Let’s rock the reels

April 19, 2013 

I’ve lived in the hopes of Macon reclaiming its music’s past for more than 30 years. And I haven’t been the only one. Some of us, when we really want to dream, squeeze shut our eyes and make a wish that the tan, stucco skeletal remains of the Capricorn Records office space will suddenly wake from its slumber, crank up the Hi-Fi and bring back the heyday of when real hipsters were hippy music executives and live music -- real, authentic, unique live music -- was king of Cotton Avenue.

It’s time to reopen those eyes. And when you do, make sure you’re in a movie theater.

Last week, I joined a local audience at AmStar 16 for the premier of Warner Bros. biopic “42.” Macon made her cameo with stunning footage captured from our red dirt roads to the historic Luther Williams Field and Terminal Station, to Third Street Park and High Street homes, to all the local extras dressed in their 1940s best throughout the entire film.

We were ready for our close-up, and it showed well on the silver screen. “42” wasn’t just any film, either. It was a true story about America’s hard lessons of the past taught to us by a legend before he became one. It was an honor for our city to be part of that story’s backdrop.

What the movie industry can do for Macon’s present is much like what music did for Macon’s past. It gives our home a spot on the map for business, entertainment, visitors and star-crossed pilgrims. But we also give the entertainment industry something it can’t find anywhere else.

An article titled “How Phil Walden Turns Rock into Gold” ran in a September 1975 issue of Fortune magazine. It said, “By staying in Macon, (Phil) Walden maintains he avoids ‘the plastic, phony feeling’ of New York and Los Angeles, where most record companies are based. The South offers a more ‘laid-back’ environment for music, he says, and besides, he enjoys living there. Perhaps equally vital to Walden’s business, Macon means low overhead. ... Part of the company’s money-making formula, Walden allows, is ‘having Georgia expenses and earning New York dollars.’ “

When it comes to those Georgia expenses, Macon still maintains one of the lowest costs of anything in all of the state. Thanks to the recruitment efforts by the Macon Film Commission, whose members are working just as stealthy as any economic development agency (as volunteers, mind you), “42” won’t be our last feature. “Need for Speed” starts filming this month. Projects are being pitched to follow, and Macon is being name-dropped like a Hollywood tycoon.

I’m not suggesting we forfeit Macon music for Hollywood. But I believe our success on the silver screen can leverage recognition for our storied past.

So, let me share my new hope for Macon music, past and present. We don’t just attract a feature film; we attract a full series.

It starts with the segregated South of the late ’50s and early ’60s. It introduces characters such as Little Richard, James Brown, Otis Redding and their supporting cast alongside them -- a hardscrabble female businesswoman who owns a taboo gay bar, a trio of black deejays doing the unthinkable, a white fraternity boy who fell in love with black music, and a young bride who would be a widow with three children far too soon.

The town travels through a decade of roadblocks, successes, fables and tragedies through the ’70s, when rock ‘n’ roll is the headliner, and that same Southern town slingshots to the forefront of American music with a band of long-haired hippy brothers and guitar blazers -- and all the excess, ex-girlfriends, roadies, decadence, shag carpet, peace, love and tragedy that came with them.

For all you Hollywood hotshots reading this, Macon isn’t just an ideal place to make movies. It’s a place with a storied past that movies are made of.

Jessica Walden is the director of the communications for the College Hill Alliance and co-operator of Rock Candy Tours, a Macon music history tour company. Contact her at rockcandytours@gmail.com or 955-5997.

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