Music Wins Out

DVD: The Holy Modal Rounders … Born to Lose — This documentary about the obscure—but beloved by those who know them—bohemian old-time music group has an appeal that’s hardly limited to fans of their music and old hippie types. The core of the Rounders—Peter Stampfel and Steven Weber—came together in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s “folk scare,” spent time in The Fugs, and have had an on-again/off-again musical partnership and friendship since then. Probably best-known for their song on the “Easy Rider” soundtrack, “If You Want to Be a Bird,” The Rounders specialized in an elliptical and somewhat psychedelic take on the original musical Americana, rife with humor and bent imagination. But “Born to Lose” is not just a fascinating tale of two ingenious (if odd) musical collaborators and their struggles with addiction and each other that is both heartbreaking and heartwarming, but also a metaphor for the journeys of 1960s bohemians (with commentary from the likes of Sam Shepard, who was the drummer for the Rounders in the late ’60s, and Dennis Hopper). Ultimately it’s the music that wins out, abetted by the charm of Rounder Peter Stampfel. But the labor of love that the filmmakers engaged in to tell the story is etched into the film in a way that makes it a compelling film.

CD Box Set & Book: Wille Nelson One Hell of a Ride and Willie Nelson: An Epic Life by Joe Nick Patoski — Just in time for the 75th birthday of the iconic, genre-defying Texas country singer and songwriter comes this comprehensive four CD box set and biography of Nelson. (Disclosure: author Patoski is a longtime pal and I do writing work for Nelson’s publicist). An Epic Life is just that for most of the book, though it does feel a bit rushed towards the end as it covers his most recent years and work. But its in-depth tale of the background and (most of the) life of one of America’s most artistically and personally idiosyncratic and independent musical artists is largely fascinating, entertaining and illuminating. Patoski also penned the liner notes for One Hell of a Ride, which does a fine job of the quite challenging task of compiling a musical career review of a musician whose prolific and expansive musical legacy is still only scratched at the surface even by this four CD set. If you are a Nelson fan, both the box set and book are essential items; for the more casual listener, they also provide a fine starting point and reference for coming to know and understand one of the greatest musical talents of our day and how he became so successful and influential. Both the listening and reading bring depth, color and understanding to one of America’s most unique musicians and public personalities.

From The Progressive Populist, June 1, 2008

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