Rō’bear is going to the Dark side for a few weeks beginning Sept. 14th. Traveling south to check out rumors of a Deep State in the Central Andes along with some fly fishing and of course observance of the daily Pisco Hour. He will procure assistance from local personas de mala reputación y conferencistas invitados residing in Rio Blanco, Portillo & Papudo Chile … then hopefully return with a few stories early October to share with rŌbert devotees.
While the jefe is visiting the Dark Side you can go to the bottom of each page in the Re’por to Older Posts which will take you back in time to past stories from the bad old days.
“It’s the truth even if it didn’t happen” Ken Kesey
In attempting a comprehensive look at one of the nation’s most popular forms of music, the emphasis is less on the genre than on its most enduring figures.
Les Leverett Collection
With few exceptions, the titles of Ken Burns documentaries serve as their own declarative statements. The prolific documentary filmmaker’s works have long had names that are unequivocal, as if there was any doubt about the subject matter contained within. “Country Music” — like “Baseball,” “Jazz,” “The Civil War” and “Jackie Robinson” before it — presents itself as a century-spanning compendium of a particular kind of music that’s been woven into the fabric of American life. While the series itself makes a compelling case for the importance of this music to a vast number of individuals across the country, it also raises plenty of questions about who decides what gets included in that sense of appreciation.
Told over eight installments, spanning 16 hours, “Country Music” is a largely chronological examination of milestone moments and figures within the evolution of the genre. The series doesn’t stray too far from the particular Florentine house style. Peter Coyote’s dependable baritone is just as much a fuel for gravitas as ever, while the stills of early genre proprietors seem tailor-made for the sepia-toned hue of history that often fill up these runtimes. Burns operates from a high floor in how this history flows from era to era, often rewarding the patience it regularly demands.
“Country Music” gets some of its greatest insights from the behind-the-scenes players who were able to shape this area of the musical world in less obvious ways. Radio DJs, producers, and session players provide their own window into their personal histories and the legends they’ve accumulated over generations. In some cases, these alternate perspectives help to puncture some of the mythology that surrounds various transformative periods and figures in this ongoing legacy. (One session musician who played on recordings that helped to define the mid-century “Nashville Sound” discusses how the sheer volume of their output meant that even with the hits, there were plenty of forgettable misses.)
One intriguing wrinkle to Burns’ time-tested approach to presenting the past is having various musicians play some of the songs they discuss. From the steel guitar to the fiddle to the mandolin, these demonstrations are able to illustrate particular styles and lyrical feats that feel essential to understanding why this parade of cultural artifacts is something worth examining from a 2019 vantage point. Those who don’t pick up an instrument and start playing are still able to express their admiration for the output of their musical ancestors and contemporaries with a distinct kind of reverence.
These appreciations are often as persuasive as they are subjective. What comes across less strongly is the “Country Music” approach to the individuals themselves. As the series progresses, most of the storytelling in “Country Music” is rooted in the personalities of various sizes that came to steer the industry. Most of these people are the names likely to be etched in memorial plaques around Nashville (where Ryman Auditorium, home of the long-running Grand Ole Opry, has existed in various forms for decades) or these singer/songwriters’ hometowns.
While these people aren’t exactly deified (through conversations with their respective children, it’s clear that Hank Williams and Johnny Cash were less than exemplary father figures), there’s an outsized emphasis on single players within the broader “Country Music.” By the series’ own admission, the term “country music” is enough of an amorphous label that it makes more sense to zero in on the personal stories of people generally accepted in the genre’s canon.
Through focusing on foundational figures in country movements in Tennessee, central Texas and Bakersfield, California, there’s something of a minor subconscious tug of war happening between the various testimonials, each trying their best to get at what country music means to them in its purest form. Sometimes that manifests itself as a championing of the genre’s oral tradition, of songs as the endpoint of musical gifts passed between hills and towns. Other times, it leads to musicians extolling the virtues of country artists as the ideal form of for-the-fans entertainment anywhere in the musical landscape.
That feeling of having to insist on the qualities of country music that it alone can claim is less compelling than the historical view of how this output has permeated different parts of society. Pointing out that Bob Dylan had a great appreciation for Cash’s oeuvre feels germane to the overall thesis of country as a kind of music with roots in many others. But there’s a vein within “Country Music” that’s insisting on country’s importance — explaining how much each of The Beatles listened to country records growing up — that gives it an unnecessary chip on its shoulder. There’s enough in the archival footage and bygone recordings to stir the kind of awe that might bring out that kind of conclusion on its own.
Burns, along with writer Dayton Duncan and producer Julie Dunfey open “Country Music” with an installment that engages with the complicated history of country music’s origins, a tradition that sometimes dealt in racial stereotypes and excluded participants along similar lines. Eventual case studies of DeFord Bailey and Charley Pride show how gatekeepers within the industry have long shaped not just who gets to be included, but the ways in which performers of color had to prove themselves worthy of the country label. There’s also an acknowledgment here that the origins of the industry of recorded country music were built on manufacturing a certain kind of authenticity and commodifying it.
If “Country Music” had followed through on that idea and looked at how the past two decades have either reframed or reinforced how current singers and audiences are following in a grander tradition, the series would be closer to the comprehensive look it’s striving to be. Instead, its closing chapter ends with the rise of Garth Brooks’ megastardom and the passing of country titans like Cash and George Jones, a final hint that “Country Music” is grounded primarily in people. It’s impossible to tell the story of country without acknowledging those individual contributions. For its running time, Burns effectively steers this wagon across country music’s diverging timelines. It’s only in retrospect that “Country Music” raises questions beyond the answers its historical sweep can offer.
This spring the rapper Lil Nas X, who is black, released “Old Town Road,” a twang-inflected song that rocketed to the top of the country music charts — even though Billboard temporarily removed it from the list, saying it wasn’t sufficiently “country.”
A few months later, when the Country Music Association announced that three women — Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire and Carrie Underwood — would host its annual awards show, some people criticized the choice as political correctness, as if “real” country music was restricted to good old boys.
Both controversies reflect the stereotypes that chronically surround country music. They overlook its diverse roots, its porous boundaries and the central role that women and people of color have played in its history.
I really didn’t think “Sharpiegate” would have such legs. Sure, it was a ridiculous and sloppy lie, but amid all of the Trump administration’s lies I thought it would quickly become obscured. Of course Trump digs in. Again. And again.
The beauty of the blatant lie about the NOAA map of Hurricane Dorian — and the fact it was done in such a slapdash way — is probably one of the most accessible examples of what this administration is all about. Lie. Get caught. Then lie bigger. Then smear the people (in this case career government scientists) who point out your lie.
In addition to all the Trump lies and corruption that are obscured, there are so many that are done in plain sight — in this case with a cheap sharpie marker. Haven’t these people ever heard of Photoshop? But then Trump is more about bluster and lying until people move onto something else. His lies are mostly overtaken by new events . . . and then more lies.
Country Music: Live at the Ryman Concert
Join celebrated musicians for Country Music: Live at the Ryman , A Concert Celebrating the Film by Ken Burns. Hosted by Burns and featuring performances and appearances by Dierks Bentley, Rosanne Cash, Rhiannon Giddens, Vince Gill, Kathy Mattea, Marty Stuart, Dwight Yoakam and more.
About the Film
Tune in or Stream Sunday, September 15 at 8/7c
Explore the history of a uniquely American art form: country music. From its deep and tangled roots in ballads, blues and hymns performed in small settings, to its worldwide popularity, learn how country music evolved over the course of the 20th century, as it eventually emerged to become America’s music. Country Music features never-before-seen footage and photographs, plus interviews with more than 80 country music artists. The eight-part 16-hour series is directed and produced by Ken Burns; written and produced by Dayton Duncan; and produced by Julie Dunfey.
Country Music explores questions –– such as “What is country music?” and “Where did it come from?“–– while focusing on the biographies of the fascinating characters who created and shaped it — from the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers and Bob Wills to Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Charley Pride, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Garth Brooks and many more — as well as the times in which they lived. Much like the music itself, the film tells unforgettable stories of hardships and joys shared by everyday people.
No one has told the story this way before.
- Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice
- Directed by Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
If you were listening to the radio in the mid-1970s — AM or FM; pop, country, R&B or AOR — at some point you were probably listening to Linda Ronstadt.
Kids these days, with their curated playlists and SoundCloud streams, may not understand what it was like back then. A lot of music was never heard on the radio at all, while certain songs and artists made up a communal soundtrack that transcended genre and individual taste. Maybe you thought Ronstadt’s chart-topping cover of “You’re No Good” wasn’t all that great, but its organ riff and declamatory chorus probably settled into your ears anyway, and more than 40 years later you’re likely to remember it as a classic.
Ronstadt was an unavoidable presence — not only on the airwaves but also on television talk shows and magazine covers. (Those things were also a much bigger deal back then, but I’ll stop with the Gen-X Grandpa Simpson routine.) She didn’t write her own songs, but she owned the ones she performed with rare authority. In “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice,” a new documentary by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, someone uses the word “auteur” to describe Ronstadt’s relationship to her material, and it doesn’t seem exaggerated. Her versions of songs by Warren Zevon, Lowell George and Kate and Anna McGarrigle (to name just a few) still sound definitive.
“If you think you’re woke, it’s because someone woke you up.”
We are building something immense together that, though invisible and immaterial, is a structure, one we reside within—or, rather, many overlapping structures. They’re assembled from ideas, visions and values emerging out of conversations, essays, editorials, arguments, slogans, social-media messages, books, protests, and demonstrations. About race, class, gender, sexuality; about nature, power, climate, the interconnectedness of all things; about compassion, generosity, collectivity, communion; about justice, equality, possibility. Though there are individual voices and people who got there first, these are collective projects that matter not when one person says something but when a million integrate it into how they see and act in the world. The we who inhabits those structures grows as what was once subversive or transgressive settles in as normal, as people outside the walls wake up one day inside them and forget they were ever anywhere else.
The consequences of these transformations are perhaps most important where they are most subtle. They remake the world, and they do so mostly by the accretion of small gestures and statements and the embracing of new visions of what can be and should be. The unknown becomes known, the outcasts come inside, the strange becomes ordinary. You can see changes to the ideas about whose rights matter and what is reasonable and who should decide, if you sit still enough and gather the evidence of transformations that happen by a million tiny steps before they result in a landmark legal decision or an election or some other shift that puts us in a place we’ve never been.
I have been watching this beautiful collective process of change unfold with particular intensity over the past several years—generated by the work of countless people separately and together, by the delegitimization of the past and the hope for a better future that lay behind the genesis of Occupy Wall Street (2011), Idle No More (2012), Black Lives Matter (2013), Standing Rock (2016), #MeToo (2017), and the new feminist surges and insurgencies, immigrant and trans rights movements, the Green New Deal (2018), and the growing power and reach of the climate movement. Advocacy of universal healthcare, the elimination of the Electoral College, the end of the death penalty, and an energy revolution that leaves fossil fuels behind have gone from the margins to the center in recent years. A new clarity about how injustice works, from police murders to the endless excuses and victim-blaming for rape, lays bare the machinery of that injustice, makes it recognizable when it recurs, and that recognizability strips away the disguises of and excuses for the old ways.
My formative intellectual experience was, in the early 1990s, watching reactions against the celebration of the quincentennial of Columbus’s arrival in the Americas and the rise in visibility and audibility of Native Americans that radically redefined this hemisphere’s history and ideas about nature and culture. That was how I learned that culture matters, that it’s the substructure of beliefs that shape politics, that change begins on the margins and in the shadows and grows toward the center, that the center is a place of arrival and rarely one of real generation, and that even the most foundational stories can be changed. But now I recognize it’s not the margins, the place of beginnings, or the center, the place of arrival, but the pervasiveness that matters most.