Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President – film review

“Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President” is a documentary movie which has recently been shown on Sky Arts. You can watch it via Sky On Demand, or via a slew of other home viewing methods.

I can’t recommend it highly enough. As a reader of Lib Dem Voice, there’s a very good chance you will find it riveting and also extremely entertaining.

I was privileged to visit the Jimmy Carter Presidential Museum and Library in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. He’s a surprising fellow. You see the smile and hear his high-minded words, but there are some surprises behind that image. I was interested to learn that, when growing up, most of his friends and daily companions were black. It is also often forgotten that he has a BSc in Nuclear Physics and gave up a promising career as a US nuclear submarine commander to go into politics.

This film reveals another side of Jimmy Carter which will surprise some. He has had a lifetime love of “rock and roll” music, he has long-term and deep friendships with the likes of Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and the Allman Brothers, and “Rock and roll” acted as a springboard for his Presidency.

This film has a procession of musical stars paying tribute to Jimmy Carter and narrates his presidency from the perspective of music.

The first thing that blew me away was that the film had Bob Dylan actually talking at length. Maybe I am not looking in the right places, but I have never really heard Bob Dylan talking properly and intelligibly at length. The odd mumble and grumble which I found hard to make out – yes – but to hear him eloquently laud Jimmy Carter was quite mind-blowing. To paraphrase an old friend: “You could get credit down the Co-Op with that tribute”.

What is very clear is that Jimmy Carter’s love and knowledge of music was not some sort of sham campaigning technique. He really, genuinely loved the music and knew it deeply. Bob Dylan was impressed that when he first met the 39th President, he (Carter) quoted back words from his songs to him (Dylan).

A great deal of Carter’s love of music seems to be grounded in his pre-political life as a peanut farmer. As one musician says in the film, he has actually worked with the earth in his hands, so you couldn’t get more basic than that – the roots of much of American music, after all, is in the soil.

Jimmy Carter was lampooned as a weak President. Who can forget the footage of his wobbly, rubber legs when he nearly collapsed while jogging? The Iranian Embassy hostage crisis particularly painted him in that way. But he was determined to do the right thing throughout his Presidency – even if that meant being unpopular. He is proud that the USA never fired a bullet in anger or dropped a bomb while he was President. This was seen as weakness at the time and immediately afterwards – America turned to gun-toting Ronald Reagan. But Carter’s human rights work in the decades since he was President has repaired his image. And I can’t help but think that when you have lived through the 45th President of the USA, you have to look back on Jimmy Carter’s Presidency with a good measure of wistful nostalgia.

This film helps to under-pin that warm feeling.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Lorenzo Cherin 7th Feb '21 - 2:05pm

    A very good president and a very good man.

    He represents the best kind of politics.

    Thanks for this Paul.

  • Thanks for this, Paul. On the ‘To do’ list.

    Jimmy Carter is a good and decent man who, thank goodness (and despite cancer and the age of 96), is still with us. I recall writing to the Editor of the Guardian to complain about the photograph of him in distress when jogging – and receiving a personal letter of reply and apology from the then Editor (Peter Preston).

    As to President Carter, I recall his recent wonderful put down of Trump : “I’m still praying for him”, and over twenty years ago on a visit to the site of the Battle of Isandhlwana in South Africa, being told how he had personally physically helped to install clean water in the nearby Zulu village.

    Although no longer strong enough to attend the Biden Inauguration, last week he sent a moving video message to the funeral of his friend Hank Aaron – (best known for hitting more home runs than any other baseball player in history and a champion of civil rights).

    Would that more politicians in 2021 had Jimmy Carter’s decency.

  • This was one of the best things I have ever watched. Brought back so many memories from my childhood, but I didn’t realise all the music connections that he had. He really is an excellent human – even in recent years, in his 90s, spending a week a year building houses for those who don’t have anywhere to live.

    I think it just shows as well how accepting he was of different cultures and outlooks alongside his own religious faith. He is one of the best role models we have, I think.

  • John Marriott 7th Feb '21 - 6:43pm

    I always remember Carter’s story about revealing his intentions to his mother. It went something like this:
    Carter: “Mom, I’m thinking of running for President”
    Mrs Carter: “President of what, son?”
    He was unlucky to come up against Reagan, when he ran for a second term, not helped by the Iranian Hostage crisis, as Paul has said. Oh, and there was that Geordie greeting he gave when visiting the North East. A breath of fresh air after the Nixon years.

  • Joseph Bourke 7th Feb '21 - 6:48pm

    I have always had great respect for Jimmy Carter. He did a lot of good in his time as President and since, but fell prey to the American mantra that “Nice guys finish last.”
    He was an unlucky commander in chief with the failed Iran hostage rescue attempt during his reelection campaign. To rub salt in the wounds, the SAS successfully ended the Iranian Embassy siege in London a couple of weeks later freeing the hostages.
    The hostages in the US Embassy in Tehran were eventually freed on the day of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration as President. It was a measure of the man, that the next day, Jimmy Carter flew to West Germany to greet the Americans on their way home.

  • Nonconformistradical 7th Feb '21 - 8:18pm

    I enjoyed this documentary as well and rate Jimmy Carter high on the list of decent human beings.

  • Steve Comer 8th Feb '21 - 10:55am

    I saw this a couple of weeks ago, and yes it was more interesting than I expected.
    Jimmy Carter was a good President who came in after the disgreace of the Nixon years. He also made a huge contribution to the world after he he was voted out of office. He was President when I was in my twenties, and I always liked him, such a shame the American poeople didn’t!

    He is someone whose reputation is stronger post-Presidency than during it, a bit like LBJ in that respect.

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