Jimmy Carter was a bit of an anomaly in his one term as president. Before him was Nixon/Ford and after his presidency was Reagan/Bush. The contrast couldn’t have been greater.
This film, Jimmy Carter: Rock and Roll President, was a blend of music and Carter politics, as told by many of the musicians of the era, political and religious leaders, and Carter himself.
To understand the man, you had to understand his roots, and the Deep South. Music, gospel, country and folk music, were parts of growing up in the rural South. Gospel music was what you heard and sang in church and in school. Country and folk music was on the radio and by way of traveling musicians. Carter developed his love of music, all kinds of music, at a very young age.
His son Chip recalled that as a kid, money was tight, but Carter brought home a huge hi-fi set that cost $600, a fortune in those days.
The Carter kids spun Bob Dylan and other contemporary music in the Carter household. Carter not only enjoyed the music, he learned the lyrics, something that would pay off later on.
When Carter ran for president, the South had not elected a president since Reconstruction. Lyndon Johnson (Texas) does not really count, he was Kennedy’s vice president and almost inherited the office. Carter replaced the segregationist Lester Maddox as Georgia governor in 1971, although Maddox ran for the office of Lieutenant Governor and won. Carter and Maddox were an unlikely pair, showing the complicated Southern politics, especially as the Klan was still an active group during the time.
As a presidential candidate, Carter was not well-known, and his campaign was cash-poor. Carter had a couple of things going for him. He did not represent the old South. Second, he was a man of faith and principle, drawing a line between his campaign and the Washington Watergate culture. And he appealed to young voters, particularly with the help of musicians that he got to know while as Governor.
Carter asked the Allman Brothers to play a few benefits to raise cash. They did, and got other musicians to do the same. Jimmy Buffett, Charlie Daniels and the Marshall Tucker Band raised the money that Carter used for television campaign ads.
Carter was even able to impress Bob Dylan, who was astute at judging phoniness, and those trying to use him. Carter knew the words to Dylan songs, which impressed Dylan as they talked. Carter understood the lyrics and the influence rock and roll had in the American culture.
In the White House, Carter invited all types of musicians to play at functions. Jazz, classical, country, rock and roll, and gospel all took center stage.
The stories as told by Willie Nelson, of smoking pit in the White House, to Gregg Allman of not knowing what the finger bowls were for, speak of a different and simpler time.
Carter’s presidency only lasted one term and then the country changed direction again. Carter has falsely been accused of not accomplishing anything in his four years. The facts say otherwise, but it is true that Carter was dogged by high inflation and interest rates, oil shortages, and the Iran hostage situation.
Carter did something quite extraordinary and controversial, he linked foreign policy with human rights, strange bedfellows. Carter actually tried to use his values to guide international relations. Carter was a man of morals and faith, something he campaigned on and maintained while in office. He refused to do things for political expediency or his own ratings, when his own team advised him to boost his polling in 1980. He still refused.
In numerous interviews, the one thing often repeated was that Carter was genuine. Garth Brooks said Carter spoke from the heart and soul. Jimmy Carter, peanut farmer, was of the earth and people related to him.