With less than six weeks to go before the presidential election, a powerful new clip from a Marin band sends a message to the current occupant of the White House, and a riveting new documentary available at the Smith Rafael Film Center demonstrates that rock’ n’ roll propelled our 39th president to power. It just couldn’t hold him there.
The band Kana Mota, consisting of couple Marin Monroe and April Grisman, has just released “Mr. President”, a two-year-old song and video that bounces to a dynamic reggae beat while checking the name of many famous champions of peace and justice, past and present, while chastising the incumbent Republican for not being more like them.(Not that he could ever be.) But the video, shot in Petaluma and West Marin, is nonetheless inspiring and In a truly grand finale, over 100 friends, family and fans contributed a stunning photo montage that closes the video in a warm candlelight.
The documentary “Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President”, available online at Rafael@Home until the end of the month (rafaelfilm.cafilm.org/jimmy-carter), tells the little-known story of how Carter’s friendship with the Allman Brothers, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and other musicians gave him the cash and the boost he desperately needed to win the Democratic primary on Jerry Brown and, ultimately, the 1976 election on Gerald Ford. If, like me, you thought Bill Clinton was the first rock ‘n’ roll president because he played saxophone on “The Arsenio Hall Show,” this film will be a rock-and-roll revision of musical and political history.
“One of the things that has united America is the music that we share and love,” Carter says in the film.
The Grismans and their Kana Mota bandmates, guitarist Eric Chaffin and bassist Chris Manning, co-wrote “Mr. President,” recording it at Manning’s Salamander Sound in San Rafael. Feeling the urgency to release the video to the public ahead of the Nov. 3 election, they shot it in a marathon 20-hour workday, braving thunder, lightning and a wildfire to do so.
“That was the driving force,” says April, who sings lead vocals. “We realized that this song was making a statement that wasn’t just about the president. It is about remembering our great leaders, our ancestors, who they were and how they fought for justice for ordinary human beings. It was part of the message of the song. With the election coming up, we wanted to make sure the video complimented that.
I’m amazed at how many progressive heroes the band was able to fit into the song, singing their names and showing their photos in the video. Working with director Tim Manning, Chris’s brother, they managed to bring in everyone from Bob Marley, Mother Teresa, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi to Frederick Douglass, Malala Yousafzai and Nelson Mandela, for to name a few.
“It took a long time to integrate all these people,” laughs April. “While I was in the booth singing, we were moving people around saying, ‘What about so-and-so? We were trying to allow those names to come forward.
In case you were wondering, Kana Mota, which means “human mountain,” is the Native American name for Mount St. Helena, the highest and least known peak in the Bay Area.
“We chose this name because music has the power to be a foundation in people’s lives,” Monroe says.
For him and April, the most emotional part of the video is the photo montage at the end. Before the video was shot, they let family and friends know to send them a photo of themselves with a flickering candle in the foreground, an idea inspired by an altar April keeps in their Novato home. The response was overwhelming.
“I thought it would be an inclusive way for us to connect because we’re all connected,” she says. “It takes everyone’s support to make a change. I think that came out so powerfully. Every time I see that particular part of the video, it really touches me.
Speaking of impressive names, some of popular music’s biggest stars were interviewed for the Carter documentary, including Bono, Paul Simon, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Rosanne Cash, and Jimmy Buffett, among others. Producer Chris Farrell originally wanted the documentary to be about the Allman Brothers until he discovered the group’s friendship with Carter, how they helped this obscure Georgia peanut farmer get elected and what a huge music fan he has always been, hosting rock, jazz, country and gospel concerts at the White House. There are some fabulous footage from these shows in the film. Director Mary Wharton calls it “a history lesson you can dance to.”
“I had no idea President Carter had all these musical friendships,” she says. “Carter comes across as a bit of a square and a fuddy-duddy. But this is a misconception about his personality. The fact that we were lucky enough to have such an incredible group of musicians speaks to the respect he had among everyone he met.
While the musicians supported him, he was loyal to them in return, even when it was not politically expedient for him. The starkest example of this was when Gregg Allman was arrested on a cocaine charge, sparking a scandal that could have been detrimental to Carter’s presidency. Carter still stayed by her side.
“People who worked with the president told him he should distance himself from Gregg, that it would be political suicide otherwise,” Wharton said. “But he didn’t care. He realized that Gregg needed a friend more than ever.
This film is like a refresher course in the politics and world events of the 1970s that would plague Carter’s tenure and ultimately bring him down, namely the gasoline shortage and the Iranian hostage crisis. But it reminds us that Carter not only won the Nobel Peace Prize, but managed to get all 52 hostages released unharmed, even though it happened after he lost the election to Ronald Reagan. .
As Dylan says in the film, “He resolved the hostage crisis in a humble and peaceful manner. It took a lot of courage to do that. »
At 95, Carter continues her life of public service with her foundation, Habitat for Humanity and other causes. People sometimes think he was a better ex-president than president. After seeing this film, I am confident that history will hold him in high esteem, both inside and outside the White House.
The documentary was supposed to have its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, but the pandemic put a stop to that. Without much fanfare, the filmmakers released it anyway.
“It’s a terrible time to release a movie,” Wharton says. “But we felt it was important that he came out now, offering a ray of sunshine in an otherwise dark time.”
Amen to that.
Contact Paul Liberatore at email@example.com