Shining Brother Ray

According to popular myth, the late fifties were "the day the music died." That was when most of the original rock & rollers quit recording: Carl Perkins because of a car accident; Little Richard because of religion; Elvis because of being drafted into the Army; Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry because of sex-related scandals; and Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Richie Valens because of a fatal plane crash.

That's hardly the whole picture, though. To quote music critic Nelson George: "Many rock & roll historians, with their characteristic bias toward youth rebellion, claim that the last two years of the fifties were a musically fallow period. But that claim only works if you're willing to ignore Ray Charles's brilliant work."

I couldn't agree more. To talk about Ray Charles is to talk about the finest vintage: ripe essence of blues, jazz, country, and (most important) gospel warmed by the Southern sun, fermented in the soul of a brave and gifted man, then bottled by wise vintners like Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler, the type of entrepreneurs who once upon a time gave the American record industry a reason to exist.

If you're still reading, you've probably savored this musical vintage. But unless you've read "Brother Ray," the salty-sweet autobiography that Charles did with David Ritz, you may not know the fascinating life story of this musical icon. Now you can learn about it, with a minimum of foolishness and a maximum of feeling.

As a writer about popular music, I've seen a lot of "biopics," and believe me, most are rotgut. Not "Ray." From the production design, which richly re-creates an America that now seems as remote as ancient Rome, to the phenomenal cast, who quite simply act their hearts out, this movie is...what? Rather than reach for a superlative, let me just say that this movie is worthy of its subject.

December 11, 2004 10:15 AM |

Categories:

Soundtrax

PRC Pop 

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Remembering Elvis 

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Beyond Country 

Like all chart categories, "country" is an arbitrary heading under which one finds the ridiculous, the sublime, and everything in between. On the sublime end, a track that I have been listening to over and over for the last six months: Wynnona Judd's version of "She Is His Only Need." The way she sings it, irony is not a color or even a set of contrasting colors; it is iridescence.

Miles the Rock Star? 

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Essay Contest 

Attention, high school jazz listeners ...

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Me Elsewhere

Edward Hopper 

Painter of light (and darkness) ...

Dissed in Translation 

Here's my best shot at taking Scorcese down a few pegs ...

Henri Rousseau Revisited 

"Henri Rousseau: Jungles in Paris" appeared at the National Gallery of Art in Washington this fall ...

Paul Klee's Art 

Paul Klee was not childish, despite frequent comparisons between his art and that of children...

Our Art Belongs to Dada 

Rent my "Dadioguide" tour of the Dada show (before it moves to MoMA) ...

more picks

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by published on December 11, 2004 10:15 AM.

"Kinsey": All Bonobos and No Chimps was the previous entry in this blog.

Same Director: "Hail, Hail, Rock 'n' Roll" is the next entry in this blog.

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