Sunday, September 06, 2009

Lazy Sunday # 83: Teddy Bear

One of the Country DJ’s I listen to recently had a contest to find the song “Guaranteed” to being a tear to your eye. Like everybody who listens to Country music, he’d heard his share of Hurtin’ songs. The genre is simply chock full of lost loves, lost dreams and lost dogs.

Every Cowboy roadhouse has a string of selections on the jukebox you hesitate to play because it might strike the wrong chord in the quiet loner sitting on the stool at the far end of the bar. Many a Wurlitzer has been trucked to the dump riddled with bullet holes to be buried not far from the fool who plugged in its last quarter and pushed B-29.


But this guy wanted to know which song consistently pushed your own buttons. The one that never made you holler “Oh, get over it!” or “Move on”. The song where you knew what was coming and you still kept listening and took it, aware you were gonna need a hanky before it was done.

The song that won had everything to do with broken hearts and broken dreams. But mostly it was about truckers.

I’m not sure when truckers first became an accepted touchstone of all that is America. But for me, that seed was sown when I first saw the movie version of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”. Early on, in the famous “Diner” scene, the kindness of a couple of truckers melts the heart of a waitress who’s seen too much, reminding us that even the darkness of the Great Depression can’t snuff out basic human decency. 

Hollywood, which always knows an emotional winner when it sees one, picked up that theme and ran with it. From “They Drive By Night” through “The Wages of Fear” to “Convoy”, “White Line Fever” and even “Smokey and the Bandit”, there’s always a trucker who instinctively knows what’s right, what’s true and what’s bullshit.

In my own experience, I’ve had two nights in truck stops where a lounge full of drivers told me what shows were going to work and which would fail.

The first occurred on a snowy night in Colorado when Fox debuted hockey. Some of the guys I convinced to watch that game knew a little about hockey. None were fans. But the sight of Fox’s animated blue streak to help viewers follow the puck elicited a simple “The fuck was that?” followed by laughter, followed by my realization hockey might wait a while longer before it caught the attention of Americans.

A couple of summers ago, I traded a six pack for an hour of TV time in Wawa, Ontario to watch the debut of “Flashpoint”. Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of the show, a few minutes in, a couple of the guys commented on the impressive array of weaponry and the cast’s obvious skill in handling them. That attention to detail always let’s you know an audience is also picking up the rest of what’s going on. And I have the feeling if the series’ handlers had given themselves over to a little more “gun porn”, CBS wouldn’t be debating its renewal.


Red Sovine’s “Teddy Bear” debuted in 1976 at the height of the CB radio craze, one of those apparently recurring moments when trucker culture seems to fill a void within our own. It topped the charts within a month of its release, crossed over to the pop charts and stuck around forever.

And that’s odd, because “Teddy Bear” isn’t really a song. It’s just talking with an instrumental backing. The theme is hackneyed and somewhat trite. And once you’ve heard it once – well, you know the story.

In fact, in the first 90 seconds, the piece clearly telegraphs every single button it’s going to push. Like a bad script with a story editor’s red penciled “On the Nose. On the Nose. On the Nose” scrawled all over it, you know exactly what’s coming.

But that doesn’t matter.

Because then “Teddy Bear” twists. And then it twists again. And no matter how often you’ve heard it and maybe because you’re listening for when those emotional turns actually occur, all of a sudden the road ahead is getting a little harder to see and you’re reaching for the Kleenex box on the dash.

Yep. That country DJ was right. Despite all that’s hokey and stupid about it. “Teddy Bear” delivers and in the process makes you wonder if all those people who vet stories for art and relevance and importance have even the first clue about the reactions of the people that work is supposed to reach.

So, grab a tissue, shed a tear and then…

Enjoy your Sunday.

1 comment:

DMc said...

That's weird. I've only heard the cover by My Chemical Romance where Teddy Bear builds new legs from pieces he stole from all the visiting trucker's trucks and goes out to seek revenge on the truck company that pushed his dad to drive in unsafe conditions.

And I think he kills a blond or something.

It was still sad -- but for different reasons.