Recipient of the Best Music Documentary Award (2017 Boulder International Film Festival) and the Special Jury Award for Masterful Storytelling (Sundance 2017), Catherine Bainbridge’s Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World plays host to a long list of modern music icons. Quincy Jones, Iggy Pop, George Clinton, Slash, Tony Bennett, Steven Tyler and a slew of other big names share their impressions about artists the general public may still not know are of American Indian descent. The song that inspired Bainbridge’s film’s title directly influenced many artists, especially in the rock realm. Link Wray’s 1958 hit Rumble was a groundbreaking success. It was one of the first tunes to use the “power chord”. It employed fuzz, distortion and feedback, and was the only instrumental banned in the US. People feared it would incite teenage gang violence. Rumble became the so-called theme song of juvenile delinquency.
What was it that touched the deepest urges of up and coming musicians? What made a young Iggy Pop declare, “Fuck it. I’m gonna be a musician”? To rumble means to fight, to disrupt, but those are only the obvious meanings. Another interpretation is to be active, to ROAR. Rumble is the sound of freedom. Native American music was seen as a threat. As such, people were jailed for performing it. Racism then was against anyone who wasn’t white. Modern times sadly prove that this still lingers, despite many advances against racist attitudes.
Rumble seeks to pay the respect that is due. Many of the forefathers of rock n’ roll, blues, jazz, and folk music were Native American. Music consumers acknowledge these cornerstone artists as African American, often overlooking their Native Indian roots. Charley Patton played his guitar like a drum. Drums were an insurrectionary instrument, deemed illegal in the plantations. Rock n’ roll has always been a form of protest. With loud instruments. Music is used to express anger, repression, oppression, frustration, and sadness, so of course it appeals to the youth and marginalized contingent of our population. To a soundtrack of Buffy Sainte-Marie, Rumble’s final scenes occur at Standing Rock, thus making a link to our modern times. It seems the more things change, the more they have remained the same. However, as Sainte-Marie states, “[Indians] carry medicine within us, especially the medicine of the arts.”
Music not only expresses angst, but can also be used positively to touch an audience plagued by violence and racism even in 2017. Bainbridge and executive producer, Stevie Salas (guitarist for Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger and even Justin Timberlake) have pieced together extensive footage and interviews from a wide range of people in the music industry. To sum everything up in the space of a feature film leaves out a lot of history. Without feeling long-winded or cut short, Rumble manages to include a lot of material in what could otherwise be elaborated into an ongoing TV series. But if audiences discover that Jimi Hendrix was part Cherokee or that Robbie Robertson had a long musical path before joining The Band, they have already learned something.
Rumble premieres in Montreal at Cinema du Parc starting Sept. 8th, 2017.