Heart keeps beating

By JIM MACNIE  |  January 27, 2010

WHO WAS THE MOST REVEALING ARTIST INTERVIEW YOU DID DURING THOSE DAYS? Maybe Hank Williams Jr., who I panned — and I told him I was going to pan him. I said, "I was at the show last night, and you had it on autopilot." He said, "Yeah, you're right, I didn't give a shit." He wasn't mad about me calling him on it. He was quite forthcoming about it, actually.

YOU'VE TOLD THE PRESS THAT IT WAS HANK THOMPSON, WHO YOU SAW OPEN FOR CONWAY TWITTY DURING THAT TIME, WHO INSPIRED BAD BLAKE. HE WAS DOWN ON HIS LUCK. WERE YOU EMBARRASSED FOR HIM? Well, yeah. Conway Twitty wasn't my idea of a great country act, and to have Hank open for him was sad. Almost no one in the audience knew who Hank Thompson was — it was a new generation of listeners. I felt terrible for him. He was as good as he could be, given the conditions of the show. The sound was bad, but you could tell that he could still play and sing. I went to see him at the Washington County Fair years later. I'd been in Rhode Island for about a year, and the book had been out for a few months. I wanted to meet him and show him the book and tell him, "This was started by you . . ." [His performance] was kind of the same deal as [out west], only not as good. He was lackadaisical, tired. I watched him go back to his trailer and started to follow him, but gave up. I felt it would a greater insult to him to show him the book. I think now I was wrong about that. I think I should have done it — it would have been one of the better things that happened to him at that time.

YOU DIDN'T HAVE ANY INPUT ON THECRAZY HEART SCRIPT. SCOTT COOPER REWROTE THE STORY. WAS IT PSYCHOLOGICALLY BETTER FOR YOU TO HAVE THAT DISTANCE? I think it was. It had been optioned a number of times through the years. Things kept falling apart. So I learned early on to just stay away from it. I didn't go and watch the filming, but I didn't have any particular desire to either. While they have some nice points of contact, the novel and the movie are two different things. The movie is good enough to have people looking for the novel again, and that's wonderful. I hadn't expected that.

THEY CHANGED YOUR ENDING. HOW FAR IS A PRODUCTION ALLOWED TO BEND A STORY? As far as they want. They own the movie rights. If you publish a novel and option it to the movies, you're giving them carte blanche. Fox was very concerned that I was happy — they don't want bad publicity — but you have to be prepared for anything.

IS THE BLEAKER ENDING OF THE NOVEL A MORE REALISTIC CONCLUSION FOR A GUY LIKE BAD? I think so. The darker ending was kind of insisted upon by Donald Barthelme [Cobb's former writing teacher]. I had originally written a more upbeat ending, where's there's a reconciliation with [the journalist] Jean.

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