Oscar-Contending Song: Weary, Crazy, True

Ryan Bingham draws on a weathered voice and a tough life to deliver the year’s best movie song.

With the weathered voice of a man forty years his senior and a backstory that includes stints riding bulls and pouring concrete, Ryan Bingham is hardly the typical Hollywood songwriter. But maybe that’s why “The Weary Kind,” the song the 28-year-old singer-songwriter co-wrote with T Bone Burnett, sounds like exactly what it’s supposed to be as the centerpiece of the film “Crazy Heart”: a plaintive bit of soul-searching from aging singer Bad Blake (played by Jeff Bridges) who’s spent the last couple of decades playing in dives and knocking back whiskey shots in dingy bars and cheap motel rooms.

If there’s a better song written for a movie in the last year, or a song that serves a crucial function as ably as “The Weary Kind” does, I haven’t heard it. It marks a career detour for Bingham, who’s released two fine albums (“Mescalito” and “Roadhouse Sun”) but hadn’t envisioned getting into the music business until his agent sent a tape of his songs to “Crazy Heart” director Scott Cooper, who sent Bingham the script and asked him to join the team of musical talent assembled by producer and music supervisor T Bone Burnett.

On Tuesday, Bingham came off the road after a tour with his band, the Dead Horses. On Wednesday, he spent the day in Beverly Hills talking about his participation in “Crazy Heart” – and, at a press event, taking the stage for a performance of “The Weary Kind” that I captured in an admittedly low-tech manner. The cameraman may be a little shaky, but the performer is true:

 

 

Not long after the performance, Bingham talked about the song, and the film, in which he also has a small role as the leader of a bar band. (The band, naturally, is played by Bingham’s own band.)

What triggered “The Weary Kind”?
I read the script while I was on the road with my band, and that just made everything click. I could really relate to the story of this guy, Bad Blake, seeing the road that he was going down. And it didn’t take really long to write the song. I was thinking about the struggle of this guy, how he hits rock bottom but gets a second chance. And it just kinda came out. “This ain’t no place for the weary kind” – this isn’t a place for people that don’t have enough strength to get back up on their feet and give it another chance.

Did that phrase come early in the writing?
I don’t even really remember when it came to me. I had “crazy heart” to go off of, because it was the title of the script, but I felt like it would mean more to put the phrase into the song but not make it the title. (laughs) I wasn’t going to write a chorus where I was singing, “my crazy heart, my crazy heart.” I felt like I needed to express it in a different way.

Besides, Hank Williams already used that title.
Yeah, that too.

How far along was the song when you brought it to T Bone Burnett?
It was pretty far along. I had a line, “You are the man that ruined the world, and T Bone mentioned making it “you are the man that ruined her world,” to reflect on the Maggie [Gyllenhaal] character. It made total sense. Collaborating with T Bone helped point out a few things in the song, brought in some extra details to bring it all together.

Did you feel any extra pressure trying to write a song that the character describes as “the best song I ever wrote”?
I didn’t really think about it that much. I read the script, and just got an impression of the character, and I wrote it from the place that it inspired me to go. I didn’t really analyze it, or look too closely about what the script said about the song.  

The song requires you to put yourself in the shoes of a guy a lot older than you – but I guess since you first came out, you’ve had people saying, “Who is this kid who’s writing about being a desperado?”
Yeah. I don’t really understand why. I kinda grew up around older people, and I saw my family struggle through things. And some of those images stuck with me. I guess I would write about some old broke-down guy because I had seen people like that, and it seemed more interesting than writing about the high school dance. I don’t know if that makes me wise beyond my years or not.

Did you work with Colin Farrell when it came time for him to sing your song?
Colin was around when we were writing, which was great. And he had a great voice. It’s funny, because when he originally sang, before they worked to tone his accent down, he had this strong Irish accent come out. I thought it was beautiful, man.