There are one moment three episodes in Ken Burn's new Binge-Doc with eight episodes and 16 hours of country music in which I had to pause. Ernest Tubb, an aspiring country pop singer who enjoys singing but hates his voice, visits the widow of his hero Jimmie Rodgers, popularly known as the Singing Brakeman, who is widely regarded as the country's first country music superstar. She lends him the signature guitar of her deceased husband, who is already an icon. His name is written on the neck in shimmering mother-of-pearl. Together, the three embark on a tour of theaters and honkytonks, though it is not clear who takes the top position: the widow, the ministrant or the instrument. An exhibition poster states: "Ernest Tubb sings and plays" Jimmie's Famous 1
Country Music Do not Wait In the first modernist moment of the country there is much to tell when certain ideas about the past, about authenticity and humility are firmly anchored in this conventionally modest genre the very serious Tubb is a fan of Rodgers, and there is no doubt that the tour is an incredibly clever move that legitimizes the young star through his association with the old hero. "The torch has been passed on." This is not the first act of Nostalgia in country music – the first wave of popular interpreters went back to the South – but it could be the first time that an artist had the Used the past to legitimize, to project and to market its own authenticity. It's been a popular tactic ever since if Waylon asks Jennings if Hank did it that way or if Blake Shelton is trying to convince us that young men are still listening to Hank Jr.
Country Music Understands That There's Something Important This event, especially considering that Tubb was prepared for his biggest hit ("Walking The Floor Over You") and a career that was long enough that the next generation cited him as an influence. But before he digs deeper or even allows one of his speaking heads to speak, the documentary moves on to the next section. And that's exactly what makes Burns and especially this series: he knows how to tell a good story, how to introduce intriguing ideas, and how to portray massive changes in pop culture from an individual's perspective, but it's not always good at filtering out deeper implications.
This is partly a problem of scale and partly a problem of the approach. Sixteen hours sound like a lot of time, especially considering that Burns is doing the story around 1996, but it's actually just a small mistake. Country Music can not hope to contain in such a short time all the savagery and craziness, all the beauty and ugliness of the subject, although I suspect that he would have similar problems if he did it for 50 hours would stretch. So he can not give everyone the right thing. He shuns some artists, beautifies others. Ray Price, a powerful crossover artist, gets about a minute, the Louvin Brothers even less. It may be Burns's most bizarre project so far, but some of his segments feel obligated as if he had to get used to as many files as possible.
Burns is rooted in the Great Man School of Popular History more interested in the larger characters and their longer stories. It's hard to say that Hank Williams is an important figure who demands a lot of attention in this series. The same applies to Johnny Cash. But Country Music reveals nothing new about these titans of the genre and also gives us no new perspectives to look at their careers and catalogs. It only sums up what we already know about it and reinforces some epic storylines about country music. Especially considering this is at the expense of equally significant artists (like Loretta Lynn) or artists currently being reviewed by a new generation of listeners and historians (like Bobbie Gentry), this can be extremely frustrating. Of course, every country fan has other concerns and personal favorites, but do we really need so much about the birth of Rock & # 39; n & # 39; Roll? Did he really need to spend so much time on the Vietnam War, and especially for Jan Howard, a minor character who's probably here because it fits Burns's previous project?
Country Music excels in pervading some of the myths. This country music is self-explanatory in challenging the perception of insiders and outsiders alike. Burns is not a particularly subversive filmmaker, but places it at the center of early episodes that describe the fundamental contributions of women and artists of color. Maybelle Carter is an influential guitarist and inventor of the innovative Carter Scratch technique. And DeFord Bailey was not only an inventive harmonica player, but also a founding member of the Grand Ole Opry. According to Burns, country music was not initially synonymous with white artists and audiences, but a collection of sounds and styles from different sources. However, Bailey's resignation is from the largest stage in the country – allegedly because he did not expand his repertoire, but mainly because he was black and therefore, in the words of Opry's founder and announcer George D. Hay, "lazy" – an ugly one Step in this whitewash.
Burns, a documentary filmmaker who has written extensively on civil war, jazz, baseball, and the Vietnam War, is more likely to be a pseudo-historian than a hardcore academic to tackle such monolithic businesses. For one thing, he's always understood the importance of making archive footage – blurry photographs, grainy filmstrips, scribbled letters, worn-out concert posters, Marty Stuart's graying, gravity-defying bonnet – that's visually striking. While the technique of Burns is easy to satirize, few documentary filmmakers can read so much visual information and narrative energy from a black-and-white photograph. He is a skilled and patient storyteller, and country music gives him so many great stories to tell.
Even as I got tired of his dizzying coverage of Johnny Cash, I must admit that I got a bit weepy in the last episode when Rosanne Cash sings at her father's memorial service "I Still Miss Someone." In fact, there were so many points in this documentary when I felt almost moved to tears: when Rodgers was working to death when Hank Williams drank to death when Sarah Carter was reunited with her lost lover (how is that not?) a movie already?), as Patsy Clines plane crashes. Almost since the first notes were engraved into the shellac of a record, country music has been ravaged by death and despair, either the result or the inspiration for so many songs about yearning and loss. Even if they are known, these tragedies seem like new.
After all, Burns is just as in love as Ernest Tubb in Jimmie Rodger's guitar. Country Music is constantly distracted by how artists use their ancestors and inspirations to justify themselves, to define themselves, to authenticate themselves. If that sounds like criticism, that's not it. It's not a bug in the series, it's a feature: an organizing principle that gives much needed gravity to the last episode, which spans more than 30 years of country trends and movements. It's one thing to talk about the neo-traditionalist movement in the 1980s, another to illustrate it with clips from Dwight Yoakam, the bluegrass legend Bill Monroe in a video for his hero Buck Owens and Ricky Skaggs his # 1 hit "Don It does not go beyond your raisins. "One of the best moments in this long series comes to an end when Emmylou Harris books a show at the Ryman that was in serious decline at the end of the 1980s. In front of 200 people gathered near the stage to make a big crowd perform, she goes through a set of old and new rock and country songs, and Burns focuses on the moment she watches Monroe not to play or sing, but to dance. Together, the two cut a rug on this famous stage, and for a moment Burns presents a joyful and beautiful look at country music as a force to collapse the past into the present to unite the young and the old and give you one more infectious Beat on which you throw the boots.
It's impossible to pack 100 years of country music history in just 16 hours. So, of course, Burns and his team had to make some very difficult decisions about what to include and what should be left out. what to emphasize and what to ignore. Country Music is full of great stories, but here are some that they have omitted:
The questionable legacy of Roy Acuff
Acuff was an Opry mainstay, her passionate, emotional singing style made him a superstar. In fact, he was so popular that Japanese soldiers mocked Americans by shouting, "To hell with Babe Ruth! The hell with Roy Acuff! "Nevertheless, he has a more complicated legacy than Country Music . First, he was a notoriously conservative artist who criticized succeeding generations for loosing morals, ignoring his own story by using brand labels such as "Doin & quot; It The Old-Fashioned Way" and "When Lulu & # 39; s Gone." "Bang away my Lulu, bang away good and strong / What will you do if Lulu is gone?") Worse, after engaging in the relocation of the Grand Ole Opry to a new location in the late 1960s he also tirelessly tears down the Ryman Auditorium "I never want to play music in this building again," he stated in 1971. Fortunately, he was not successful.
The Pedal Steel and the "Hawaiian Craze"
The Pedal Steel guitar has become synonymous with country music, and its greasy sound is used to produce tears or two-stages, but it's complicated to create – long before Hawaii became the 50th state, it exported the pedal stole to the American mainland, first in a Broadway production called Bird Of Paradise in 1912 and later on a radio program called Hawaii Calls . , It proved so popular that journalists called it Hawaiian Craze and described it as the greatest pop music craze of the young century. It was gradually taken up in the hillbilly music, first as a novelty and later as a central element in Honkytonk. Burns is good at detecting the eclectic roots of country music, but its omission of pedal steel seems to be a major oversight.
The rhinestone cowboy is mentioned briefly, but it's short and focuses more on his short-lived variety show than his immense contributions to country music. He did not enter the genre from Nashville or Texas, or even Bakersfield, but from the Los Angeles pot factory. He was a keen guitarist who cut his teeth in sessions for the Beach Boys, Nancy Sinatra and the Monkees, along with the Wrecking crew. As a solo artist, however, he enjoyed a remarkable series of crossover hits such as "Wichita Lineman" and "Galveston", which achieved the success in pop and country charts that many of his colleagues never had. In fact, for years he was arguably the most successful crossover artist in any format – definitely not the footnote to which Country Music referred him.
In the 1980s, and especially in the early 1990s, a generation of young punks discovered the Carter Family and Hank Williams and Ernest Tubb and began to perform their own, charged songs with hectic Twang and produce populist lyrics. The genre even got its nickname from the song "No Depression" by the Carter Family (also the first album by Uncle Tupelo) and is the breeding ground for acts like the Mekons, the Jayhawks, Wilco, Ryan Adams, Joe Henry and many more others revised and reinterpreted the conventions of the states towards new goals. Country Music sums up the birth of the Americana movement in the 1990s, but even before old-school stars appeared on the new Americana charts of Gavin they had been adopted by old-country fans. And although some of this music has not aged well, it still represents a very special and important aspect of country music history.
A story told over and over again in these 16 hours is that of the artist, who just wants to record himself and fight the label or the casting director who tells them that they are also for land. And the result is always the same: The artist prevails, the audience responds, the industry adapts. This happened to Dwight Yoakam, who prevailed when his label tried to break a line on "Hillbilly Music," and that happened to Garth Brooks, who was passed over by almost every label in Nashville before becoming the biggest star in the world became planet. Lucinda Williams has a very different story: After two rather opaque acoustic blues albums on Smithsonian Folkways, she spent almost a decade writing and recording her self-titled third album, which was rejected by any suit in Nashville before the English punk label Rough Trade it chose it. Unlike Yoakam or Brooks, she became no sensation and Lucinda Williams did not change country music. But Mary Chapin Carpenter gave her biggest hit ("Passionate Kisses") and survives today as a classic of the fringe, one that is regularly referred to as one of the best albums in the genre. It's a different kind of success, which means it's a different kind of success story.
The flatlands. Or Linda Martell. Or Crystal Gayle. Or Highway 101. Or KT Oslin. Or whoever your favorite country singer is
In the final episode of Country Music Burns tells the story of Garth Brooks, who unannounced at a fan show in 1996 and signed autographs for 23 straight hours gave . It shows how close the national audience is to its favorite artists, whether it's the billionaire Brooks or someone whose songs are related to you. Of course, Burns can not get everyone's darling here, so I give him permission not to mention one of my favorite country songs "Color Him Father" by the first African American woman to play the Opry. Linda Martell.
Pretty much after 1996 …
Country Music ends with a brief montage of some of the most significant figures of the 21st century, including Kenny Chesney, Alison Krauss & Union Station and Chris Stapleton. It feels like a bad thing when Burns misses the opportunity to think about how the 21st-century country music addressed September 11, how they came to the violent right during the Iraq war and how they did the Dixie Chicks exiled because she embarrassed Bush. There is no mention of O brother, where are you? or one of the reality TV contests (which brought us, among others, Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert), nothing about Bro-Land's takeover of mainstream radio, nothing about Tomato The Gate and the terrible treatment of female artists, none of them, how many of these artists make visionary music from Nashville, nothing of the new wave of outlaws like Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell and none of this on the "Old Town Road", probably the biggest country hit of all time and a phenomenon that everything about the country – its color, its sound, its direction, its distribution channels, its machines for making stars and its audience – in splendid disorder. Hopefully, Burns, as he did with baseball, will do an encore episode about some of these developments. Ken Burns Country Music 15 on PBS.