I can tell you what it’s like to live off the land in rural Australia, I know what Anthony Bourdain’s favorite restaurant is in NYC, I know how to successfully open a weed dispensary in Colorado, I know what it’s like to be a prostitute in Japan and I know what it’s like to trip balls on DMT. Unfortunately for me, this is all second hand knowledge that I’ve acquired from my intense love affair with documentaries.
I’ve watched countless documentaries on every topic, from food to murder to sex to drugs. Just now as I open my Netflix account I see two new titles I’ll probably be watching this week: “Sleep walkers Who Kill!” and “Death Row Dogs,” I mean with a selection like this why would you need every season of Mad Men?
Although I love to learn about cults and the weirdness of the underworld of America, my true favorites are music documentaries. Many of these can be found on Netflix or even HBO. Viceland’s new TV channel is also a great source of documentaries with their varying shows and music-centered docuseries Noisey. Don’t limit yourself and venture out to search the web for more music knowledge. There are so many untold stories about some of your favorite artists or even some you’ve never heard of.
Where there’s music there will always be a story. Check out my list below of some must sees.
You’re interested in the roots of the Atlanta rap scene: The Art of Organized Noize
This documentary sheds a light on Organized Noize — the producers behind Outkast, CeeLo, the Goodie Mob and the Dungeon Family’s distinctive southern hip-hop sound. The film features interviews from P.Diddy, 2 Chainz, Future and LA Reid, who all helped paint a picture about this group of producers who until now were more mysterious than anything. Many untold stories about their rise to fame. The best thing to do after watching this is to download every Outkast album, listen, learn and repeat.
You’re love conspiracy theories: Soaked in Bleach
Countless documentaries have been made surrounding the late great Kurt Cobain, including a more recent one called “Montage of Heck” (also recommend), that explore themes related to his personal life. After seeing “Montage of Heck” or really any documentary about his life, you walk away with an overall feeling that Cobain was a deeply troubled musician who was dealing with inner demons and fame. Then BAM! “Soaked in Bleach” totally flips the script and introduces new ideas about Courtney Love’s involvement in Kurt’s “suicide.” All those conspiracy theories you heard about Courtney actually killing Kurt are brought to life within this doc with a ton of concrete evidence from a private investigator that would send my 14 year-old emo self reeling.
You want to learn more about the Grateful Dead: The Other One: The Long Strange Trip of Bob Weir
It can be intimidating to get involved in anything concerning the “Grateful Dead” considering they have a cult following dating back 30+ years. If you are interested in anything concerning the band this documentary is a great place to start. This film focuses on lead guitarist Bob Weir instead of the always sought after Jerry Garcia and puts the spotlight on his life in and out of the band. There’s also tons of old footage and great stories to appreciate whether you’re a fan or not.
You love a good story about a badass Rock N’ Roll legend: Beware of Mr. Baker
Drummer Ginger Baker from rock group Cream is as crazy as he is legendary. This film follows him to his home in South Africa where he now resides free from all the social constructs that so rightfully piss him off. With plenty of off the wall moments where he comes close to knocking out the interviewer, this film is unpredictable, funny and real af. The perfect insight into life after Rock n’ Roll.
You’re interested in what it takes to manage musicians: Supermensch
The life of Shep Gordon can make anyone feel like they haven’t done shit with their life. From managing the careers of Alice Cooper Blondie, Luther Vandross and others to inventing the “celebrity chef” a movement that has made him billions. His random encounter in 1968 with Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, launched him into the music scene initially and then his charismatic nature and partying ways turned him into a regular on the scene. Definitely watch this film for inspiration if anything.
You want to know where your favorite 60’s/70’s hits came from: The Wrecking Crew
This is the real story about top studio musicians who provided the background music to popular groups in the 60s and 70s like Sonny & Cher, the Mamas & the Papas and Frank Sinatra. They even ghosted on albums by The Monkees and The Beach Boys. That’s right, they were the REAL musicians that were making the REAL music behind the scenes. True talent meets genuine hard work plus Carol Kaye, the world-renowned bassist with over 10,000 recordings is just pure awesome. Yassss kween!
You want a good film about jazz, civil rights and politics: What happened, Miss Simone?
One of my absolute favorite documentaries is this biopic about the phenomenal Nina Simone. Plagued by a life of struggles, heartache and manic depression, this unseen side of the complicated Miss Simone is depicted perfectly in this film. It completely makes sense as to why this documentary has 6 nominations for awards including an academy award for best documentary. This movie is the perfect way to get to know the mysterious and complicated