07 February 2006

More Country Stuff

Well, I've just now gotten to see Walk The Line, the Johnny Cash bio-pic. I know it's old news in America, but films seem to take a long time to make their way down to the underside of the world, but never mind that, I've just got to say God bless the US of A for producing country music, rock and roll, the South, and some Hollywood folks clever enough to make some pretty decent movies about it all.

It probably added an extra frisson of enjoyment to be watching the picture in a cinema full of Australians, allowing me, every time there was an especially colourful bit, to smugly assure myself that they couldn't possibly understand what it was really like back in those glory days. And since I was having this conversation with myself, there was no one to rudely interrupt and point out that in the 1950s I was a little kid living a thousand miles away from the Deep South and who almost never heard country music because his daddy hated the stuff.

I say almost never because late at night I could pick up Nashville on my radio upstairs in the attic, and sometimes I'd catch bits of the Grand Ole Opry, which at the age of 9 or 10 I found utterly thrilling, as much because it was coming from so far away as for the music itself. Then there was the time I managed to tune in WWL, from all the way down in New Orleans. I was so excited that I ran downstairs to tell my parents, forgetting that I was supposed to be in bed with the radio off two hours ago.

"I just got New Orleans on the radio," I shouted, to which my dad replied, "That's just great. Next thing we know, you'll be turning into some caterwauling hillbilly."

I never did understand what exactly my dad disliked about the South. His big brother, who he admired immensely, lived in Kentucky, but that was only Louisville, just across the Ohio River. Up in Detroit, we considered that Southern, but I don't think many Southerners would. But in 1956, we packed up our '51 Chevy, the one with cardboard lining the back seat floor to keep the wind and rain from blowing up through the holes, and drove all the way to Louisville to see Uncle Larry, and then kept on driving on down into Tennessee and North Carolina, through the Great Smoky Mountains.

We saw a bear, we saw a Cherokee Indian chief, and in Knoxville, I wandered away from the car and with a sign on the toilets out back that read "Whites Only." I could smell cigarette smoke and hear people talking in thick drawls that I'd only heard in movies before, and the jukebox played that caterwauling hillbilly music my dad hated so much.

And as might be expected, the more my dad scorned the South, the more fascinated I became with it. It's a minor miracle that I never ended up living there, though Ypsi-tucky was a pretty close facsimile. As it turned out, I never even got to spend any serious time down South until I started working with Avail, a great band from Richmond, Virginia. I spent some time hanging out with them in Richmond, and toured the South with them a couple times, taking the opportunity to go travelling off on my own as well, and eventually got to see every state except Louisiana (well, I actually saw Louisiana from across the river; I was just in too much of a hurry to cross over and actually set foot in the place, something I've come to regret, as it's the only one of the lower 48 I've never visited).

Anyway, I'm rambling, damn it, which I suppose you're allowed to do when you're talking about the South and country music and all, but the fact is that I've never seen enough of the place or spent enough time there, which makes me doubly sad since so much of what we once knew as the South has been Wal-marted out of existence. A few years back I was meant to take a couple months' road trip with someone I was supposedly in love with at the time, just the two of us and our guitars, going from town to town. Of course it never happened, and it was probably 20 or 30 years too late to even be thinking about it, but it was - still is - a nice thought.

Oh yeah, the movie: it was generally well done, and kudos to Joaquin Phoenix for doing a creditable job both acting and singing all of Johnny Cash's vocals. But the real revelation was Reese Witherspoon. Loved her in Legally Blonde, sure, but as June Carter, she was an absolute revelation. The woman is a brilliant actress, and, it turns out, a great country singer as well: I waited around for all the credits to roll so I could find out if she'd actually sung the June Carter vocals herself. Yep. And did it so well that if the acting ever stops paying off, she could easily find herself a new gig in Nashville.

There was one really painful bit in the film that I think will cause anyone who's ever performed on stage to cringe, wherein J. Cash turns up at a gig rather worse for wear and makes an utter fool of himself. Apparently I've done this myself, and I only say "apparently" because I have very little memory it. I'm told there's a videotape of the event, but I'm hoping I'll never have to see it. Okay, I'm sure there are many of you out there willing to tell me of all the other times I've disgraced myself in public, and I'd like to beat you to the punch by compiling an extensive list of Embarrassing Potatomen And Lookouts Shows I Have Been A Part Of, but I'm just about out of time and energy for the moment, so we'll have to leave that for another day.

1 comment:

Tim said...

I watched that film last night, was really good, i knew it was gonna be a good film when you could hear the thumping echo of Folsom Prison Blues trailing down corrdiors. I think Reese Withersppon was sometimes too good that she sounded bettre than June. Not always though.