I realized last night that I have watched hundreds of music documentaries. I place them in three broad categories, not including actual concert movies, a related but different genre, nor including fictionalized BioPics about real or nearly-real musicians.
1. The quality ones, which are fairly rare. These documentaries often have a well known director, have licensed the actual music from the musicians involved, and if they are still alive, even interview some of them. Like Martin Scorsese’s No Direction Home, for instance. Or Muscle Shoals, about the music studios in Muscle Shoals, AL, and which includes some great footage of Aretha Franklin belting out, I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You). If you haven’t watched the first 2 seasons of Mike Judge Presents: Tales From The Tour Bus, you should.
2. A second tier style that does include some of the musicians, but usually not the ones who played on the albums in question. There always seems to be a few rock journalists who once wrote for Rolling Stone Magazine, or similar, who are interviewed in front of their shelves of CDs/vinyl, and interviews with contemporaries or studio partners, usually interviewed with studio equipment in the background. Sometimes these docs have enough of a budget to license some of the music or snippets of live performance. Frequent usage of the so-called Ken Burns Effect.
3. Documentaries that focus on a single album, track by track, and inevitably have multiple interviews with a sound engineer at a mixing console who slides the mixing panel controls to isolate vocals or drums or bass or all of these. Eddie Kramer, of Jimi Hendrix fame, seems to be in half of these for some reason. Some of these don’t license music from the original artists, so they can only have snippets, or video from television broadcasts or in a few cases, muzak-inspired studio versions. Yikes. A few of these are interesting, many of the documentaries I’ve watched in this category are for hard-core fans only, everyone else would be bored to tears. Very frequent usage of the so-called Ken Burns Effect.
The better documentaries also don’t shy away from controversy, drugs and sex are not skipped over. To be honest, the juicy bits are often the most fun, which is why tell all books about Led Zeppelin or Keith Richards are fun to read, and popular.
He died young, probably due to his drug habits. The Feats First doc didn’t even mention that Lowell George was a cocaine-heroin speedball aficionado. Seems like this should have been relevant to the discussion, but nope. Whatever, still an enjoyable look at a great talent. I learned a few new-to-me facts, such as that Lowell George was a Frank Zappa protégé and hung out with Zappa and the other Freaks in LA. Or that George used a Sears Craftman 11/16th socket because it was easy to replace by going to a hardware store, and that it created a fairly unique sound, especially when George tuned his guitar up a step, instead of tuning down like so many other slide guitarists.Footnotes:
- Dixie Chicken, Feats Don’t Fail Me Now, Little Feat, Sailin’ Shoes, respectively… [↩]