By Jenni Wright
Sometimes you’re stuck at home on an unseasonably cold day in Raleigh-Durham at your dad’s house during the holidays, thinking about who you thought you would be when you were in high school and where you are today. You think about home as no longer the place that defines who you are, but as a place that you launched off from. This is the time to power watch Netflix rockumentaries about people who followed their dreams and became much more successful than you. Just make sure you’ve got a bottle of wine near by and some tissue when the pain of your unlived dreams becomes too hard.
Talihina Sky: The Story of Kings of Leon
I heard about this documentary a few years ago when Kings of Leon was still a band that people cared about. This was before lead singer, Caleb Followill, (allegedly) fell off the wagon and the band had to cancel their 2011 tour due to his drinking problem. At their last concert in Dallas that year, Caleb told the crowd that he was going to go back stage and vomit, drink a beer and come back. He never came back. The crowd of drunken frat boys quickly turned on the band and the other band members trash talked Caleb in public. More public infighting occurred and the band disappeared for a few years.
“Talihina Sky” was produced before the melt down years and studies the origins of the band members, who grew up in little town called Talihina Sky in Oklahoma. It’s the kind of place where kids play by a creek all day and drunken uncles capture snakes in the backyard. The documentary follows the early footage of the band members living in Oklahoma, traveling throughout the south with their dad who was a Pentecostal minister. The Kings of Leon were taught the art of the religious revival and were banned from listening to rock ‘n roll which was deemed devil music. The band members grew up thinking that they would go to hell if they picked up a guitar. Given that Kings of Leon’s fame led to massive problems with drugs and alcohol, the pentecostal minister may have been right after all.
Music in the documentary: 6/10 … you’ve heard Sex on Fire, right? well be prepared to hear it 30 more times.
Coolness factor of the band: 3/10 … the band remains coolest when they’re not speaking, in particular Caleb who ruins any illusion that he may be some kind of Rock Star prophet when he deigns to open his mouth and speak while drunk
How much it makes you want to go out and start your own band: 4/10 Kings of Leon followed the meteoric rise and public shame that is typically reserved for Disney’s child actors, that said they did amass an amazing collection of expensive wine on their way to the top
Bonus cool thing about this movie: you get to see people speaking in tongues at a Pentecostal revival
Pearl Jam Twenty
If you haven’t seen this documentary yet, I really have no idea how you escaped it. I’ve watched this not once, or twice or even thrice but four times with different groups of people. It’s like we’ve all collectively healed our 1990’s wounds to the point where it’s just about time to reopen the bandage and think about how much we loved miserable music again. And I mean miserable in the literal sense – that while listening to Pearl Jam you start tapping into feelings that you thought were long dormant, that you tucked away in your parents basement when you went away to college. The first time I watched Pearl Jam Twenty I felt utterly depressed for no reason and refused to leave the house. No matter how far you’ve gone in life, no matter how happy you’ve become, Eddie Vedder can plant the idea that you will never truly love again when he sings. In fact, I caution you to not watch this movie before you’re on your way to some beautiful life event, like say your own wedding where it would only be socially acceptable to embrace life and say yes to love. But for those who do dare to watch it, it’s a pretty bad ass movie directed by Cameron Crowe who I assume made some blood oath pact with Satan in order to constantly have unfettered access to rock legends on the road.
Music in the documentary: 10/10 … as long as you know that beautiful Pearl Jam music will produce a cancer of sadness inside of you that will not go away for days
Coolness factor of the band: 8/10 … minus points because they didn’t appear to hit the sauce or the pipe at the same rate as their grunge peers, but they did survive and that’s saying something for that decade
How much it makes you want to go out and start your own band: 8/10 … If you’re going to mimic a music career, it might as well be Pearl Jam’s, especially if your biggest dream is to rock it in the free world with Neil Young on stage
Bonus cool thing about this movie: Pearl Jam admits that Nirvana’s criticism of their music was dead on.
How to Grow a Band
Chris Thile, boy wonder, musical genius and waifish artsy boy of dreams leaves his old band (Nickel Creek … not to be confused with Nickelback) to start a new musical venture. He wants to infuse bluegrass music with a classical symphony format. He travels the country with his new band, The Punch Brothers, debuting his new sound to mixed reviews. The audience just wants to hear traditional blue grass music and heckles them in the crowd. His new band members are dubious about the direction the band is headed in and would value a steady pay check over creating a new kind of sound. In the midst of this, Chris is dealing with a divorce and expectations from both the classical and blue grass communities. Of the three documentaries, How to Grow a Band is the most accessible in that the band members appear to be normal human beings who have to make tough, mature decisions about their music and their careers. It’s the kind of movie that will make you think about dusting off that one act play you wrote in college and giving it another try.
Music in the documentary: 9/10 … Chris Thile and The Punch Brothers rock … in that NPR “Morning Becomes Eclectic” kind of way
Coolness factor of the band: 2/10 … these guys would be the coolest dudes at a hipster party in Silver Lake but there is strong evidence that the band members both love their mother and pay their taxes
How much it makes you want to go out and start your own band: 5/10 … mainly because these guys are arguably the most talented musicians in this bunch (sorry, Eddie Vedder) so it’s hard to imagine that you and I could go anywhere with 1/10th of their skill and 1/20th of their motivation
Bonus cool thing about this movie: Did I mention how great The Punch Brothers are? But in all seriousness the bonus to this movie is Chris Thile’s hair.
Jenni Wright lives in Los Angeles and saw Pearl Jam at the Forum in 2013. She would gladly say yes to a date with Chris Thile.