To some, Jimmy Carter is merely known as a one-term President of the United States. Some even know him better as a humanitarian. However, a core part of Carter was a love for music. The new documentary Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President focuses on that love, as well as the relationships that came from it. The result is a film that has a ton of charm in its corner, as well as a subtle point to make about where things stand today. The differences between President Carter and other Commanders-in-Chief are notable, but this one really does stand out, making for a really interesting project. You don’t have to be a political junkie to appreciate this one.
Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President is not just a tribute to Carter’s love of music, but an ode to back when the U.S. used soft power to lead the world. The movie shows how the man built bonds and friendships through music and musicians. At a time where we seem as divided as ever, watching these bridges being built is actually rather dynamic. Plus, the doc has a hell of a lot of good music within it, and that never hurts, either.
The documentary follows the importance that music played in the life and career of Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the United States. Shown as a lover of all types of music, Carter was able to form bonds with musicians like Greg Allman, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, and more. Assisted by The Allman Brothers Band, among others, the Governor of Georgia is able to defy expectations and become not just the Democratic Party’s nominee for President, but win the election as well.
Once in office, Carter would host musicians at the White House, as well as having many concerts on the lawn. Not only did it create a sense of community and fun on the grounds, it was a politically savvy move that depicted the soft power approach of the Carter Administration. While it wouldn’t win him a second term in office, it certainly was a sign of things to come, as we see Carter’s tireless post-Presidency work to better the world. Through it all, he maintains those musical bonds.
Watching President Carter discuss his love for music, as well as his friendships with various musicians, provides a constant source of fun. We see him legitimately enjoying modern songs of all types, pushing forward an everyman persona that helped set him apart in politics. There’s very little attention paid to how he wound up losing in his re-election bid, focusing more on the positives of his time in office. It does limit the scope of the flick, but that’s a conscious choice on the part of the filmmakers. It’s really about the music here.
The doc manages to entertain from start to finish. Director Mary Wharton and writer Bill Flanagan keep the pacing strong, the talking heads diverse, and the anecdotes charming. Where else can you hear Carter and Willie Nelson mention an infamous bit of marijuana smoking in the White House? Or, how often does Bob Dylan wax poetic about a President, quoting a Lynyrd Skynyrd song in the process? Wharton is careful to never get overly political, though it’s impossible not to see the comparisons being made here.
Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President is a tonic to what we currently see going on in our political world. Anyone curious to understand President Carter would do well to check it out, but music fans as well will get a bunch out of this. Far more about the musical element than the political one, this is a very enjoyable look at a truly decent man and his unusual love for rock & roll.