PRINT September 2000


The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack

AIYANA ELLIOTT'S DOCUMENTARY about her demi-legend of a folksinger father, The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack (which opens nationally this month), is the kind of plainspoken memoir-cum-biography you might stumble across on PBS some uneventful night and gradually get caught up in, the rhythms of its unspooling anecdotes seducing you against your will. “I've never heard anybody that was so enchanting on subjects I didn't give a damn about,” is Kris Kristofferson's affectionate characterization of the sixty-nine-year-old raconteur, rake, and self-made myth whose pale faux-Guthrie warble may be his least engaging quality. Ramblin' Jack Elliott's a terrific character all right—the son of a Jewish doctor, he ran away from Brooklyn at fourteen to join the rodeo and learn cowboy songs—but not the most convincing singer: Studying at Woody Guthrie's clay feet and later mentoring a young Bob Dylan,

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