I am a sucker for a good rockumentary (do they even use that word anymore?). To this day, The Last Waltz is one of the few Scorsese films I’ve seen in its entirety, and even though I don’t have much love left for Metallica, the tour doc “A Year and a Half in the Life of …” is a film that I still think back upon with fondness. Rock docs are the type of films that hit me in that sweet spot where my interests in both pop culture and history lie, so I’ll take a look at just about any one of them if given the chance. This film had been sitting on my DVR since back in January when it first aired as part of PBS’ Independent Lens film series, and it was only until this week that I was able to sit down and watch it.
Tracing the contributions that Native Americans have made to blues, jazz, rock, and pop music over the past hundred years, Rumble is one of those films that doesn’t just highlight a bunch of really good musicians, it truly educates you with regard to one culture’s oft-ignored contribution to popular culture. Filmmakers Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana begin with the song that gives the film its name, “Rumble” by Link Wray and his Ray Men (a song whose opening riff a number of people might identify from its use in Pulp Fiction) and through interviews with a number of rock musicians and journalists discuss his influence on generations of guitarists before heading even further back to talk about blues musician Charley Patton, jazz singer Mildred Bailey (who was a major influence on Tony Bennett) and then pushing forward through the rock era by looking at Jimi Hendrix, Jesse Ed Davis, Redbone, and Randy Castillo.
So it’s a film that, of course, points out the way that Native American culture was expressed in pop music, but what sets it apart from being a 90-minute checklist of personalities and archival performance footage is how the filmmakers educate us as far as the actual musical influence that Native culture has on these very American genres. There are segments where people show us the rhythm of traditional songs and how well they match up to the blues; furthermore, there is a portion of the film devoted to the long history of the treatment of Native Americans in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries as well as their relationship and intermixing with African-American culture.
This is the type of music documentary that sends you to Spotify or YouTube so you can look up the artists who were featured, even if it’s not the type of music you would normally listen to. It’s a fantastic insight into a culture that is very different from the one in which I grew up and should be required viewing for anyone who seeks to know more about being both American and a musician.
I don’t have a physical copy of this (it was DVR’ed), so my rating is more along the lines of a must watch.
You can find out more about it here: Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World