Today or tomorrow. Seriously: rearrange your schedule. Yes, for a movie. A documentary, no less.
Because “Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World” will end its one-week run at the Nuart Theatre in West LA Thursday night, and it may be hard to find after that.
You don’t want to miss this. It’s about much more than music.
It’s not just for people like me who live and breathe music and know a lot about the history and development of blues, folk, jazz and rock and roll, who will know something about most of the characters who come on that screen to tell the story. Doesn’t matter. The story is beautifully told, so many disparate elements woven together to paint a picture of the tragic but proud history of America’s indigenous peoples. I learned a lot. So many photos and film clips I had never seen. Some could move you to tears, or gift you with a big warm smile, or both at the same time.
Most people will at least recognize some of the names on screen. Martin Scorsese, Tony Bennett, Jackson Browne, Quincy Jones, Iggy Pop, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Robbie Robertson of The Band (Bob Dylan’s seminal backing group), Little Steven of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, George Clinton of Parliament/Funkadelic, Steven Tyler of
Aerosmith, Slash of Guns N’ Roses, Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, bluesmen Buddy
Guy and Taj Mahal. The adopted sister of part-Cherokee Jimi Hendrix relates his expressed feelings about his ancestry. They all cite Link Wray’s 1958 instrumental hit “Rumble” as being more important than you could have imagined to the very heart and soul of rock and roll. It was considered so powerful that it was the only instrumental recording ever banned from US radio play for its corrupting influence on youth.
45 RPM RUMBLES
In the great music movie “It Might Get Loud,” Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page lays his 45 version on a turntable and grins uncontrollably at all it imports. Iggy Pop of the Stooges, in this film, relates that hearing it for the first time in his school cafeteria stopped him in his tracks. “I left school emotionally at that moment,” he said, “and knew playing music was what I had to do.”
It’s fascinating to hear all these iconic musicians tell how very important that one song, and its ominous, rumbling power chords, were to a nascent rock and roll, but it’s a vehicle for retelling the story of America’s indigenous people in a way you may never have looked at it.
After revealing how many very influential musicians had Indian blood (I use that term because most of those musicians speaking in the film used it), you will hear them with different ears next time. I chuckled self-consciously when some academician opined that early and very influential bluesman Charley Patton (“father of the Delta blues”) was “almost unlistenable to some,” and recalled how many times I came back to Patton’s recordings to “get” what everyone else seemed to. I wasn’t that impressed with his playing either, but from this film I learned that he likely played the guitar percussively
because back then Indians, particularly Indian slaves, were not allowed to possess a
drum, under penalty of death. It was considered an instrument of insurrection. Patton’s grandmother was Cherokee. (In the film you will learn the fascinating possible explanation of why so many who claim Indian ancestry do so through their grandmothers and great grandmothers.)
Probably nothing speaks more to the intersection of music and history than the simple truth repeated by Robbie Robertson, about his experiences in the ‘50s and ‘60s: “Be proud you’re an Indian, but be careful who you tell.”
The estimable heritage of the American Indian, as movingly portrayed in “Rumble,” touches something basically human inside us all, for all its dignity and worth, and the horrific abuse by a white society bent on genocide becomes in a way more personal. Perhaps I was more moved because I grew up in New Mexico (there is some beautiful cinematography of northern NM in the film), and because of what’s happening now.
A few weeks ago I read a fascinating alternative history in the comic strip “Candorville,” by Darrin Bell. It goes like this: We’d have been better off losing the Revolutionary War. If France never helped us we would have lost. Britain probably still would have freed the slaves in 1833. So, no Civil War, no backlash to Reconstruction, no KKK. France wouldn’t have drowned in debt and their monarchy would have lasted longer so, no Napoleon, no threat uniting the German nationalists so no WWI, and no WWII, no Hitler. No Manifest Destiny in America so no genocide of the Native Americans. The Brits wouldn’t have turned to the Middle East and Africa to replace lost holdings so, no carving up of the Ottoman Empire, no chaos in the Middle East, no Al Queda, no Isis.
Sometimes when you win, you lose.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK: When all the “Russian stuff” starts to really come out (it already is) and Special Counsel Robert Mueller (or his successor) has indisputable proof that Donald John Trump lied his face off for a couple of years about the most egregious national security violations that he and his family and other advisors willfully and serially committed, for personal profit, in the midst of which he was selected by the Electoral College as President of the United States — will there be any satisfaction at all for those who saw this historic horrendous hideous train wreck coming all along to be able to say, we told you so!, or will those who supported him through all his dangerous destructive demolishing of so much that is good about America finally say, well, gosh, maybe it is true after all and we made a terrible mistake — ?? The answers will be no, and no. Lose-lose, the whole world loses (if there is still a world left spinning). And so much will not be able to be undone, for even a hundred years. Sad. Yes, no joke, sad.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” — Mark Twain
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 31 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else
in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at firstname.lastname@example.org