Creem Magazine founder Barry Kramer and Lester Bangs, its star writer, had been dead for a couple of years when I discovered it at a 7-Eleven newsstand in San Jose in 1984. I’d missed Creem’s ‘70s heyday, but I loved Creem anyway. Rolling Stone was pretentious, but Creem was funny and lowbrow. It’s where I learned about Robyn Hitchcock and R.E.M. and why Rush was humor impaired.
Scott Crawford’s “Creem: America’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll Magazine” (Muse Production House-Boy Howdy! Productions-New Rose Films, 2019, 75 mins.) feels long overdue. It tracks Kramer founding the magazine in Detroit, where it attracted writing talent like Bangs, Dave Marsh and Patti Smith. Musicians (Alice Cooper, Michael Stipe), rock writers (Cameron Crowe) and fans (Jeff Daniels) wax rhapsodic about why Creem was so damn cool. This would make a great double bill with Douglas Tirola’s National Lampoon documentary “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead.” What the Lampoon did for comedy, Creem did for its beloved rock ‘n’ roll.
I’ll admit that I was paying a lot more attention to Dan Aykroyd’s Jimmy Carter impression on SNL than I was to Carter. I was too young to know how revolutionary it was to have a rocker of sorts in the Oval Office. “Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President” (Greenwich Entertainment, 2020, 107 min.) shows just what a genuine music fan Carter was. You certainly didn’t see Richard Nixon palling around with the Allman Brothers Band, but Carter did. He quoted Bob Dylan. He invited jazz legends like Dizzy Gillespie and Sarah Vaughn to perform. (This is a treasure trove of ‘70s music clips: Paul Simon performs a pleasing acoustic version of “American Tune.”)
If that film represents the sweetest, most inclusive version of Carter’s legacy, Barbara Kopple’s “Desert One” (Cabin Creek Films-History Films, 2020, 107 min.) documents the tragic low of Carter’s handling of the Iran hostage crisis, specifically the failed rescue mission that occurred in April 1980. Kopple uses animation, archival recordings of phone conversations and interviews with Carter, VP Walter Mondale, surviving hostages and military personnel, as well as media figures like Ted Koppel; Koppel’s late night news show “Nightline” began as a record of the hostage predicament. Most people don’t recall “Desert One,” and I didn’t know it had happened a week after my 17th birthday. It’s the scandal that cost Carter the 1980 election, and it’s finally documented here.
I saw Gordon Lightfoot perform in Elmira in the early ‘80s, and the man and his band put on a really good show. It was also interesting how many of his songs I had heard, despite not seeking him out. “Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind” (Insight Productions, 2019, 91 mins.) is a handy biography that covers Lightfoot’s career from bank teller to TV dancer to Canadian singer-songwriter royalty. In a genre where most people don’t read music, Lightfoot taught himself how to write and arrange, so the hand-written lead sheets we see in the film are his work. Fans will enjoy all the TV clips going back to the ‘60s, and like me, you’ll probably be surprised how many of Gord’s tunes you’ve been humming for years.
Literally and figuratively, Matteo Borgardt’s “You Never Had It: An Evening with Bukowski” (Slamdance-Itaca Films, 2016, 52 min.) is the runt of this litter. You’d be better off reading any of writer and poet Charles Bukowski’s 60+ books than watch him smoke, drink and deflect about his work. Culled from a long 1981 interview shot on Betamax tape, the piece drags at less than an hour, and reveals little about the art of writing, and not much more about the art of smoking and drinking.