In my recent interview with music writer and retired MTV Executive Bill Flanagan, the Warwick native explained how the new film Jimmy Carter: Rock and Roll President came to be.
“My friend Mary Warton, the Director, came to me about three years ago with this film idea that she and Chris Farrell, the Producer, wanted to do about Jimmy Carter and music. I told her everybody already knows that his campaign was funded by the Allman Brothers, and that he’s pals with Dylan and best friends with Willie Nelson. And they said, no that’s the point, people don’t know about it.”
Whether you knew it or not, music fans won’t want to miss the film, which combines fresh interviews and rare footage from the 1970’s. The film is releasing this week in virtual cinemas, including at the Jane Pickens Theatre here.
Flanagan soon found himself working on the film, conducting most of the interviews.
“I spent time with both President Carter in Georgia, and everyone from Andrew Young and Madeline Albright to Bob Dylan and Jimmy Buffett talking about Carter – and of course talking to Carter about all of them. His life, his view of the world, was shaped by gospel music, by jazz, by the Church music he grew up with. That gave him a different view of America and race relations compared to a lot people born in Georgia in the 1920’s,” explained Flanagan.
It absolutely works! The documentary is an entertaining window into what was at times, a difficult period in history. The film looks at Carter’s early life, his run for office and his presidency, in the context of the musicians he admired. In addition to the interviews, highlights include archival footage with artists like Aretha Franklin, Jimmy Buffett, Paul Simon, Dizzy Gillespie, and of course, the Allman Brothers.
It all began with the Allman Brothers, an acclaimed southern band championing a southern candidate for President. In 1975-76, they played a series of concerts supporting Carter’s presidential run early in the campaign, and stayed friends with him through his White House tenure and beyond. With that endorsement, other rock and rollers followed suit, except for a few like the Eagles, who stood behind Governor Jerry Brown of California, who was dating Linda Ronstadt at the time. But that’s another story …
Carter’s sincere love of rock and roll is evident; he genuinely enjoyed hanging out and sharing ideas with his idols. Remarkably, one of the first large fundraisers for Carter took place at the Providence Civic Center just a year before he was elected. That Allman Brothers show, with introductions from Geraldo Rivera (no kidding) and Carter himself is certainly a “local” highlight in the film. (We even found an audience recorded audio of the evening – scroll to bottom.)
There are amusing anecdotes throughout … including the oft repeated account of Willie Nelson smoking pot in the White House with Carter’s son, Chip. And then there’s the story of the night Bob Dylan visited Carter after his inauguration as Governor of Georgia. Apparently, once they were alone, Dylan queried Carter on evangelical Christianity, a practice he embraced a few years later. The story gets better… after Dylan left that evening, and Carter was getting ready for bed, Gregg Allman pulled up to the governor’s mansion with a bottle of scotch. There are differing accounts of what happened next…
Still active at age 95, Carter sees music as a great equalizer, something he suggests is seriously needed in the current political environment. The Director gives him the final word, where Carter calls for “belief in the truth, belief in helping others, and faith in democracy and freedom.”
The film is a charming snapshot of a moment where political and musical history converged. Whether you were aware of that history or not, the film is a fresh way to appreciate it. Highly recommended!
Support local business and watch this film virtually at the Jane Pickens Theatre through the link here.