While you're watching 2 of this season's big Oscar contenders, listen closely and read between the lines at the significance of the songs that play over their closing credits.
Two of America's most mainstream country legends have provided instant-classic songs for two of the most thought-provoking and boundry-breaking films in history. I'm referring to Dolly Parton - who's song "Travelin' Thru" closed "Transamerica" - and Willie Nelson - with the haunting "He was a Friend of Mine" for "Brokeback Mountain." I quite by accident (and crazily) met Willie Nelson at a dinner party last month and quizzed him about his ode to cowboy love. He told me that at the time he recorded the song, he'd only been shown the final scenes of "Brokeback" in order to get the context of how his song would play. The motivation worked. His song continues the mood of the film perfectly, coming right after the its tearful ending, as Ennis says "Jack, I swear." Willie sings: "Every time I think of him, I just can't keep from cryin'. Cuz he was a friend of mine.... He never done no wrong. A thousand miles from home, and he never harmed no one. And he was a friend of mine."
Willie said he liked the movie very much and that the talk on his tour bus had been whether the story of two cowboys in love would play down in Austin, Texas. Judging from red state box office receipts, it looks like folks all over are buying it. (And the great Emmylou Harris is getting nominated all over the place for her great "Brokeback" song, "A Love that Will Never Grow Old.")
Later in the evening he told me with a laugh that he'd written another song about 2 cowboys in love years and years ago with what sounded like a pretty amusing title at the time. I should say that by that point in the night we'd been tippin' back the glasses pretty hard, and - now that I'm sober- for the life of me I can't find the name of the song online. I CAN tell you that it's not "Mamma's Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys" or "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys" and it doesn't seem to be "Are There Any More Real Cowboys," but maybe it's "So You Think You're a Cowboy!" Man, Willie writes a lot about cowboys!
He also revealed that he's thinking about making a video for the song at a gay bar down south and had offers from some surprising A-list names to appear in it! Willie Nelson is one cool customer who's bus rolls to the beat of his own supercool drum.
Speaking of cool drums, Dolly Parton is the Albert Pujols of country music - hitting a grand slam whenever she opens her mouth. As if her latest album (featuring covers of "Imagine," "Me and Bobby McGee" and more) still doesn't have me covered in goose bumps, she closes one of the most original movies in years with a beautiful song called "Travelin' Thru" that perfectly conveys the spirit of the film. In the final moments of "Transamerica," Dolly preaches: "God made me for a reason, and nothing is in vain. Redemption comes in many shapes, with many kinds of pain. Sweet Jesus if you're listenin' keep me ever close to you, as I'm stumblin', tumblin' wonderin', as I'm travelin' thru." It's not exactly headline news that the Queen of Country loves people who are different, but, having been to Dollywood I can report that Dolly's core followers aren't likely to be rushing to see "Transamerica."
When asked about the song, Dolly said "I was proud to be asked to write a song for 'TransAmerica.' It's a remarkable movie that touches you in every single place of human emotion." To date, "Travelin' Thru" was nominated for a Golden Globe and will most likely be up for an Oscar. I'm not going to go into a microbiotic analysis of what it means that 2 Red State Country Gods/Superstars are preaching acceptance of same-sex love and gender tolerance in the age of American conservatism. I just think it is pretty damn cool.