Deep Within My Heart
A Feature Film Based on the life and music Of Bob Wills
Bob Wills. A New York Times obituary said he was “a super-giant before there were super-giants, an Elvis Presley of the 1930’s and ‘40’s.” “Until Hank Williams came along, it was just Bob Wills,” says Willie Nelson. “He was it.” And as Waylon Jennings immortalized him in his hit song, “Bob Wills is still the King!”
Bob Wills was a colorful band leader-composer-fiddler from Texas who performed throughout the Southwest for years, capturing the hearts of fans nationwide. Wills brought country music to the city and created Western Swing, a dynamic hybrid of old style blues, New Orleans jazz, and western fiddle music performed by a twenty member band infused with Chicago jazz.
For more than fifty years, Wills and his band—The Texas Playboys—kept the nation dancing and recorded over 1000 tunes, including the classics “San Antonio Rose”, “Faded Love”, “Steel Guitar Rag”, “Take Me Back to Tulsa”, “Maiden’s Prayer”, “Stay All Night”, and countless others. In fact, for a while in the early forties, his records sold better than those of any other recording artist.
But Bob Wills was more than a legendary performer. He was a man from the sharecropper’s fields who understood middle America’s hardship, sweat and pain. He was one of the common people, a favorite son who had somehow fought his way to the top. In the Depression, he was their hope when they had none; their happiness when it seemed all else had been lost. And when he played and danced and jive-talked in the dance halls of the Southwest, his music kept a desperate but determined populace on its feet. He kept their dreams alive. He was one of them.
“Deep Within My Heart” takes place just when Bob’s career is beginning, just when the conflict between Bob the successful band leader and Bob the man is in its infancy—a conflict that later almost cost him not only his happiness and dreams, but his life as well.
At the height of his success, money and fast times turn Bob away from his true self and beguiles him into becoming greedy, power hungry, hardhearted. It seems as if the common people have lost their last hero.
But then Betty, the only woman Bob ever really loved and respected, re-enters his life. With her love and mature understanding he finds himself, renews his commitment to the common people and restores his faith in a dream—a life long dream of compassion, loyalty and music.
This, then, is a story from the common people of America. It’s as pure as a folk song, as deep as the blues, as vibrant as jazz—just like Bob Wills and his music. Striking reverence for the man and sheer love for his music lives on in the hearts of middle Americans from New York to California, even today. Western Swing is still their music. Bob Wills is still their King. And this is their motion picture: “Deep Within My Heart”.
The July sun beat down on the four lolling heads as the waves of the Pacific current rose and fell. The heads were lolling back and forth because they were out—partly from exhaustion, partly from the heat. This was the second day that they had been floating aimlessly in their bright orange life jackets since the U.S. destroyer “Maltoe” had succumbed to the depth of the green sea with the help of an enemy torpedo. After their narrow escape from the destroyer, they had to face an evil that was perhaps worse—a cruel, unmerciful storm. The first night and day had been a howling, stinging, living hell; gasping for breath, yelling for help, thrashing about to stay above water, these men alone had survived. During that night, they had somehow managed to tie themselves together at the waist with a rope and were now about two yards apart—four, exhausted, unconscious wretches, tied together to form a useless, floating chain.
As the sun continued to beat down unmercifully, first one and then all four heads began exhibiting signs of life. Chaplain Holt opened his burning, red eyes and wondered where he was; in his bunk? On deck? On land? Then the swell of the sea lifted him gently up and then back down again and he remembered—the ship was hit; he and the others had jumped into the black sea; he had prayed; someone helped him tie a rope around his waist; and…nothing.
His head jerked as he heard a human voice. It was low and mournful, like a far-off train—but very near. If he could just focus his eyes…yes, there was a man, the Lieutenant. The Chaplain’s eyes burned with dried salt and his whole body ached as he first saw and then remembered the others who were now close to him. It was some time before he felt the rope tug gently at his waist and reminded him, suddenly, the reason of their nearness—The Rope.
Nothing in his seminary training had prepared him for the dire straights in which he found himself except maybe his once juvenile imaginings of Jesus’s torment on the Cross; and scant little from his military training seemed to matter now that he’s listlessly bobbing up and down on the sea swells, his lips cracked, his head throbbing.
In silence, Chaplain Holt managed to arouse the others, Lieutenant Boyne, Leading Seaman Rykes, Signalman Anderson. Now, these four bearded sunburned men stared silently at each other and then at the sea that surrounded them.
Rykes, a red-haired, timid fellow of thirty-five, stared at the companions, wondering if they felt the same physical and mental agony that he was feeling. He wanted to say something—the utter silence was frightening—but as usual, he did not. Instead he began biting his lower lip, a habit he had long since been practicing. After all, what could he say?
Flexing his sore, sunburned shoulders, Lieutenant Boyne emitted a gentle cry of “God!” and grimaced forcefully. The sun wasn’t really that bad but he felt obligated, by rank, to break the unbearable silence. It’s what his “lifer” father would want him to do…and since his childhood, he had always done what his father wanted.
The Chaplain replied innocently, “Praying, Lieutenant?” He knew very well what the answer would be, but this familiar comment, used so many times on board the ship, seemed a comfort now.
“Hell, no! Besides…where’s your God now?” Though his hands were bloody and mangled, the Lieutenant had a tough reputation and he wasn’t going to let a little thing like this tear it down.
Anderson was taking all this with a sly smile on his face, looking first at the green, sparkling sea and then at the plight. As his smile broadened to an enormous grin he smirked, “Well, the girls will sleep alone tonight!”
It was a bad joke, a terrible one; but they all laughed until tears ran down their red, hardened faces. Then, suddenly, it stopped; and the dreaded silence engulfed them again.
Finally, bearing it no longer, Chaplain Holt said, quietly, “We must do something. The Lord is with us, but we must help ourselves.”
Assuming the role he loved so dearly, the Lieutenant took this chance to take command. “Since I am the officer of rank amongst us, it looks as if I’m in charge. We must carry on with order and respect. May I remind you of the Laws and Orders of…”
“In all due respect, Sir, will you spare us?” Anderson interrupted the Lieutenant with his undeniable Black Southern dialect and finished up with, “Besides, I think the damned Navy has done quite enough for me already!” He’d only joined to escape the dreariness and prejudice of his tiny hometown and felt haughty men like the Lieutenant represented everything he detested about the South.
Rykes lowered his head slowly into his life jacket like a frightened turtle. Andy (Anderson’s nickname) would surely be punished for interrupting and he was scared; the Lieutenant didn’t like Andy anyway. Andy would surely be punished when they got back to….when they got back.
“Signalman,” cracked the Lieutenant, “I’ll have no insubordination on this….here, or anywhere else! Understand?”
Then, to himself, he thought, “Damn nigger! He thinks he knows everything!”
“Sir,” uttered Rykes, “We were about a hundred miles due north of the Hawaiian Islands when we were hit.” He wanted to help Andy, and he hoped that talk of this sort would divert the Lieutenant’s attention. He continued, “But since we’ve been out so long, I don’t know where we’ve drifted to.”
“In any case, we’re in open sea with no provisions, tied together by a single rope and the Will of God. May I suggest we pray?” The Chaplain waited for no answer and promptly bowed his head, against the stares of the other three and the rays of the setting sun. Once again he had settled an argument, cooled tempers.
Four seamen, “…in the open sea with no provisions, tied together by a single rope.” Each person in this tiny pitiful community had different thoughts as the sun finished it’s course and feel into the sea. Each was wondering in his own way, what it was going to be like when night came, the darkness took over, and what was going to happen to them eventually. But the latter thought was soon pushed aside so that the reality of their predicament would not have time to soak in.
Two days had crept by and the noon sun beat down on three heads. It had been half a day since the others had discovered the Lieutenant was gone. They awoke that morning with the usual aching stomachs and torn minds—hoping that they would find that all this had been a drunken dream or nightmare. The unusual part was when, almost by chance, they found Lieutenant Boyne was gone—nowhere to be seen.
Two answers could be given to his disappearance; he had chewed the rope in two and swum away to bring back help; or the rope had broken during the night and he had drifted silently away while he slept. They had speculated, with their fuzzy minds, on the event all morning and then had grown silent—knowing what the only acceptable, satisfactory answer would be; he had gone for help and would be back. He had to be.
Rykes nervously fingered his red beard, now four days old, and looked at the frayed end of the rope; the end the Lieutenant had been on. He was terrified by that loose, frayed end and his eyes displayed his emotion perfectly. Maybe he would awake in the morning and find that he had broken off and was drifting miles away. He musn’t let himself think that way…
The “Sandsen” bar that was found in the Chaplain’s pocket had been divided and devoured long ago. Now they existed, in their own way, on stored foods in their bodies. And they kept telling themselves that they could survive until Lieutenant Boyne came back with help. They had to believe it.
The unbearable heat rays of the sun bounced off the sea into their red, sunken eyes. Their tongues were swollen until they could hardly breathe and their stomachs cramped from the lack of nourishment. So here they were; tired beyond all previous beliefs; aching from every inch of their weak, sunburned bodies, riding each wave together, like trash on the seashore. They had begun the age-old human trait of senseless talking; they knew very little save the fact that they were together in their doom, tied by a rope.
Somehow, the day ended, and the long cold, black night began.
Maybe it was chance, maybe it was luck, maybe it was the devil. In any case, something nudged Rykes on his shoulder that night—the shoulder away from the Chaplain and Andy. With weak eyes and a hazy mind, he jerked his head around and saw it—a half-floating, water-soaked Survival Kit that had been lost by some now-dead sailor during the turmoil of the ship going down.
Rykes knew that there was only enough provisions in the kit for two. A choice had to be made. He hated decisions like this. It always made him feel so inadequate, so fearful. Without knowing why, he awoke… Andy. After convincing him, quietly, that it was real and not an hallucination, they ate it’s contents ravenously. The Chaplain, in his innocence and Godliness, slept on.
The sun broke through the night early the next morning and revealed, almost embarrassingly, three heads; one listless and lolling, two steady and staring at the limp Chaplain—Rykes on his left and Andy on his right.
All was silent. The water lapped at the forms in the life jackets and there was no other sound. The sun’s rays became stronger and sweat formed anew on the seamen’s bodies. All was quiet. Opressingly quiet.
“God! My God…” came a long, high scream from the temporarily tense form known as the Chaplain. To Rykes and Andy, the scream seemed to last forever, and the guilt of their act the night before pressed harder against their minds. Then as the scream subsided and the silence became king once more, the Chaplain went limp. They knew he was dead now. He had died because of them. He had died with his cursed Boss on his lips.
Anderson began laughing. It had started with a smile, advanced to a wild giggle, and was now a hysterical, hopeless, guilt-filled laugh that alternately turned into a screaming sob. His life had largely been a shadow-laugh existence and now this seemed the ultimate cruel folly—he had starved a man he admired. He screamed, he cackled, he cried. All day, Anderson and his guilt.
At first, after the Chaplain’s death, Rykes had been in a quiet stupor. All sounds were gone, all reality vanished. Then, the full weight of his previous selfish act ripped the balance and overshadowed the stupor. He had made the decision. It was he who had ignored all civil laws and had excluded the Chaplain. But why? Why? The Chaplain was the most compassionate man he knew. Why had he betrayed him?
Rykes suddenly became acutely aware of the mad laughing of Andy. Andy’s voice seemed to be the only thing left in the world. It engulfed everything; it centered all thoughts on the death of Chaplain Holt; it reminded Rykes of his guilt, now his eternal guilt. He hated that voice and, more especially, the reality it demanded and expressed.
With a sure air of determination, Rykes gently paddled the short distance over to Anderson. This meant going past the Chaplain’s already blackening body. The sun had already played it’s role well in the decaying process—the Chaplain’s face, arms, and bare chest were a horrid, stinking, black-green. He lingered a moment at his terrible, shameful creation and then looked wildly at Anderson, who was now convulsing with insane hysteria.
Rykes, normally timid and silent, was now wild with violence and shame—violence and shame pent-up over his whole life. Slowly he clasped his hands together and raised them above his head. Then, with all the suppressed emotion of thirty-five timid years, he began beating Anderson. He beat, mangled, and broke Anderson’s laughing black face until the warm red blood ran over his hands and tainted the water around them. Anderson had long since been senseless and silent, but still Rykes pounded his bleeding, cracked skull. He continued his massacre until he could hardly move; his fingers were cramped together in the primitive two-handed fist, his mouth open wide for life-giving air, his eyes wild and savage. Anderson was a red-black, bleeding, broken stump in a green sea.
Rykes had killed two now—first the Chaplain and now his friend, Andy. Maybe it was fate, maybe it was the devil. Anyway, it was done. He was done.
With a deep sigh of exhaustion, Rykes surrendered. There was silence and the waves became regular once again. And Rykes died with tears in his eyes and blood on his hands.
The last rays of the eternal sun sprayed down on three dead, lolling heads. And The Rope bound together its convoy of death.