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A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper & Lady Gaga Edition) – What did Bradley Cooper Want to Tell Me?

Every once in a while I see a piece of art that moves me. It might be a song, a book, a painting, a musical, or a movie. I was a fool for years in thinking that the arts were not worthy of our philanthropic support. It took my daughter getting involved in theater when she was nine years old to show me that the arts are critical to human development.

I cannot explain why the latest version of a “A Star Is Born” featuring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga touched me from the get-go. As soon as I ran across the trailer on YouTube, I knew I had to see it. And I hadn’t seen any of the previous iterations at the time (although I’ve since seen the Judy Garland version). I guess what I want to do with this series of blog posts is try to figure 1.) why this story keeps being retold, 2.) why this version, even from the trailer struck me so hard, and 3.) what are the lessons that Bradley Cooper wanted to teach all of us in his interpretation?

Before you read any further, you need to know that I’m not writing this for you. I’m writing it for myself. This is how I am processing what I’ve seen and why it has hit me in this way.

In this post, I want to look at what I think Bradley Cooper might have wanted to tell me and the world through this telling of this 80-year-old story (spoilers ahead). Why do I think he had something special to say? Because at least four times in the movie his character, Jack, references the idea that those with a public voice need to take the opportunity to say what they want to say when they have the chance to say it. He also said that they have to speak the truth.

I want to start by looking at the songs on the soundtrack that he had a part in writing. Here’s a list of the songs he had a part in writing according to the credits:

“Black Eyes” by Bradley Cooper and Lukas Nelson (Willie’s son)

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, and Rob Fetters

“Maybe It’s Time” by Bradley Cooper and Jason Isbell

“Alibi” by Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, and Lukas Nelson

“Too Far Gone” by Bradley Cooper and Lukas Nelson (I think–it’s not clear)

Let’s look at the lyrics one at a time and see if we can find Mr. Cooper’s message to us.

“Black Eyes”

Black eyes open wide
It’s time to testify
There’s no room for lies
And everyone’s waitin’ for you

And I’m gone sittin’ by the phone and I’m all alone by the wayside
And I’m gone sittin’ by the phone and I’m all alone by the wayside

By the wayside
I’m by the wayside
I’m by the wayside

Too far gone and I’m by the phone
And I’m all alone and I’m off alone by the wayside

I’m by the wayside
I’m by the wayside
I’m by the wayside

By the wayside
By the wayside
By the wayside

I’m by the wayside
By the wayside
By the wayside

Black eyes open wide
It’s time to testify
There’s no room for lies
And everyone’s waitin’ for you
Everyone’s lookin’ at you
Everyone’s lookin’ at you
Everyone’s waiting for you
Everyone’s waiting for you

I’ve got to say that interpreting poetry like this isn’t my strong suit, but it seems to me that someone has been disillusioned of their feelings and thoughts for someone else. I think their eyes are now opened wide. It’s time to confess to the truth. Everyone is waiting. And the victim of the lies is alone, worried and sitting by the phone, but left in the other person’s wake. This song is a lot more foreshadowing for Ally than I realized.

“Somewhere Over The Rainbow”

When all the world is a whole blessed jumble
And the raindrops tumble all around
Heaven opens a magic lane
When all the clouds darken up the skyway
There’s a rainbow highway to be found

This is our first introduction to Ally’s singing. She’s leaving work, walking and singing this little song to herself. I think it’s more foreshadowing. She has just broken up with a boyfriend (I still don’t understand this opening scene for her, and I wonder if there was more about this relationship that had to be edited out for story flow and time). She doesn’t like her job or her boss. But now she’s on her way to be with people whom she loves and enjoys. Little does she know the rainbow that awaits her at the club.

“Maybe It’s Time”
Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die
Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die
It takes a lot to change a man
Hell, it takes a lot to try
Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die

Nobody knows what waits for the dead
Nobody knows what waits for the dead
Some folks just believe in the things they’ve heard and the things they read
Nobody knows what awaits for the dead

I’m glad I can’t go back to where I came from
I’m glad those days are gone, gone for good
But if I could take spirits from my past and bring ’em here
You know I would
Know I would

Nobody speaks to God these days
Nobody speaks to God these days
I’d like to think he’s lookin’ down and laughin’ at our ways
Nobody speaks to God these days

When I was a child, they tried to fool me
Said the worldly man was lost and that a Hell was real
Well I’ve seen Hell in Reno
And this world’s one big old Catherine wheel
Spinnin’ steel

Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die
Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die
It takes a lot to change your plans
And a train to change your mind
Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die
Oh, maybe it’s time to let the old ways die

This song deserves a little more attention. First, it’s Jackson Maine’s signature song so it’s obviously important to the story. Second, the lyrics are much more complicated than the first two songs.

I have no idea what he’s referring to in the first verse, but it feels like the song of a tired man. He’s been trying to recapture something that’s gone, and he’s telling himself that it’s time to change.

The second verse could be foreshadowing his willingness to kill himself. He doesn’t know what’s beyond, but we know he attempted it when he was 13 and he will do it again by the end of the movie. I like the line that says, “Some folks just believe in the things they’ve heard and the things they’ve read.” It’s true and I’m one of them. I’ve found peace and affirmation throughout my life in my Christian faith. His character is just lost and has never found that one thing he could set his anchor in. He had his fame, but that is now waning.

This bridge is quite beautiful. He really misses his dad even though it sounds like he offered him not only nothing, but actually warped him a bit. He doesn’t want to go back and live it again, but he would love to have his dad with him. And probably to have known his mother.

The third verse explicitly mentions God. It’s obvious that Jack doesn’t have a framework for what relationship with God looks like, but this lyric seems to indicate an agnostic’s view of a God who exists, but has no interest in engaging with us.

The second bridge is a rejection of the idea that a worldly life is a dangerous one. I looked up what a Catherine Wheel was. It is a torture/execution device that was apparently last used in the mid-1800s. It’s obvious that Jackson sees life as tortuous. He’s looking for peace and absolutely cannot find it within the framework through which he enters and interacts with the world.

“Alibi”

Don’t ask me ’bout tomorrow
Or tell me about my past
My heart is yours to borrow
Ain’t nothing meant to last

I ain’t lyin’
I don’t lie
Without an alibi

Don’t ask too many questions
You don’t want answers to
You don’t like my direction
Hell, I won’t follow you

I ain’t lyin’
I don’t lie
Without an alibi

I told my dyin’, daddy
That I had to run away
Looked him in the eyes
Said there ain’t no other way
So woman, if I tell you that I love you, be okay

‘Cause I ain’t lyin’
I don’t lie
Without an alibi

I love you in the morning
And when the day is done
But if you want my freedom
You know I’m bound to run

I ain’t lyin’
I don’t lie
Without an alibi

I told my dyin’, daddy
That I had to run away
Looked him in the eyes
Said there ain’t no other way
So woman, if I tell you that I love you, be okay

‘Cause I ain’t lyin’
I don’t lie
Without an alibi

One thing about Jack is that he really doesn’t lie in the movie. He always admits to drinking whenever anyone asks. He seemingly opens his first beer after their marriage on the SNL set and his brother walks up behind him. It doesn’t seem to phase him. In fact, he drinks it right in front of him. Jack is actually a pretty truthful person, and he says over and over again that speaking truth to your audience is important. He also seems very honest with Ally when it comes to expressing his feelings for her. We really don’t get any deception from him. He is tortured, but he’s honest.

“Too Far Gone”

Please don’t tell me I’m too far gone
I can’t go on if I ain’t livin’ in your arms
Please don’t tell me I’m too far gone
I can’t go on if I ain’t living in your arms
Please don’t tell me I’m too far gone

Set me free, oh, oh
Set me free, yeah, eh
Set me free, oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh

I wish I could remember him singing this song. On the soundtrack, it comes right between her performance at her last concert to which Jack never shows up, and the speech by his brother about 12 notes between any octave. It pretty much shows Jack’s desperation and fear of having to live without Ally.

So after I’ve gone through this, have I come up with an answer to my question? Maybe. At the end of the day, the thing that Jackson Maine (a.k.a. Jack) seems to value is truth. This movie is about finding your way through the muck of life–the Catherine Wheel, if you will–and sharing your insecurities, confusion, and lack of having all of the answers with those around you. Jack makes a speech to Ally in the cop bar at the beginning that everyone in that room has talent, but the important thing to do is to take that talent and use it to say what you feel like you need to say.

The problem with Jack’s philosophy, and I think Mr. Cooper would agree, is that there are more important things in life than having something to say to others on a large stage. In my own opinion, there is the sacrificing of your will to God and accepting grace and forgiveness through Jesus. But beyond that, there is also loving others and giving of yourself for them. Jack really struggled when his time was fading and he got angry when he sensed that Ally’s was not only rising, but that she was squandering it by not having a message (his complaint about the song she sang on SNL). But his time was just changing. He needed to let the old ways die and embrace his new role. Supporting Ally and giving her what she needed. And also just serving the world through his celebrity. He was right that every person in that cop bar had a gift. We just need to be honest with others and help them as we live it out.

Okay, I’ve probably really overthought this, gotten it completely wrong, or both. But this has at least been a good process for me to go through as I tried to figure out why this movie touched me so deeply. If you’ve read this far, I hope it has meant something to you as well.

 

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