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Entries in eleanor morrow (42)

Friday
Feb192010

In Which We Don't Want No Part Of This Crazy Heart

Whatever Happened to the Dude?

by ELEANOR MORROW

The Dude entered all of our lives somewhere in the 1998-1999 era and jokes based on his one liners ("he peed on my rug!", "mind if I do a J?", "there's a beverage here", "they killed my fucking car") touched the lips of every person more concerned with his own amusement than the pleasure of others. Now the Dude has been recast in a full length motion picture where he is essentially himself, only slightly different: Whiskey rather than vodka is the new Dude's poison of choice. For a hard luck alcoholic, the Dude is better at making it work for him than most. Sometimes I put on Blown Away just to remind myself Jeff Bridges still has a face under whatever's growing on his. The new Dude is named Bad Blake, and he's a singer/songwriter.

that was brilliant. drive me to work.But wait - Bad Blake has entered into the unlikeliest of romances! And what's not to like? Bad Blake, his handle in Scott Cooper's Crazy Heart, is a alcohol-swilling malcontent who coasts through life under the premise that someone may recognize him and be grateful enough for that human contact that they take mercy on him. Blake is constantly having to conform to a society that mystifies and disturbs him. For example, he performs at a bowling alley.

The Dude was never this way. He wanted out from the conspiracy, to leave the rat race and the popular culture behind him and just relax. He was too old and too fully automated to be forced to change. In contrast Bad Blake wants to change, like a hopeful puppy. And he does. In Crazy Heart, he kicks his lifelong history of alcoholism in under 90 seconds, a record only surpassed by one of the Lizzy McGuire movies, if I'm not mistaken.

You'll spend most of Crazy Heart luxuriating in the fact that Blake's "romance" with Maggie Gyllenhaal is so unusual. I mean, they both like Lefty Frizell, but only one of them I guess actually met Lefty. To make this romance even more unusual than is commonly depicted in collected oeuvre of Zooey Deschanel - including her fake "marriage" to Ben Gibbard - the two connect while she interviews Bad for a story she's writing for an mp3 blog.

Adding to the super-realistic complexity of the entire situation is that Maggie has a son, who is named Buddy. Was he called this just so the Dude can get a lot of mileage out of creepily/kind-of-jokingly connecting to Maggie's teeny son while he says "Buddy" upwards of 5,000 times? When Maggie and Buddy show up at Blake's house for a visit, he has a breakdown and loses the kid in a bar somewhere. I mean, what is this rule about children not being in bars? The last three bars I went to had children in them. Blake and Maggie spend most of their time connecting one-on-one about how unusual this is. The Smiths never come up.

In between, Blake heads out on the road, or what is left of it. We witness scenes where Blake stumbles around like an elephant walking the high wire, vomiting and then heading onstage for more. The performance segments prove Bridges isn't the worst singer in the world, and although Crazy Heart captures little of the thrill (or lack thereof) that drives Blake from town-to-town, above all we are in the hands of someone who loves to be the center of attention.

Broke and fucked-up, Bad Blake is forced on the mercies of his former protege Tommy "Ponytail Beeswax" Sweet. Needing the money, Blake performs the opening act for his incredibly popular student, acting like a petty master the whole time. At one point the silly-named Sweet joins Bad on stage and we can feel the older man's resentment, like, "You'd take this from me, too?" What kind of room could a woman find in the life of such a person?

As the Dude's life tumbles to shit as it was wont to do after Donny was lost to us and the Dude got Donny's ashes in his beard, he enters into a wholly unexpected creative period.

Crazy Heart equates the painful onset of a hard life with the material necessary to create art, hardly a new perspective on the matter. Bad Blake's previous hits (written largely by Jeff Bridges and one super-cute duet with Colin Farrell, "Falling and Flying") were rollicking, unapologetic anthems. Seeing Blake grind through them one more time is like watching someone with obsessive compulsive disorder cleaning their room.

In the flush of getting laid by a worthwhile woman for the first time in three decades, the new music Blake writes is introspective, heart-stopping. His unusual girlfriend starts a weepfest in bed because she overhears him playing something memorable. It'd be hilarious if it was Joe Francis, but in the otherwise capable hands of the Dude it's a goddamn shame.

Later he tells his other buddy (Robert Duvall, who also gets a song on the soundtrack and produced Crazy Heart) about this woman he met. He sounds like a sixteen year old instead of a multiple divorcee. Soon enough the Dude is dressing more modern. He starts to resemble Harrison Ford. His incredible 90 second recovery from alcoholism belies the fact that he was the least harmful drunk in the history of drunks. Blake starts wearing a cell phone on his hip like everyone else over 50, and he's not as crabby during soundcheck.

Maggie calls Bad up one day. "I'm worried about you," she tells him. He's making eggs on the clean stove. It got that way because of the energy level he maintains while not craving alcohol. He's clean-shaven, looking at something in the pan. He's happy, in artistic control, and she is the one who becomes the wreck.

The pleasure-seeker - which the Dude most certainly is - pursues his self-satisfaction in many guises. Bridges' strength as a performer has always been the way he slips into a role while simultaneously being unrecognizable; the acting equivalent of deja vu. This pleasure seeker has his fill of life's tiny little orgasms, until in a candid moment a doctor tells him to stop smoking, stop drinking, and lose 25 pounds. Just 25! Did you see what this guy ate in a motel room in a towel?

For the pleasure seeker, a heady grasp on your own mortality is part of the package. For the Dude, money itself has no value or status, it is simply the means to a more explosive end. He tells Tommy Sweet, who he apparently taught guitar to, and who therefore owes Blake a living for some reason, that he needs money, but he's lying. That's the last thing he needs.

Tommy Sweet is played by Colin Farrell, which is a laugh. They might have been better off with someone who could sing, but Farrell at least brings a star magnetism to the role of a pouty superstar. Hearing him vocalize Blake's finest artistic achievement is painful, but mostly because Farrell's smoked approximately 49,000 cigarettes in his short life and his lungs look like two black testes.

By the end of Crazy Heart, instead of being emasculated by this intrusion of commercial culture onto his own personal throwback lifestyle, the Dude tells his ex-girlfriend that he's taking it one day at a time, possibly the worst cliche in a long history series of them. The point for the pleasure-seeker is the experience rather than the end result. In Blake's case, it produced a work of art, so the pain was worthwhile. You gotta ask: what's Brad Pitt's excuse?

It isn't what happens in Crazy Heart that's terribly exciting. It's not the places we go in our heads or in the real world. For people like Bad Blake, life is shortened, abbreviated, childlike. This is the exact position that being the constant moving target of a consumer culture puts us in. It's no wonder Blake sends Maggie's son Buddy gifts to spoil him and win his favor. That's the only appropriate expression of his grief for what's been lost without adult behavior and artistic maturity. It's a way of participating in life that is distinctive to this time and place. The Dude would have mixed himself a White Russian and told everyone to fuck off.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan. She last wrote in these pages about the premiere of Big Love.

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"The Weary Kind" - Ryan Bingham (mp3)

"Live Forever" - Robert Duvall (mp3)

"If I Need You" - Townes Van Zandt (mp3)

"Brand New Angel" - Jeff Bridges (mp3)

"Reflecting Light" - Sam Phillips (mp3)

Wednesday
Jan132010

In Which Big Love Walks A Lonely Road

The Very Ecstasy of Love

by ELEANOR MORROW

How should we treat the ones we love? The new season of Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer's HBO series Big Love puts this issue into the sharpest of focus. Do they need a firm yet giving hand? Do they require a major degree of autonomy to function? When is it right to criticize and challenge those we love, and when is the same behavior certain to destroy them?

It's rare to see actual bad parenting portrayed on television, and this only one strange element about the relationship of Big Love's character to its audience. We can't fully sympathize with characters who treat their children in this fashion, and yet we're drawn into the dilemmas of the Hendricksons slowly but surely, without realizing what exactly we're doing. In case you're overly prejudiced against multiple partners and have avoided the show, the Hendricksons are currently spawning new babies quicker than Brad Pitt's rimjobs: Teenie, Aaron, Lester, Ben, Nell, Wayne, Sarah, Cara Lynn are only the beginning of the large brood routinely ignored by their parents.

weirdly, this is the most attractive Harry Dean Stanton has ever beenNone of these kids are turning out very well. The oldest is Sarah, played by Amanda Seyfried. Last season had her dealing with a pregnancy that got deus ex hendrickson'd into oblivion. Now she's just a regular Mormon girl dealing with her Mormon problems, like what dress that goes down to my ankles should I wear today? Given that she's more occupied with movie roles where she's tonguing Julianne Moore, the intriguing questioning Mormon Seyfried portrayed will be missed as a crucial part of Big Love's success, absorbed into a relationship in the same fashion as any other girl you know.

What can fill the void? Nikki's surprise daughter Cara Lynn has been a fun start. The junior math whiz tells her dirtbag father that she doesn't like it with the Hendricksons, but we sense that's about to change when she realizes she can do whatever she wants on her new compound.

The surprise daughter trick has worked quite well as a plot device in soaps, and that's the direction Big Love has headed. The seedy prophet Roman Grant tied the show into a very disturbing portrait of a cult that subjected its members to a series of disgusting circumstances. With his departure from the drama, the stakes have lessened somewhat, and the soap aspects naturally come to the foreground. Before, there was always the distinct and frightening possibility that any character would end up in the joy book of Juniper Creek and became another cog in the wifely machine that is polygamy.

For this reason, I expected the premiere to be more of a reboot than it was. What we really care about are the ties between people on this show, and since Juniper Creek is no longer the pressure point it was during the first three seasons, the show is desperately in need of a new antagonist who represents the morality of the outsider who produce, direct, and write this show. Fortunately guest turns by Sissy Spacek as a lobbyist, Željko Ivanek as Nicki's ex and the return of once fourth wife Ana are promised in the abbreviated nine-episode season to come.

The new opening sequence is a neat metaphor for how the show has changed over time. No longer are wives and husbands swirling away from one another in a fog. They now just fall singularly like Mormon Don Drapers into a new abyss of their own making.

honey, would it make you feel better if we recast you after this season? go play with your brothersThe tension between Roman Grant and the Hendricksons wasn't the only captivating storyline that made Big Love so exciting. There was always some fear of Bill, Margene, Nicki and Barb being discovered and outed. Now it's obvious that every attorney and police in Salt Lake City knows that Bill butters his bread in three houses. If they knew how rarely he was actually getting laid, they might not be so acrimonious. Bill's sex life has struggled terribly now that he's opening his collaborative casino project with the kind and potential Mormon-hating indigenous people of Utah. The focus is on Bill's business, for better or worse, and by the end of the season premiere, his business is in serious trouble.

With the focus shifting towards Bill's casino venture, Margene Hendrickson's plucky, sexpot saleswoman wife has become the unwitting protagonist of Big Love. Where last season she tried to get Bill to bring on a saucy foreign fourth wife, this year her reinvention as Home Shopping Network star promises more laughs than all the scenes Bradley Cooper wasn't in during He's Just Not That Into You. The show's writers have turned one of the most easily pigeonholed characters on the show into one of its deepest.

beeeeeeeeeeeeellllll?In contrast, Jeanne Tripplehorn's Barb has become minimized as a result of the focus on the other two wives. Barb's done it all - she beat cancer like a champ, she found dry land in Waterworld, and she got excommunicated from her religion. While the experience of being disliked by Indians is somewhat captivating, she's run out of creative steam and it's going to take a major shakeup to make her anything other than Bill Paxton's dialogue coach.

That brings us to Chloe Sevigny. What starlet was more likely to have a face tattoo and a heroin addiction? And yet Sevigny only keeps on working in what can charitably be described as the role of a lifetime. Her Nicki is a tic-ridden, subversive amalgam of woman, so good and bad at once she'd give Jesus (or Joseph Smith) one hell of a headache. To add insult to Mormonism, she's never been more beautiful. With her father out of the picture, it simply leaves more room for the note perfect scenes between her and her similarly conflicted mother Adaleen (the magical Mary Kay Place). In these scenes on the Juniper Creek compound we get the most obvious evidence of how corrupting an ideology that pervades every aspect of our being necessarily is.

this is a really cute hat bill. could our tribe have it?Over time, Big Love has grown more suspicious and derogatory towards polygamy. This is only right - what to the non-cultists looks like a unique but not entirely savage family arrangement over time reveals itself to be more corrupting than you can ever imagine. Bill himself has nothing more to give to his wives, and as if compensating, they find little in common with him. The practical benefit of having a large family is virtually all that can be said in the favor of this family structure.

And yet we ultimately recognize that the ideology which pervades the hypocritical government persecution of the Hendricksons is just as all-knowing and insolent. We should never speak for others, even when what they do is strange and weird to us, as long as it is freely chosen. No one needs a lecture on why polygamy is generally bad for wives and the children that result from such arrangements. The gay married masterminds behind the show Scheffer and Olsen have no intention of giving one. All families have something that redeems them, no matter how disturbing their structure. What redeems the Hendricksons is an open question.

Financial freedom is part of the equation, as it is for every other family in America. But there is something larger beneath that about what we see when we look at our children. Staring in a mirror at the daughter she didn't see in twelve years, Nicki Hendrickson puts on a look of total care and total dominance. She wants nothing of Juniper Creek for her daughter, but she is not perceptive enough to learn or diligent enough to figure out that her daughter may in fact want something of Juniper Creek. But then, if children didn't always surprise their parents, what exactly would be the point of having them?

family meeting: I really hate what you guys have been wearingEven as Big Love conscientiously and dutifully assails the evils of polygamy, it is also offering a brief that the human heart remains capable of more love than we commonly give it credit for. On the other hand, it also endorses a more cynical view - sooner or later, we run out of this mysterious and desired substance.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She last wrote in these pages about John Lennon and Bob Dylan.

"The Great Elsewhere" - Final Fantasy (mp3)

"Lewis Takes Off His Shirt" - Final Fantasy (mp3)

"Flare Gun" - Final Fantasy (mp3)

You can purchase the new FF, Heartland, here.

Sunday
Dec062009

In Which Bob Dylan and John Lennon Were Earlier Versions of Someone

When John Lennon Met Bob Dylan

by ELEANOR MORROW

We would normally be rung a couple of weeks before the recording session and they'd say, 'We're recording in a month's time and you've got a week off before the recordings to write some stuff.' ...so I'd go out to John's every day for the week, and the rest of the time was just time off. We always wrote a song a day, whatever happened we always wrote a song a day.... Mostly it was me getting out of London, to John's rather nice, comfortable Weybridge house near the golf course.... So John and I would sit down, and by then it might be one or two o'clock, and by four or five o'clock we'd be done.

- Paul McCartney

Things were once so easy for The Beatles. Their influences were women and whatever Carl Perkins songs they'd take for the album. The Lennon-Bob Dylan scene from D.A. Pennebaker's Don't Look Back was far from the first time John Lennon mincingly met Bob Dylan, from whom he may have thefted a number of self-involved "makeovers" over the years. The offending footage is like raising the curtain on The Wizard of Oz.

In his autobiography Chronicles, Dylan is relatively charitable about how he viewed The Beatles, although he was still courteous enough to put the proper distance between them and him.

The Beatles: not gay. Dylan biographer Howard Sounes described the meeting between Lennon and Dylan this way:

Lennon said later he was "very high and stoned," but he looked healthier than Bob, who appeared painfully thin and very pale. For a while, the banter was charming, like a scene from a Beatles movie. Lennon snapped off smart comments and Bob giggled. "Do you suffer from sore eyes, groovy forehead, or curly hair?" Lennon asked, in his comedic voice. "Take Zimdon." When the car passes a couple kissing in the street, Bob directed the camera to them. "Oh! Oh! Get those two lovers over there," he said, brightly. But his words became increasingly slurred and muddled. Toward the end of the segment, he begged chauffeur Tom Keylock to hurry to the hotel because he said he was about to vomit.

No one could become something else like Bob, and Lennon may well have discerned another direction for his career, one that would immediately stray from straightlaced songwriting efforts. Lennon saw a darker version of himself, and reached across a taxicab to inhabit it like another costume. The rest of The Beatles weren't far behind.

in belfastDylan would later have a long talk with all The Beatles, and although he can't really be blamed for breaking up the group, we can assume he didn't preach solidarity:

In London, Bob met up again with Dana Gillespie, and received The Beatles at the Mayfair Hotel. Bob Johnston flew in from America to assist in the recording of British concerts, and sat up most of one night while Bob rapped to The Beatles. Johnston believes the experience changed the group forever. "All four of The Beatles were in his hotel room and he talked to them all night long. They never even talked," he says. "When they came out the next morning they were John Lennon and George Harrison and Paul McCartney. They weren't The Beatles." As McCartney has said, "Dylan was influencing us quite heavily at that point."

tom murrayClinton Heylin's biography of Bob accounts for a similar event that's become somewhat apocryphal:

The occasion when Dylan descended from Woodstock to meet The Beatles, at their New York hotel, may have become overly imbued with Import, but on the night of August 28, 1964, two cultures fumbled for a common creed via a bag of weed.

bob & allen ginsbergIn the company of Victor Maymudes and Al Aronowitz, Dylan ascended the Delmonico elevator that evening to meet the current arbiters of change in pop culture. When he entered the Beatles' suite and went in search of 'what he usually drinks, cheap wine,' he was informed by Brian Epstein that they only had champagne. Apparently offered some pills, Bob suggested some pot and proceeded to roll a joint. As the Fab Four partook for the first time, enlightenment apparently dawned, though in the cold light of the following morn, it proved illusory.

As McCartney put it afterrwards, "I was wandering around looking for a pencil because I discovered the meaning of life that evening and I wanted to get it down on a bit of paper...Mal handed me the little bit of paper the next morning...and on it was written, in very scrawly handwriting: THERE ARE SEVEN LEVELS."

with bob deniro and david blueYou can't mock The Beatles for listening to everything Bob had to say, although it was a heady measure of their innocence that they took this much advice from someone who was supposed to be their peer. After Lennon died, Bob Dylan dealt with a stalker and feared for his life. He retreated even further into a distressing amalgam of different selves, as Todd Haynes made a long point of indicating.

Earlier this year, Dylan passed unnoticed through a bus tour of Lennon's Liverpool home. It's hard to imagine what he thought he could take from such an experience. The answer is tied up in The Beatles innocently engrossed with whatever Bob had to say to them. If there's one thing Bob is good at it, it's bringing something new to something old.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan. She tumbls here.

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"Honey, Don't" - The Beatles (mp3)

"Every Little Thing" - The Beatles (mp3)

"Eight Days A Week" -  The Beatles (mp3)

"Rock and Roll Music" - The Beatles (mp3)

 

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