Although I don’t get too many opportunities on this site to express it, music is a huge part of my life. From playing it to experiencing it live (like the time Paul and Virgin sent me to Maryland to cover freefest), music is a wonderful escape for me, and I have been trying to figure out how to incorporate that love more when I write for Unreality. Usually, that results in a list chock full of messed up music videos you didn’t know about, but in this case, it translates into a list about staggeringly cool music documentaries.
I also feel compelled to tell you that, in these cases, you DON’T need to like the band or artist’s music to appreciate these amazing films. Don’t write it off if it is not your style, because you will be missing out on exceptional stories here, regardless of whether you like the genre they represent. While most of these are new, don’t worry old schoolers, I will have a follow up at some point featuring some older classics (looking at you, Last Waltz).
Under African Skies
Not only does she make great syrup, but Aunt Jamima’s vocals were key to the success of Graceland.
This movie actually made my list of best movies of 2012, and it still shocks me so few people have seen it.
Under African Skies is the story of the tumultuous journey Paul Simon had to take to get the seminal (and life changing) Graceland album made. If the Graceland record is not a part of your life, you need to seek it out, because the album is absolutely mind blowing. It is the perfect mix of African world music and white bread pop music (something I thought I would never write), and to get a peek into just how difficult it was for Paul Simon to get released will summon even more appreciation for the album.
Though I grew up in a household where Graceland seemed to always be playing, I just always assumed (like an idiot) that the album was made with complete ease and the agreement of everyone involved. Little did I know that, behind the scenes, there was someone offering opposition at every point. From finding out Paul Simon borrowed a great deal of the melodies from old slave hymns, to the fact that some people found it terribly offensive a white man stole MORE music from black people, the doc really opens your eyes to just how many things factor into making an album.
It is REALLY easy to take an album you have loved for twenty plus years for granted, but this documentary cast a whole new light on that album, and caused me to fall back in love with it, all over again.
Diamonds On The Souls Of Her Shoes is, without a doubt, one of the greatest pop songs ever written.
I have been asked to do far less reasonable things.
It is quite clear to me that people born after 1999 just don’t understand the fame and cult-like status of Pearl Jam, and that is fine by me. That happens in the gap of every generation regarding music from a generation before, but to be alive in the nineties when this band was happening, you could not deny their power. They just cast a glow over everything, and caused a good number of Gen X’ers to truly and infinitely fall in love with music. While there is no argument from me that Nirvana is a more IMPORTANT band, Pearl Jam have become the Led Zeppelin of my generation, and the PJ20 documentary, lovingly directed by PJ fan and friend, Cameron Crowe, shows just how much the band has endured over the last twenty years.
From the fact that the band was built on the death of Andy Wood, who was the lead singer of Mother Love Bone, to the tragedy during the Roskilde festival (where a good number of people were trampled to death in front of the band), Pearl Jam’s ride has not been an easy one, yet, you would not know that. On the surface, they protect their image, but this stellar documentary sheds some of those layers and reveals a band that is far more genuine and vulnerable than most may otherwise think. Also, Eddie Vedder is a hunk, and I wouldn’t have gotten laid in high school if I did not emulate that man in every way. It was also great to hear that the beef everyone made up between Nirvana and Pearl Jam in the nineties we really just that, made up.
Oh Kurt, you angelic, brittle soul. How I miss you so.
Speaking of Nirvana….
Kurt and Courtney
Do you see that look on his face? Yeah, where I come from we call those a cry for help.
I know this may be nineties overkill to list this and a PJ doc back to back, but this movie is VERY different from the others on this list.
This movie is about Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love’s relationship, and how a good deal of people who were close with them think that Courtney may have been involved with Kurt’s death. While it doesn’t take a detective to figure out Courtney Love is a terrible, terrible person, the implications in this documentary might just skew how you feel about Kurt’s death.
Truth is, the last song Kurt ever wrote was called ” I Hate Myself and Want To Die” so it is not without reason to think he really did blow his brains out, but when even Courtney Love’s dad thinks she killed her husband, it kind of gives you pause for a moment. And you should hear some of her voice mails in this film. Scary stuff. Watch with caution, though, Courtney Love might be sitting under your bed, right now, waiting for the perfect time to strike.
That weird moment when a guy says Courtney Love offered to pay him money to kill Kurt, and then the guy turns up dead the next week. Seriously.
Metallica: Some Kind of Monster
So do you think I should catch on fire during the chorus or solo this time?
Warning: This WILL take away some of the scary veneer off metal music, so if you don’t want to see your metal Gods as wounded, insecure menchildren, you may want to skip this.
If you can let go of that ego for a second, your mind will be blown by this documentary, which basically boils down to being a bunch of old guys who need therapy so they can make an album together. While that concept may be hard to get over at first, just how honest and real they are in this documentary really opens your eyes to the fact that bands, much like couples, may need therapy to productively move forward with their relationship. I won’t lie, though, it is almost pathetic at times. But you just can’t look away.
While this is DEFINITELY not the Metallica you grew up with, it is an honest look into a working world we all may have wanted to be in at some point, but definitely didn’t factor in (or know) all the unseen bullshit that comes with it. This doc casts a light on that oft unseen bullshit.
You know what’s metal? Being honest with your friends and yourself about your expectations. Haha, kidding. That’s p*ssy sh*t.
His hair tendrils always filled me with terror and awe, simultaneously.
Wait, Bob Marley’s Dad was white? How is it I never knew this until 2012?
That, and many other brilliant revelations about this legend await you in this (frankly, long overdue) documentary simply entitled, Marley. From how he brought leaders together, to how he effected politics around him, Marley shows us a far more insightful look into a man we have all been jamming out to for decades now.
While there may be nothing too shocking in here for Marley enthusiasts, for casual fans like me, it taught me many things I did not know about the man. Like, his white Dad, for instance. Sorry, that STILL shocks me, and I have no idea why. Also, this is the best doc on the list to pass the dutchie to, not that I recommend that.
PS. I totes do.
Smoking weed, spreading love, and making music. A better life I do not know.
Meeting People Is Easy
I can literally FEEL his migraine when I look at this pic.
Oh, come now, you didn’t actually think you would get through a whole music article without Radiohead being brought up, did you?
Meeting People Is Easy is not only a stark and beautiful film, but much like Some Kind of Monster, it shows us insight into how difficult being successful can actually be. While that may sound silly, it will make more sense after you have seen this documentary, which followed Radiohead as they tried to make a follow up album to the masterful OK Computer album.
While making an album may seem like a minuscule problem, you need to know that Ok Computer went f*cking DIAMOND. No joke. There were no bad reviews for that album, and it is considered one of the greatest (alternative?) rock albums of all time, with good reason. It is amazing. But here, we see just how that pressure weighed on the band, and how they dealt with it. We also get to see the seeds sown for what would come to be the Kid A album(s).
And you get to see Thom Yorke get turned away at a club. Really. I will, for the life of me, never forget that moment when he is walking away, and you hear the bouncer yell: Radiohead, yeah, try DICKHEAD! So you see, you can be one of the most successful bands in all the world, and there will ALWAYS be someone to shit on you. Kind of made me feel better about my life.
Here, I will give you the first ten minutes free, like a good dealer.