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Fowler’s Flix 11.09.18: The Heartworn Highways of America

First Run / Warner Bros.
Townes Van Zandt appears in "Heartworn Highways," originally released in 1981.
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An acoustic guitar is all most people need to accompany their voice, and perhaps a few lyrics about the raw side of life to make it real. For decades, those backwoods boys have been keeping the rhythmic beat of America’s heart strong, from blues and gospel to country and western. It’s one of our country’s very best tropes, despite it being mostly watered-down these days. Anything for a buck, I guess…

Filmmaker Jim Szalapski had the same idea for his rootsy doc Heartworn Highways, a trip through the South in search of the beginnings of outlaw country, a lot of which led to the rise of No Depression music. Featuring music-makers like Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark rhapsodizing about their art and their work, as well as bastardized showstoppers like David Allan Coe and the Charlie Daniels Band talking on and on about the long, lonesome road.

A wholly enthralling picture, it’s a side of country music we very rarely ever get to see anymore, especially in the times of modern pabulum like Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan and so on.

About 40 or so years later, director Wayne Price must’ve felt the same way, because he made a follow-up called, what else, Heartworn Highway Revisited, which follows the new breed of alt-country and is mostly worth a look if you can find it.

Even though Indigenous activists have always been around fighting the good fight, many people finally paid attention when Johnny Cash spoke up about them, and then only a few stood up and joined the fight.

The album was called Bitter Tears and the documentary We’re Still Here: Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears Revisited, based on director Antonino D’Ambrosio’s book A Heartbeat and a Guitar, is about not only the making of the tribute album, but also how much of an impact the album has had on country music.

Even though Cash is dead, his ideals have managed to live on; from his friendship with Native folksinger Peter La Farge to his anger at radio stations for not playing the album, it becomes apparent that this record was Cash’s raison d’être for his future protests and causes he took up; featuring behind-the-scenes footage with Kris Kristofferson, Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris, among others, covering the new album, We’re Still Here is a thoroughly interesting documentary about a searing record of social justice from someone who actually followed through on it.

Like Cash, the even more enigmatic Bob Dylan was a man of unwavering belief as well, something that he come to turn loose on the public when, in 1978, he announced his turn to Christ as a born-again believer. And while now, he’s quieter about whatever his beliefs are, that trio of Christian records he made is still held up as firm rocks of truth. The documentary Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan, feature a who’s who of straight Gospel music, coming together to record many of his tributes to Jesus to wax.

A beautiful rendering of Dylan’s praises to God, Gotta Serve Somebody was more than a tribute album, featuring luminaries such as Shirley Caesar, Aaron Neville and plenty others that powerfully testify to how not only his Christian tunes moved them, but how practically his whole catalog has inspired them.

It’s an unwavering enough look at the album, but it really just makes you want the actual record even more to listen to on whole.

And really, that was docs like these are supposed to do. The good ones, like these, do at least.

Next week: A trio of films from Walter Hill…

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About the Author

Louis Fowler

Güicho. Gadfly. Chicano. Choctaw. Cristero. Freelancer. Leftist. Activist. Vilified. PKD....

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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