Heartaches, Private Dicks, An’ Old Dogs With New Tricks, Part Two
Wednesday 19 November @ 12:29:18
This column is continued from last week. Surf online to http://www.pulsetc.com for Part One.
As I wuz sayin’ last week, let’s go over the many comparisons to Willie Nelson’s own life in episode #90 of The Rockford Files, Heartaches Of A Fool, to that of the hard-drinkin’, music lovin’ character Charlie Strayhorn, one more time:
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I got started when rock was beginning to be big. They didn’t have many stations that played country music, so I thought I’d try a rock song. I wrote one of the stupidest things I ever wrote, called “Dadgummit, How Come It?” I used the name Thumper Jones so people wouldn’t know it was me.”
SONG OF THE WEEK: “The Great Pretender”
1) Willie’s songs (“Good Hearted Woman” and “Heartaches Of A Fool”) are both used prominently in the episode, yet Willie is not. Shades of them songwritin’ days when nobody knew he’d written great tunes like “Hello Walls” or “Crazy” for Patsy Cline, etc.
2) That point is never so obvious as when (A) Rocky slams an 8-track marked Charlie Strayhorn in his truck deck and Willie’s voice comes waftin’ out, and (B), when Jim and a whiskey-ripped Strayhorn are flyin’ to Cripple Creek, Arkansas, to check out the phony sausage plant an’ Charlie sez to Jim, “Ya don’t mind if I go write some music, do ya? (“Not at all,” sez the private dick) an’ proceeds to pick up his guitar.
Suddenly the shot cuts to the outside of the plane and once again, Willie’s voice rings out with “Heartaches Of A Fool.” The producers never actually SHOW Strayhorn singin’ the tunes, which is kinda cool I guess, no lip-synchin’ needed, but really, couldn’t Willie have just PLAYED THE PART, and BETTER? Sheesh.
3) Strayhorn’s troubles with the IRS, women, booze, shitty business partners, and slimy lawyers reflect Willie’s own real-life problems with scary accuracy.
Even weirder, Willie is 68 this year, and Noah Beery’s character, Rocky, was 68 on that episode. In the end, one’s left wondering if perhaps the show’s producers were pals with ol’ Willie, an’ were tryin’ to (somehow) help him out here. Which also leads one to wonder, did Rocky an’ Jim (er—Noah Beery Jr., and James Garner) also dig Willie’s music? Now, that would be cool.
4) The song “Heartaches Of A Fool” is another picture-perfect image of Willie’s life at that point. Check these lyrics out: “Started out with the dreams, the plans of a wise man/Ended up with the heartaches of a fool/As a boy I walked through the valley and gazed at the world all around/Made a vow that somehow I’d find fame and fortune/I found it look at me now...”
5) This far-out but wacky 1978 episode of a TV classic contains all of the necessary ingredients needed to make up Mr. Nelson’s latest effort, The Great Divide, which, like The Rockford Files, (A) Features Willie singing, but also includes a handful o’ overpaid schlubs who don’t deserve to breathe the same air as he does; (B) Is supposed to be kind of about Willie but really isn’t because it’s about people who were never even half as talented as he was/is and will surely never rise above the cesspool of fame and ignorance they’ve dived headfirst into; (C) Will leave you feeling just a little confused, kinda gypped, and wondering why Willie didn’t just PLAY ALL THE PARTS HIMSELF!!
OK, so maybe I’m bein’ just a little harsh on the folks Willie chose to surround himself with this time out, but man, after the past five years of CRAP-OLA radio in this country, do we really fucking need to hear ROB THOMAS’ voice EVER AGAIN?! Jesus! An’ the other guests on this record—can you say MONEY MACHINES?? Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt, Brian McKnight, and Lee Ann Womack ... argh. Why not use, gee, I dunno ... AUTHENTIC, ARTISTIC VOCALISTS/WRITERS, like Iris Dement, Caitlin Cary, Gillian Welch, shit, even Susannah Hoffs woulda made a sweet, not-so-overfuckin’played addition to this mix, man. Kid Rock is probably the only mutha bad enough in real life to warrant inclusion on a Willie album, and even his schtick is more worn down than the rubber on my car tires.
Saving graces of the album? Well, there’s WILLIE of course. His voice can make even that (mostly) atrocious Twisted Willie tribute album (featuring such “modern rock” wankers as The Presidents Of The USA, Mark Lanegan, and Jerry Cantrell mucking up the works) worth owning, as his one appearance on that slab proved. What else, though? Well, there is a so-so cover of the Mickey Newbury psych/rock standard “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” but I guess the only point worth mentioning here is that it’s NOT KENNY ROGERS singin’. Otherwise, who needs to hear that shite agin’? A cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” is probably the Cheez-Whiz on toppa this slicked-up cracker, an’ even that woulda sounded better done with Nina Hagen or Wendy O. or even Lucille Ball chimin’ in, fer chrissakes.
Now, I’m not knockin’ the LEGEND of Willie Nelson here. Shee-it, pard’ner, I’m jes’ glad he’s still around to sing at all, after losin’ Waylon an’ Johnny an’ June Carter an’ the creative juices of George Jones, Merle Haggard, an’ so many others over the past few years. Thing is, this package smacks so loudly of corporate BULLSHIT that ya gotta wonder if ol’ Willie hasn’t taken jes’ ONE HIT too many, or swilled that nasty whuskey jes’ ONE DRINK too long, or if (and this is more likely) he really, really, really does jes’ NEED THE MONEY still.
Hey, I love it when established artists attempt to incorporate modern sounds into their repertoire; I’ve rarely felt insulted by a Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, or Neil Young album—but there is something to be said about old dogs an’ new tricks when it comes to the vapid, overplayed artists included on this collection.
And Willie—if ya do need the bread that badly—ya see what admitting to smokin’ a joint on the roof of the White House can lead to? Tsk. Tsk.
These days, it’s too late to worry about messin’ with Jebus, Mother Nature, or Allah—don’t fuck with the IRS, man—or you too may one day end up in a small room, recording Cyndi Lauper tunes with ROB THOMAS!! May the sainted scent of Irish whiskey bless ya, Willie—I’ll be lookin’ forward to your next SOLO album filled with (Jesus God I’ll even take another children’s album over this!), hopefully, more of them from-the-gut, heart-wrenching, tear-jerkin’ American classics that we all know you can pen an’ sing. Until then—if I want Sheryl, Kid Rock, or any of the rest of those media-saturated entertainment giants, I’ll jes’ leave mah VCR on VH-1 an’ let ‘er record all night. I’m just glad Rocky Rockford wasn’t around to see this travesty.
Mebbe Willie shoulda released this album under the name Charlie Strayhorn—yeh, tooka page from stinky ol’ Garth Brooks an’ tried to pretend it war’nt him whut done it. But nawww ... we all know Willie’s too damn honest (this piece o’ poo release an’ his difficulties with the IRS aside) to ever git involved with a flim-flammery such as that. The troof is, The Great Divide simply ain’t fer troo bloo Willie fans at all—it’s fer newbies n’ teenie boppers n’ old bags n’ trendy assholes n’ all the terwilligers who guested on it (their press bios, anyway), but mostly, like I said, it’s fer The Red Headed Stranger’s bank account. Seems he’s finally livin’ up to dat ol’ outlaw image and pullin’ a straight-up, from-the-hip bank robbery of the legal type—right from your bank account into his (or the IRS’, who can tell nowdays?) own.
Me, I’m gonna go crank up my copy of “Heartaches Of A Fool” one more time, an’ bask in the glow of the REAL Willie Nelson. As he so eloquently put it back in 1978: “Get around me, you fools for a dollar, listen to me; a lesson you’ll learn/Well, there’s happiness and love sent from heaven above/And the fires of ambition will burn/Started out with the dreams, the plans of a wise man/Ended up with the heartaches of a fool ...”
That’s it for me this week, kiddies—until next time, make yer own damn news.