"Somebody Else" / Jeff Bridges
Here's the post I was going to write a week ago, before we got distracted with all this chat about movie soundtracks. Thanks to you all, I have a lot more movies to listen to now, and I'll probably get distracted even more by all the songs in them. So before I forget, here's a little sample that will explain why Crazy Heart deserved its Oscars.
Oh, I know this isn't the theme song, that wistful Ryan Bingham ballad that was played by the orchestra every time Crazy Heart was announced. (And by the way: Who is this Ryan Bingham and why isn't he more famous?) But "Somebody Else" tells you a lot more about Bad Blake, the hard-case country singer that Bridges played so well. Listen to its honky-tonk Western two-step -- that hasn't got a trace of Nashville sentimentality about it. As Bad himself would make the distinction, it's "real country" as opposed to "fake country." And as such, it stands up honestly alongside the vintage country tunes on the soundtracks, tunes by folks like George Jones, Kitty Wells, the Louvin Brothers, Buck Owens, and Waylon Jennings.
"Somebody Else" was written by this film's tutelary spirits, musical director T Bone Burnett and the late Stephen Bruton. Burnett, who also did the music for The Big Lebowski, was responsible for convincing Jeff Bridges to do the film -- he was Bridges' guarantee of musical authenticity, which the story absolutely required. But let's not ignore the contributions of Stephen Bruton, a longtime mainstay of the Austin music scene, who was dying of throat cancer as the movie was being made -- I suspect that may have lent a subtext of fragile mortality to the proceedings. It even haunts this song, in its relentlessly ticking tempo, in the way the singer sweeps past loss and regret and sails headlong into the great unknown tomorrow.
You can just picture the sort of fifth-rate venues where Bad would sing this song -- roadhouses and small-town bars and (yes) bowling alleys, where there's always a patch of scuffed linoleum for dancing if the spirit so moves you. Hearing this song would definitely make the spirit so move you, especially if you throw in some Lone Star beers, or a few shots of Bad's favorite McClure's whiskey.
But as the song scoots nimbly along, the guitars scrambling to keep up, I get a real sense of the singer's restless, reckless soul. "I used to be somebody / But now I am somebody else," he proclaims over and over. Though it sounds like a tautology, it's actually a profound insight into the adaptability of human nature. "But who I might be tomorrow / Is anybody's guess." Is he boasting, or mourning his lack of a compass? I'd say both.
Life is so damn slippery, and that's a fact. He admits he's made mistakes -- in verse two, the "right way" morphs easily into "the wrong way" -- and in verse three, he even claims "I used to be a preacher / With women, fame, and wealth" (the natural accouterments of any clergyman, right?). He may have reformed (oh, that cryptic line, "I was cleared of all the charges with money, women, and my health"), but he lost the girl he truly loved to another man. Yet he's such a chameleon, he's already moving on, keeping the wind at his back.
It's an unusual melody, and a test of Bridge's not inconsiderable singing talents. Though the first line of each verse is repeated, the notes are subtly different, with odd intervals that Bridges hits just right. Even better is the way he lags just before and behind the beat, giving the whole song a flippant, not-quite-raunchy defiance.
Now, I won't pretend I'm strictly objective here; I've been nuts about Jeff Bridges ever since he played Dwayne in The Last Picture Show. (I've even got a few songs from Jeff's solo rock album on my iTunes.) In a way, I see Crazy Heart as a grittified country-music sequel to The Fabulous Baker Boys, with Colin Farrell substituted for brother Beau and alcohol thrown into the mix. As with Jack Baker, the thing that saves Bad Blake is the vestiges of charm he can still pull out on occasion, and he pulls out charm aplenty in this rollicking little number.