Each week in God and Country Music, Nick Rynerson gives country music a chance and examines the world of Americana, folk, alt-country, and popular country music.
The best art tends to come from people who are desperate–desperate to have their story told and desperate to find some meaning in their medium. The Deep South, where country music originated, is a place with a story to be told. Actually, it’s a place with a whole lot of stories to be told. Enter the weird, brilliant, strange mind of alt-country singer-songwriter Jim White.
Jim White is an accomplished Americana guru with six albums and a host of collaborations but his most ambitious feat was his 2004 BBC documentary Searching for the Wrong Eyed Jesus, which doesn’t just tell a story from the South but attempts to tell the story of the South.
In an hour and some change, White’s pseudo-documentary/musical/visual scrapbook attempts to cut to the essence of Southern music and culture. The camera spends most of time following White around as he goes from small town bars, Pentecostal churches, prisons and trailer parks just listening to the stories that make up the South.
Enter a cast of wiley, strange, unique, and fascinating characters who help tell the story, whatever that is. Musical performances from 16 Horsepower, Johnny Dowd and David Johansen are scattered throughout the film and help progress the film. And long narratives from author Harry Crews, an old coal miner and Johnny Dowd act as spokesmen for the American South.
As the film progresses it becomes clear that the hinge of this thing called the Deep South is, in fact, Christianity. Maybe not the Christianity that I’m used to, but something that looks (at first glance) like angry fundamentalism. Sure, there is some of that, but White doesn’t let us become comfortable with just calling these Christian’s “angry fundamentalists” but he paints a picture that is humanizing and even endearing.
White’s fascinating conclusion that the stories of the South are found in spiritual tensions and beliefs is not a popular sentiment now, but it is undeniable. The roots of Country Music come straight from the pews and pulpits of the Deep South. Jim White’s plea is lofty, yet relatable. It has been a catalyst in my understanding of the relationship between Christianity and Music. It is a hidden gem that will leave a deep and lasting impression. And not to mention, the soundtrack is one of the best albums that I own, period.