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The true saga behind 'Crazy Heart'

T Bone Burnett reflects on the late Stephen Bruton, a childhood friend and his musical collaborator on the buzzed-about new film starring Jeff Bridges.

December 21, 2009|By Randy Lewis

"This was our writing table," Burnett said, indicating the coffee table between the couch and his audiophile sound system, complete with a turntable so he can still listen to vinyl LPs through the monolithic '70s-vintage AR speakers that flank his desk. "Jeff was here, and Scott and Stephen -- [musician] Ryan [Bingham] was here some of the time -- and we would just have conversations about who [Blake] was, what he liked, who he listened to. . . .

"That's a lot of what producing a record is about: creating an identity, clarifying one, strengthening one, bringing one into focus," he said. "In this case, you get to make one up from scratch, and it's a lot of fun."

For Burnett, the whole experience of "Crazy Heart" constitutes an object lesson in honoring artistic passion instead of the financial bottom line.

"It was all done very much just to do it," said Burnett, who hardly needs pet projects to fill his spare time.

Having just produced Costello's acclaimed latest album, "Secret, Profane & Sugarcane," and leading the band on Costello’s national tour, Burnett has a to-do list for the coming year that includes the release of new albums he's produced for Jakob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Gregg Allman, Robert Randolph and John Mellencamp. In addition, he's overseeing an all-star recording of music written by Mellencamp and horror-meister Stephen King for "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County," a play with music that's gunning for Broad- way.

And then there's "Tough Trade," a new series about three generations of country music stars, for which he's serving as executive music producer. It's set to premiere next year for EPIX, Viacom's new multiplatform entertainment service.

As for "Crazy Heart," which last week collected Golden Globe nominations for Bridges' starring performance and for the theme song, "The Weary Kind," which Burnett wrote with upstart Texas singer-songwriter Bingham, he noted that "Nobody got paid; nobody thought anything was going to happen. . . . "It was for the fun of it, but I also felt we could do something good," Burnett said. "My philosophy is that if you do something good, it's got a shot. If you want to do something that's down the middle, the line forms on the right," another lusty laugh erupting.

"So you might as well just go left, right now, and make it good. Then you've got a wide open road in front of you."

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