Folksinger Ramblin' Jack never quite crossed over into the ranks of real success because if you put him alongside Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Jack comes off as the least exciting to listen to. In the older footage he has his moments of charm but not greatness as a singer.
If he had been more interesting just to listen to, he would've raised above the level of also-rans. But the film would have us believe there was simply something wrong with the man, a lack of focus whether in his inability to be a decent husband & father, or his unreliability at showing up at gigs & his retarded business sense.
The idea promulgated in The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack (2000) that he was merely insufficiently professional to be taken seriously by the music business really doesn't patch over the fact that he never had that little bit of extra magic it takes to rise above the hordes of urban & country folkies.
I'm not sure his daughter captured Jack in her documentary of her father. She had her own selfish agenda as abandoned kid & that agenda becomes painful to see, making the film too often about her, to the detriment of capturing much that is vital about her dad.
It's all too understandable why Jack wouldn't communicate with her very well in this context. You can just see the tension in her like her entire project boils down to "Look what I'm doing for you you stupid dirtbag, so why don't you open your shithead heart to me right now."
Of course he revealed nothing to her as she followed him about with her camera trying belatedly, clumsily & sometimes angrily to find out who he is or was.
It is easy to drum up empathy as one might have while watching any father & daughter standing on a street corner failing ever to make eye-contact with one another, but it was not a special story.
It remains that if one just listens to Jack singing, that's all one needs for it to become clearer & clearer that as Woody's protege he failed Woody miserably because he never had quite the pipes or the authenticity, & as Dylan's alleged mentor he couldn't possibly have taught Dylan more than a weekend's workshop on pickin'.
Ramblin' Jack was always the coattail rider. And if his coattailin' career tanked, it was because he was never sufficiently an original.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl