Monday, February 15, 2010

Jim is observing President's Day. He's spending a lot of the holiday weekend in his car, in which he's been listening to the marvelous soundtrack from the new feature film Crazy Heart, starring Jeff Bridges the washed-up country singer Bad Blake. The storyline involves Blake's attempt to come to terms with the success of a protege, Tommy Sweet, a good-looking hot new star played by Colin Farrell, as well as navigate a relationship with a single mother played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. It's a fine little movie that also features Robert Duvall as Blake's bar-owning pal (Duvall is a producer of the film), but its principal attraction is Bridges, who once again demonstrates why he's the greatest American actor of his generation in his astounding range.

That range extends to a surprisingly credible performance on the soundtrack, which was assembled by the veteran producer T-Bone Burnett in collaboration with longtime session man Stephen Bruton, whose recent death has resulted in a disputed will (here's a recent Times stor
y on the controversy). The album as a neoclassical feel to it, including chestnuts from Buck Owens, Lightnin' Hopkins, and Waylon Jennings, as well as appearances from the much more contemporary Ryan Bingham. But what really brings it to life are set of Bruton-Burnett songs that are remarkably simple but sturdy in their resonance. These include the Oscar-nominated theme song, "The Weary Kind," as well as the marvelous "Fallin' and Flyin," ("Funny how fallin' seems like flyin'/For a little while," goes the chorus, which includes this resonant bridge:

you never see it comin’ till it’s gone
it all happens for a reason
even when it’s wrong
especially when it’s wrong

The song, like number of others, is performed in multiple permutations, all of which have their satisfactions. At a time of tremendous cultural fragmentation in popular music, it's a reassuring pleasure to savor the deceptively simple joy of traditional country music. Old Abe Lincoln would surely agree.

Jim is also taking a break from historical reading by returning to an old favorite, Sue Grafton, whose
U is for Undertow is the twentieth book in her now-fabled abcedarian series featuring her plucky PI protagonist, Kinsey Millhone. This time Kinsey is hired by a less than credible college dropout who believes that as a child he witnessed the aftermath of a long unsolved murder from the 1960s. Grafton's novels, which she started publishing in the early eighties, have proceeded much more slowly than in real time; this one is set in 1988 with (skillfully executed) flashbacks to the sixties. This strategy increasingly makes the books historical documents in their own right; Grafton is happy to deny Kinsey the Internet, which would surely make her work easier -- and a lot less fun.

With a final nod to AL and GW, whose vision, and loyalty to that vision, have made a nation that offers such democratic pleasure, a Happy President's Day to all.