“Troubadours” opened at the West End Cinema (2301 M St. N.W.) over the weekend after a successful run at Sundance. The film follows the careers of James Taylor and Carole King amidst the burgeoning singer-songwriter culture of the early 1970s.
Niteside caught up with director Morgan Neville and asked why he was drawn to music as his subject and in particular, the music of the '60s and '70s.
“Music has always been a huge part of my life, and as I grew up I realized what an incredible window it is into the lives of others as well," Neville said. "Music documentaries give you a chance to share great music with people and connect with them emotionally, but it also allows you to explore all kinds of other issues -- race, gender equality, civil rights, religion and so on.”
And if you’re talking about the late '60s and early '70s the logical musical focal point would be on James Taylor and Carole King who achieved the great platonic love story.
“King and Taylor represent two poles of what a singer-songwriter could be -- James is the folk-based guitarist and Carole the pop-based piano craftswoman, yet they came together to speak the same musical language," Neville said. "The fact that they had such a deep personal friendship gave the story an emotional spine."
The epicenter for the singer-songwriters' self-expression took over a beatnik folk club in West Hollywood with a fitting name: the Troubadour, which opened its doors in 1957.
Everyone performed there, originally as novices and later as hitmakers. Some of the famous names that passed through its doors included Jackson Browne, David Crosby, Joni Mitchell and Kris Kristofferson, who by way of their original contracts were obliged to return for reunion performances, no matter how famous they had become -- and sometimes much to their chagrin.
So is there is a modern day Troubadour somewhere? Neville claims that the scene today is too fractured to have as potent an effect as the Troubadour had in its day. “In a way, there are small communities all over of great songwriters supporting each other, but they will never sell millions and millions of albums," he said. "Nobody does that anymore.”
As much as anything, the music of that generation was one of protest against the Vietnam War, so it was only fitting to ask Morgan where all the protest music has gone. Why no musical protest against the invasion of Iraq? Where is the social conscience today if not translated into music?
“In a way, the hopes of the 1960s were often naive, and the singer-songwriter music of the early '70s was a reaction to that. The music became more mature, but also world-weary," said Neville. "By 1970, everything was more complicated and the music reflected that. While there is still protest music, 'protest' is no longer in the generational zeitgeist. Music in general no longer carries the unifying message that it once did. When a culture splinters into a thousand pieces, it’s hard for any one message to carry through. Music today is more personal, not political."
"Troubadours" is playing at the West End Cinema (2301 M St. N.W.) Mon.-Wed. at 3:15, 5:15, 7:15 and 9:15 p.m., and Thurs. at 3:15 and 9:15 p.m. Info and tickets here.