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Rockumentaries

Lest we forget that, for all our frenzied activity surrounding audio electronics, the result should be a better appreciation of music. For many of us, the very thought conjures up images of great performers belting out an aria, classic show tune or even a jazzy Dixieland piece. That said, there are many of you whose life has been defined by one single genre; rock. Whether it’s aging Mods helicoptering or reliving your youth with leather–clad hair metal bands, most of us have rocked at one time or another.

Alan Freed, now better known for introducing the concept of payola to Middle America, exhorted everyone to Rock, Rock, Rock with his series of films from 1956 to 1959. His shallowly disguised artist promotions were clad in thin plots and graced with terrible acting. On TV, American Bandstand and Top of the Pops dispensed with the fluff and simply presented the talent as is, albeit with usually lip synced performances. Later efforts, notably Ron Howard’s American Graffiti, Barry Levinson’s Diner, and Stephen Frears’ High Fidelity skillfully melded our obsessions with pop music into entertaining and enduring tales of youth and yearning.

Augmenting the long American tradition of fictionalizing popular music is a new crop of shows that take you behind the scenes, and I’m not talking Spinal Tap! Now could be the best time in rock and roll history to not only understand the forces that propelled the idiom from R&B wannabe to worldwide master of popular entertainment, but to get a glimpse into how the Big Bois and Grrls get the job done.

If you haven’t seen The Wrecking Crew on Blu–ray or streaming, you should have your head examined! Denny Tedesco, son of Tommy Tedesco, “…the most recorded guitarist in history,” in 2008 crafted a loving portrait of the L.A. session musicians that fueled the soundtrack of my adolescence. Jumping ahead five years, there must have been something in the water back in 2013. Three amazing rockumentaries appeared, each highlighting a different aspect of pop…Muscle Shoals chronicles the life and times of Rick Hall, founder of FAME Studios, while that same year 20 Feet from Stardom focused on the gals that we all share a kinship with when we’re singing along, alone in the car. Lastly, Sound City, Dave Grohl’s homage to a room, its gear and the awesomeness that is rock and roll, will keep you grinning through the whole show.

But wait, there’s more! Woodstock and Monterey Pop join The Last Waltz, Shut Up and Play the Hits, Buena Vista Social Club, The Decline of Western Civilization, Don’t Look Back, Stop Making Sense and Wattstax as documents of a time and place that helped to build the foundations of pop music as we know it. A Band Called Death, Bad 25, Beautiful Noise, Beware of Mr. Baker, Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, Dig!, George Harrison: Living in the Material World, Gimme Shelter, Heavy Metal Parking Lot, It Might Get Loud, Lemmy, Let It Be, Let’s Get Lost, Marley, Martin Scorsese’s The Blues, Pearl Jam Twenty, Punk: Attitude, Rock Around the Clock, Some Kind of Monster, Sonic Highways, The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, The Stax Records Story, Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?) and 20,000 Days on Earth shine a spotlight on particular groups, individuals, genres and labels, adding new information to our musical body of knowledge. Good Ol’ Freda and Produced by George Martin reveal aspects of significant contributors in the wings. Speaking of contributors, don’t forget The Greatest Ears in Town: The Arif Mardin Story.

However you like it, hard core, folky or straight ahead, there’s a huge body of work out there ready to entertain and inform us about one of America’s most enduring contributions to world culture. So, pull up a chair and start rocking!

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6 Responses to “Rockumentaries”

  1. Hey folks,

    Two rockumentaries have come to my attention, one new and one, not so much…The first is Amy, the new “story of Amy Winehouse.” This biopic has received good reviews, will have to catch it and decide.

    From 2007 comes Fuzz, a documentary about “…the sound that changed the world.” Fuzz looks at, yup, effects pedals through the ears of guitarists Billy Gibbons, Peter Frampton, Jon Spencer, J Mascis, Chris Ross of Wolfmother and
    other music legends, who “weigh in on their favorite circuits.” Sound geeky and fun!

    If you’ve seen either of these, lemme know what you think…Also, what’s your fave rockumentary?

    Keep rockin’
    OMas

  2. Hey folks,

    Just out — Cobain: Montage of Heck

    The IMDB sez: “An authorized documentary on the late musician Kurt Cobain, from his early days in Aberdeen, Washington to his success and downfall with the grunge band Nirvana.”

    Let us know if you’ve seen it and what you thought…

  3. Hey folks,

    Two additional rockumentaries have come to my attention…One is A Poem Is a Naked Person (1974), Les Blank’s first widely distributed film that follows the goings on at Leon Russell’s recording studio.
    The other is Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll, a recording of a 60th birthday celebration concert for Chuck Berry filmed in Berry’s hometown of St. Louis, MO, in 1987.
    I haven’t seen these as yet. If you have, waddah ya think?

    Keep rockin’
    OMas

  4. Hey folks,

    Another rock, er, folkumentary about…Glen Campbell! Session musician, TV host and consummate artist, Glen Campbell’s career has spanned 50 years and given us some wonderful music.

    From Netflix: “When country music giant Glen Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2011, he chose to make his condition public. He then began his farewell tour — a remarkable musical journey chronicled in this affecting documentary.”

    I’ve got a copy on reserve at my local library. Revisit his legacy or experience his music for the first time…

    Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me

  5. Hey folks,

    Was having a beer last night with Carl and, since we had just finished an Audio Society meeting (ASM), the discussion soon turned to, yup, audio. He mentioned 2008’s It Might Get Loud, a rockumentary focusing on “…the electric guitar from the point of view of three significant rock musicians: the Edge, Jimmy Page and Jack White.” Whatever you may think of these gents, they certainly define three generations of electric guitar player, and Carl really loved this show.

    More guitar!! That same day, I came across Wings for Wheels: The Making of ‘Born to Run’, a 2005 piece about an album, a song, a guy (and his band) that has since defined a era. If you’re a Springsteen fan, you may also enjoy The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town from 2010. The more recent Springsteen & I (2013), taking an up close overall look, gets very good ratings from viewers, while 2015’s The Ties That Bind documents the creation of Bruce’s 1980 double album “The River.”

    Once you start digging for live performances by The Boss, you’ll find Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band: Live in New York City (2001), Bruce Springsteen with the Sessions Band: Live in Dublin (2007), and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band: London Calling – Live in Hyde Park (2010). There’s probably more, let me know which ones you love and if I’ve missed any…

    Well, there you have it; eight rockudramas that will make you regret selling that Silvertone 1448 for some weed back in the day! Rock on!

  6. Hey folks,

    Just was reminded of another new rockumentary from last year; I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.

    Quoting from Thrillist:
    “Every generation gets its own musical moment, a genre or subgenre that serves to completely bewilder the one that preceded it. For today’s youth, it’s all about EDM and the few successful players who’ve become millionaires from the explosive popularity of DJs. I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead follows Steve Aoki — a man best known for throwing cakes onto the faces of his audience and being the son of the founder of Benihana — on his rise to fame. It’s surprisingly poignant, shedding strobe lights on the movement that dominates music today.”