Hank Cochran: Living On A Song + Then Some (Nashville Film Festival)
Living On A Song
Nashville Film Festival
People are bitching about the demise of country music, but they’re missing the point. At a time when everybody is overly styled, making the rounds and doing the marketing, they missed the point of what made the oeuvre great: people lived hard, put their hearts out there and harvested the pain and the passion with a ruthlessness that often left ravaged relationships in their wake.
Not that it’s about strafing the people who love you. To the contrary, when Pamper Music’s lead dog songplugger/songwriter wanted to hire a scraggly kid from Texas – who needed 50 bucks a week ‘cause he had a wife and three kids – and the owner didn’t hear it, Hank Cochran said, “You’re supposed to give me a 50 dollar raise next week. Give that money to Willie.”
And so Willie Nelson – and his songs nobody wanted – had a home. And Patsy Cline found “Crazy,” not that the jukebox standard was Cochran’s only conquest of the woman who had the wet voice that was all want and jagged agony. “I Fall To Pieces,” which Cochran wrote, is easily one of country’s most enduring performances.
The tale of how the song almost didn’t get cut, almost fall apart at the session, is just one of the many real country jewels that adorn this patchwork quilt of interviews, classic footage, ad hoc performances, loving tributes and a core sample of the way it was when creatives ruled the row.
More even than creatives, they were characters. People sure of their talents, willing to go to the wall and, absolutely, to color outside the lines. The proof, by the way, is in the songwriting: Cochran at one point had five songs in the top 10, pop hits as well as songs that would become country standards.
“Is It Raining At Yout House,” “The Chair,” “Oceanfront Property,” “Don’t Touch Me,” “Set’Em Up, Joe,” “Make the World Go Away,” and on, and on… Willie Nelson and Harlan Howard were among the people he championed.
And the folks lining up to tell the stories represent a cavalcade of people who know the difference. From Dean Dillon to Mandy Barnett, Mark Chesnett to a gravel-voiced throwback who never made it, but doesn’t falter in his belief, Jeff Bates, they all bear witness as only people who watch from the fringes can. But it’s also Lee Ann Womack and Brad Paisley, who’ve seen the highest reaches of success, who know of the success Cochran truly enjoyed.
Living on a boat. Marrying his wife of 30-some years after ten days. Opening for Willie at his his peak. Challenging others to be more creative still – and using that challenge for himself. It’s a dizzying spiral made all the more so by his easy laugh, quick wit and genuine sense of love for songs and people.
For those who didn’t know where all those songs came from, this is an incredible primer – as well as an article of the faith for where country comes from. But for the rest of us, those who know and marvel, even humble at his copious gifts, it is a final tribute for a man who found himself in the throes of pancreatic cancer during the making of this film.
It is a way to remember what was – so perhaps Music Row can harvest rather than mow down those who would seek to reach higher, be more and not settle for the obvious radio hit. Even more than a manifesto, though, it’s a sweet film that shows there’s a place in the world for tenacious dreamers who are willing to fight for the music they believe in.
Hank Cochran created a beautiful world out of a marriage that busted twice, hell-raising, deep-sea fishing and a whole lot of fun. Lesson to the rest of us. Forever and ever, amen.