it hurts: Bad Blake is back where he was at the start of the novel—if possible, lower than that. I remember feeling so much rage by the time I closed the book. Why couldn’t you give Bad a break?
Yeah, yeah, it’s not literary if it’s not sad. Bullshit. Cobb lulled me into a false sense of security. Bah. Still. Awesome book. I am still very much angry with how things turned out. And I’m not angry at the crafting of the story per se. I’m just really pissed off that Bad Blake was plunged into misery all over again. Gah. See, I was invested in Bad-as-person. As a character, he rocks. But as a human freaking being, I wanted—GAH.
See how fucking good this book is?