'Crazy Heart': T Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham talk about the movie's music, Leonard Cohen, and onstage vomiting
One of this awards season’s dark horse contenders is Crazy Heart, the Jeff Bridges-starring tale of a boozy, down-on-his-luck country singer called Bad Blake who lurches—often literally—from one ill-attended show to another.
The music in the movie was supervised by singer-songwriter T Bone Burnett, who previously performed the same task on the Johnny Cash biopic Walk The Line and O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Burnett also co-wrote the Golden Globe-nominated Crazy Heart track “The Weary Kind” with rising country-rocker Ryan Bingham, who also appears in the film. After the break, EW chats with the pair about the artists who inspired Bad Blake’s repertoire, the practical advantages of leather pants, and whether Bingham can afford to have Burnett produce his next album.
Entertainment Weekly: With Crazy Heart, you basically had to come up with the greatest hits of a fictional character. Was that a daunting task?
T Bone Burnett: It was more daunting doing Walk The Line, where we had a real character that was carved in granite, an epic American figure that we had to measure up to. This guy, we had complete freedom to draw from 100 years of music to put together just a few songs. We didn’t get hung up on it. Also, Ryan walked in with that song “The Weary Kind,” which was crucial.
Ryan Bingham: That song kind of came to me easy. That character of Bad Blake, I grew up around so many guys like that. I kind of had some family members that lived that life [laughs], that way of drinking and of dealing with things. But [developing the music for Bad Blake] was up to T Bone. I got to hang out and just listen and learn. I guess I lucked out.
I’ll say. In the movie you perform with Jeff Bridges in a bowling alley. You even share an onscreen joint with him. It must have been hard not to start quoting Big Lebowski lines.
Bingham: It was pretty cool. I mean, hell, we got to smoke a joint with the Dude! What else is there after that? It’s like, ‘F—, I’m gonna die a happy man.’
Later in that sequence, Bridges’ Bad Blake has to leave the stage to throw up. Has that ever happened to you guys?
Bingham: I don’t know if I’ve ever done it onstage. I’ve seen my drummer do it, though.
Did he keep the beat?
Bingham: Yeah, he kept on trucking. He just turned his head to the side and kept on rolling, man. A little barf never hurt anybody. But I’ve heard that’s why it’s always good to wear leather pants, if you can get away with it. That way, if you drool or puke on yourself, it just rolls right off.
Burnett: I have had a similar experience where I’ve just gotten too overcome to play. Yes I have done that.
Too overcome emotionally?
Burnett: In every possible way.
What real musicians’ repertoires influenced the music you put together for Bad Blake?
Burnett: For me, Don Williams was the primary prototype. We had to look for singers with deep chest voices for Bad because of Jeff and his singing voice. And Don Williams was very close to that. He had a deep chest voice. He’s somebody I would love to work with because his music meant a lot to me. Another one was Leonard Cohen, who’s got a deep chest voice. And I thought in the ’60s, when Bad was getting started, he probably would have wanted to be Leonard Cohen, if he had the chance. But, coming from where he was from, and what he had to work with, there was no way he was ever going to be that. But that was probably part of his frustration, his having to try to fit in to some place that he didn’t really fit into.
T Bone, as someone who has musically collaborated with Joaquin Phoenix, I have to ask: Do you know what the hell is going on with this so-called rap career of his?
Burnett: [Laughs] No, I don’t unfortunately. I wonder what he’s up to?
Well, he’s up to trying to make it as a hip-hop performer. Unless it’s a big joke. No one seems to be really sure whether he’s pulling our collective leg.
Burnett: Yeah, I don’t know. I wouldn’t think he was [joking]. He’s not like that. I would say he really is interested in that, and wants to do it.
So, “The Weary Kind” is up for a Golden Globe this weekend alongside tracks by U2 and Paul McCartney and a song from some film called Avatar, whatever that is. How do you rate your chances?
Bingham: I don’t even know if anyone has heard of those guys. U2-who? Who’s that? No, I enjoy being the underdog, man.
Finally, Ryan, are you going to be able to afford to get T Bone to produce your next album?
Bingham: I don’t know if I can afford it. Maybe I can do a lay-away plan!
You can check out the video for “The Weary Kind” below. Have you seen Crazy Heart yet? What did you think?
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