With the help of her mother, family, friends, and fellow musicians, Aiyana Elliott reaches for her father, legendary cowboy troubadour, Ramblin' Jack Elliott. She explores who he is and how...
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With the help of her mother, family, friends, and fellow musicians, Aiyana Elliott reaches for her father, legendary cowboy troubadour, Ramblin' Jack Elliott. She explores who he is and how he got there, working back and forth between archival and contemporary footage. Born in 1932 in Brooklyn, busking through the South and West in the early 50s, a year with Woody Guthrie, six years flatpicking in Europe, a triumphant return to Greenwich Village in the early 60s, mentoring Bob Dylan, then life on the road, from gig to gig, singing and telling stories. A Grammy and the National Medal of Arts await Jack near the end of a long trail. What will Aiyana find for herself? Written by
commentary on the value of this film to American folklore.
Until I saw this film, I'd never seen Jack Elliott "in concert." I've seen Dylan, many times; see Arlo Guthrie once a year when he plays Harrisburg, Pa., with his daughter Sara; saw Dave Van Ronk when he played here a couple of years ago with Rosemary Sorrels; never saw Jack Elliott. Until now.
And what a concert. No back-up singers; no jazz; no fancy lighting; no special effects. Just Jack Elliott, playing and singing and talking about his life and his times and his adventures, picking away on his guitar for punctuation, singing deep and throaty about where's he's been, who he is and making fun at a lot of ideas about what other people think he means. No apologies; no excuses; a living tribute to what Henry Ford II once said: never complain, never explain.
It's hard to believe that this film was made by his daughter. It's a true, genuine, open statement about a man who has lived his life with absolutely no plan in mind about what he would do or say or where his choices would take him or what effect it would have on other people or things, but never hesitated to follow his heart, follow his curiosity, outrun his shadow with every step. Pick up and leave; pick up and go; never look back and never let go. Never stop working, never stop playing, take every breath and every encounter and every day and tell other people about it on a guitar. Invite them in for dinner and some stories while sitting on a barstool. That's Jack Elliott in concert. It almost sounds as if his life has been selfish and self-serving, but this film clearly makes the distinction between living a life of greed, which is what drives selfish people, and having a sense of self, which is what Jack Elliott has worked on and what he devoted himself to and has shared with us through his music. He meant no harm; he has always just been looking.
The film evolves into a masterpiece of objectivity despite the potential for the obvious pitfall of a daughter trying to understand her father and asking the whole world to watch with her while she searches. What courage. She's made of the same stuff her father is and this "road trip" they took together is made singularly more sweet because they invited all of us along with them.
Folk music is all about the stories, recording people and events musically, in common terms and without the frills, just straight up stories. And this film tells a great story and in the telling, has itself become a story.
My sons and I are going to a Bob Dylan concert on August 16th. I'm bringing a tape of this film to them to watch before the concert. Music helps us understand who we are, where we've been and where we're headed. Having seen this film, I'm going to listen to Dylan with a whole new set of ears. And I've been listening to him for forty years.
This film is an important guidepost in the history of American folk music because it gives us the life's work and "ramblings", up front and on a personal level, of a true American folk legend.
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