"Country Music" a big hit
“Country Music,’’ the eight-part documentary film by filmmaker Ken Burns will go down as one of the most important Americana stories of our generation.
It took Burns eight years to finish the eight-part film and most of the work, he said, was deciding what had to be left out from the mountain of stories, photos and video clips that was collected.
“This is about as American as you can get, as greatest story you can get, a kind of Russian novel of complex family stories,’’ Burns said, commenting on the film.
Country music fan or not, the documentary appeals to all Americans, Burns predicted, calling it a genre that offers truth to its listeners and allows them to tap into “elemental human experience.’’
“We’re afraid of four-letter words in broadcasting but the one we’re the most afraid of is l-o-v-e and we run with our tails between our legs from it so we could return to our rational worlds,’’ Burns said, “and so even with country we have to make it a joke...oh it’s about the pickup truck, my dog, my girlfriend broke up with me and we mock it - when in fact, country music is about elemental human experience.’’
The “Country Music’’ documentary helped set the record straight for a lot of the stories about the music and the artists that I was first introduced to as a child.
Three guitar chords and the truth is where country music starts. The short stories in the songs is what endears them to the listeners.
The early country music artists who became popular – Jimmie Rodgers, Ernest Tubb, Roy Acuff and Hank Williams – are all profiled in this documentary.
The documentary also helps explain how one generation’s country music influenced the next and in that way, I think, it will bring about a better understanding and appreciation of what we came to call the hillbilly, rock-a-billy, country and western, country rock and bluegrass genres of country music.
It has helped me understand what was going on in the U.S. when the Bob Wills song - “San Antonio Rose’’ – a favorite song of my father’s - was popular and the same goes for Ray Price’s song – “Heartache By The Number’’ – a favorite song of my mother’s.
It has also helped me understand why one of my earliest memories of a child in the early 1960s is standing on top of my parent’s cement, arched top cellar – in the middle of the sea of yellow iris flowers – singing Patsy Cline’s song “Tra, le, la, le, la Triangle’’ - with a stick as my guitar, pretending to sing on stage to an audience.
Cline was one of my aunt Donna’s favorite country music singers. At my aunt’s funeral a year or so ago, my older brother gave her eulogy and explained what a big influence Donna had been on her nephews and nieces. He said “Tra, le la, le la Triangle’’ was the first words I ever said as a toddler.
“Country Music’’ brings back a lot of memories for me. For example, until I watched it on the Public Broadcasting Station, I had forgotten that Freddie Fender’s song “Before The Next Teardrop Falls’’ was a favorite of my grandmother’s.
The theme of the documentary can be summed up with one song - the 1935 version of the old gospel hymn from 1909 - “Will The Circle Be Unbroken (By And By)’’ by the Carter family.