O Brother, Where Art Thou? came out 15 years ago this month. My preoccupation with the soundtrack eventually led me to playing the banjo and old-time music.
The Coen Brothers have been among my favorite filmmakers ever since seeing Raising Arizona by mistake. Back in the era of video rental, I can't remember what we meant to rent, but we were given the wrong cassette. My pre-adolescent self didn't quite know what to make of the goofy comedy, but I liked it. The seeds of obsession were sewn.
Fargo was big in high school, but The Big Lebowski was bigger among my friends when it came out my freshman year of college. We were among a very few who were there during its brief stay at our local, wannabe art house theater. Soon, we were binge watching the Coens' earlier movies like Miller's Crossing and Barton Fink (my personal favorite) and even The Hudsucker Proxy, which doesn't get as much respect as, say, Blood Simple.
We were junkies for Coen Brothers' use of local dialect and idiosyncratic dialog. My friends and I would quote them incessantly. We'd probably find ourselves annoying today. We even did a Big Lebowski themed Halloween costume. And so when O Brother came out in 2000, it was no surprise we were there opening weekend.
The movie had everything you could want from a Coens joint. The infectious dialog. The alluring visuals of Depression Era America. The quirky humor. But most especially the soundtrack. It was nothing short of a revelation.
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Produced by the legendary T Bone Burnett and featuring a mix of bluegrass standards, gospel, blues and a touch of old-time, the soundtrack went on to win three Grammy awards in 2002. It spawned the concert documentary Down From the Mountain. Most of all it got me interested in hillbilly music.
I remember getting the soundtrack for Christmas. This would have been 2001. I played it nonstop for I don't know how long. I'd stick on repeat and fall asleep to it. It was my introduction to Ralph Stanley, John Hartford, Gillian Welch, Norman Blake and Harry McClintock. Plus it was the first time I ever heard "Indian War Whoop," which is an all time great fiddle tune.
It's true I didn't get my first banjo for another six years and three months, but there's no doubt the O Brother soundtrack opened my ears to the kind of music I play today. I can't believe it's been 15 years since I first saw this endearing classic.
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