"It's easier to bone the President's wife than to get a movie made." Ray Charles.

How a cult music book became a cult music documentary, and it only took ten years.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Seems like this job is always a race against time. Coming up on a year now since Jim Dickinson's untimely death and it still hurts to know we didn't get the film about him funded, so much stuff left unfilmed, so many stories untold. Only a couple of months back my friend Sebastian Horsley, the last punk dandy in the world, died too, and I'd spent three years trying to convince people to give me money to make a film about his crazy, sordid, visionary life. Now he's safely dead, there's two films about him already up and running.

Whatever. It isn't worth regretting the things you don't do, when there are so many things you did do that you need to spend time regretting. One thing I won't regret is bailing out in a big hurry to go to Memphis and start filming with Jerry McGill. The harebrained three months myself and Robert Gordon spent chasing him all over the South was at times stressful, other times fun, but most of all irreplacable.

Jerry's finally had his lung cancer surgery - had it a few weeks back. The DAY after the surgery he was on the phone to me and Robert, sounding like he was sitting at the corner of his local bar, the Twilght Zone, holding forth. Sadly, that state of affairs didn't last, and as I write he's back in the hospital - the doctors have discovered his extraordinary dependency on prescription painkillers and are trying to make him go cold turkey - the nurses have blown out his veins with bad shots and now he can only take his antibiotics orally - the oral antibiotics cost $6K - and there's a concern that the cancer may have gone to his lymphatic system. Has Jerry McGill's legendary luck, which saw him evade capture by the FBI for thirteen years, all the while he was touring and playing guitar with Waylon Jennings as a wanted man, sometimes appearing in drag to escape police attention - has this man's extraordinary streak of luck run out?

Fuck no - I just heard a sample of Big Jim Lancaster's forthcoming CD, coming out on his own Playground label, drawn from McGill's various recording escapades over the past six decades. Only two of the tracks - the A and B sides of his Sun 45, Lovestruck, from '59 - have ever been heard, anywhere. The rest includes material with Dickinson (the storming Hoochie Coochie Man, the heartbreaking Desperadoes, the downright terrifying Civil War anthem With Sabers in Our Hands) and stuff recorded this year with the North Mississippi Allstars and the remaining members of Mud Boy and the Neutrons. It is going to live forever, this music, and it's all down to the pack-rat instincts of Jim Lancaster - a man who never throws anything away - that half of this stuff has survived.

So, one way or another, McGill's legendary status will endure. I just hope he's around for the premiere of this dark and crazy movie about his life, and I really, really wish Dickinson could be there too. However, small mercies - and as long as there's never-before-heard music from Zebra Ranch waiting to be released, Jim hasn't left us.

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