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Jimmy Carter, and his love of rock music, is the subject of Mary Wharton's new documentary.

James Fideler/Courtesy of Not Just Peanuts LLC

  • Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President
  • Directed by Mary Wharton
  • Written by Bill Flanagan
  • Starring Jimmy Carter, Willie Nelson, Madeleine Albright, Rosanne Cash, Jimmy Buffett, Bob Dylan, Bono, Paul Simon
  • Classification N/A; 96 minutes

rating

3 out of 4 stars


In 1978, two years into the Jimmy Carter presidency, a jazz festival was held on the south lawn of the White House. It was a program of blues, bebop and ragtime, highlighted by the world’s most powerful man singing the nonsensical number Salt Peanuts with Dizzy Gillespie. The New York Times deemed it "probably the first public Presidential hot chorus.”

The scene is part of Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President, an adoring look back at a musically aware commander-in-chief and Southern-rock aficionado. The first president elected post-Watergate, Carter was a one-time peanut farmer and big-grinning former Georgia governor who brought integrity, compassion and Gregg Allman to the Oval Office.

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Carter poses with Bono and Nile Rogers at a gala on April 29, 2016.

Shahar Azran/Courtesy of We Are Family Foundation / Films We Like

Director Mary Wharton’s notion is to portray the aw-shucks politician’s embrace of rock music as a sign that Carter was open to fresh ideas, younger generations and strange new aromas. (Carter admits in the film that it wasn’t one of his servants who smoked dope with Willie Nelson at the White House but his son, Chip.)

There are anecdotes aplenty – Cher drank from a finger bowl at a White House dinner – and an impressive lineup of musicians ready to say nice things about the now 96-year-old former president. Bob Dylan initially quotes Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Simple Man to describe Carter, only to paint him as someone containing multitudes: “He’s a nuclear engineer, a woodworking carpenter, a poet, a dirt farmer – if you told me he was a racecar driver, I wouldn’t even be surprised.”

Carter sits with Willie Nelson ahead of a fundraiser for his re-election campaign on Sept. 13, 1980.

Courtesy The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library / Films We Like

Wharton loses her way occasionally trying to keep the music thread going. Using Blondie’s One Way or Another in the segment devoted to the Iran hostage crisis doesn’t quite work. The film gets overly testimonial as it progresses, though it does make a case that with his post-Washington humanitarian efforts Carter should probably be considered the most successful former president ever.

Carter himself ties a bow on the film, noting that music is a galvanizing force and that what will unite mankind is a shared respect for truth, God, freedom and democracy. That and a righteous Allman Brothers jam.

Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President began screening in cinemas and virtual cinemas across Canada on Oct. 23.

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