Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President somehow manages to stretch a very thin premise – the 39th president really loved rock music – into something more than mere hagiography. Somehow, director Mary Wharton is able to use this idea to craft a loving and engaging look at a man who is still at there doing good, even at 95 years old. Unlike the recent documentary on John Lewis, this doesn’t play like a soft retelling of Carter’s legacy but more as a look at a fun-loving, genuine side of a politician that isn’t often explored.

Framed around Carter’s love for the Allman Brothers, Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, Wharton’s documentary explores the genesis of the young Georgian from farmer to politician, tracing his rise from governor to president. For those who believe that Carter didn’t do much as POTUS, Rock & Roll President isn’t going to change many minds. For those who believe that he botched the Iran hostage crisis, that’s in there too. But if you believe the movie, Carter still holds a legacy for brokering the Camp David Accords. And listening to music. Lots of music.

Carter is one of the first politicians to understand that popular musicians help get out the vote. It feels less like a calculated move than an organic one. Written off as a no-name from an unimportant state, Carter had the Allmans play fundraising concerts to help his campaign clinch the Democratic presidential nomination. Suddenly, Carter’s name was everywhere. His competition, California governor Jerry Brown, tried to ape Carter’s ways, inviting the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt to play for him. Sorry, Jerry. The Allmans and Willie Nelson are way cooler.

Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President features candid interviews with both the former president himself and music luminaries from Dylan to Bono. This is quite the coup, especially getting Dylan to appear on camera. Nelson shares an anecdote about how he smoked weed in the White House once when Carter invited him to stay. Carter takes it a step further and admits that his son smoked the grass along with the country singer.

We also learn that Carter, even though he was from the South, has long been an ally to Black people. He grew up in a part of Georgia where 80% of the population was black and didn’t have many white friends. Carter was drawn into music at his church and fostered a love for Mahalia Jackson, among others. His interest for gospel eventually led Carter to rock.

Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President features a treasure trove of archival footage, from the former president rocking out with Dizzy Gillespie and Herbie Hancock, to the aforementioned Allman Brothers benefits. While our country descends into madness, it is a good reminder that a man as gentle and as good as Carter once held the same office. Let’s hope it isn’t long before another person like him takes the job back.

Summary
Framed around Carter’s love for the Allman Brothers, Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, Wharton’s documentary explores the genesis of the young Georgian from farmer to politician, tracing his rise from governor to president.
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Rockin' POTUS
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