Animated Series Drawn & Recorded Tells “Untold Stories” from Music History: Nirvana, Leonard Cohen, Blind Willie Johnson & More

Who hasn’t tast­ed the plea­sures, guilty or oth­er­wise, of VH1’s Behind the Music? The long-run­ning show, a juicy mix of tabloid gos­sip, doc­u­men­tary insight, and unabashed nos­tal­gia, debuted in 1997, a total­ly dif­fer­ent media age. Its orig­i­nal view­ers were the first gen­er­a­tion to use email, shop online, or down­load (usu­al­ly pirat­ed) music. Peo­ple were will­ing to sit through episodes of an hour or more, with­out a pause but­ton, whether they liked the music or not. (Some of the best shows pro­file the most ridicu­lous one-hit won­ders).

Behind the Music is still on, and you can stream old episodes all day long, paus­ing every few min­utes to check email or social media, stream anoth­er video, or down­load an album in sec­onds. But with so many dis­trac­tions, it’s easy to lose the thread of Huey Lewis and the News’ rise to star­dom or the thrilling life and times of Ice‑T. We need sto­ries like these, but we may need them in a small­er, more self-con­tained form.

Enter Drawn & Record­ed: Mod­ern Myths of Music, an online series that deliv­ers the fris­son of Behind the Music in a frac­tion of the time, with the added bonus of whim­si­cal, high-qual­i­ty ani­ma­tion and nar­ra­tion by T. Bone Bur­nett. Now in its fourth sea­son, the award-win­ning series, direct­ed and hand-drawn by ani­ma­tor Drew Christie for stu­dio Gun­pow­der & Sky, brings us anec­dotes “some­times hilar­i­ous, occa­sion­al­ly trag­ic, always com­pelling,” writes Ani­ma­tion Mag­a­zine.

Those sto­ries include “Leonard Cohen’s escape from Cuban author­i­ties after being detained under sus­pi­cion of espi­onage” (see the trail­er here) and the ori­gins of Kurt Cobain’s “Smells Like Teen Spir­it” (above), a sto­ry we cov­ered in a pre­vi­ous post. Drawn & Record­ed has dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed itself from the afore­men­tioned pop music doc­u­men­tary show not only in its length and aes­thet­ic sen­si­bil­i­ties but also in its will­ing­ness to ven­ture deep­er into music his­to­ry.

The episode below, for exam­ple, fea­tures trag­ic blues­man Blind Willie John­son, who made mod­ern his­to­ry when his music trav­eled into out­er space on the Voy­ager Gold­en Record. Giv­en their lengths of under five min­utes, each Drawn & Record­ed must prune its sto­ry carefully—there’s no room for mean­der­ing or gra­tu­itous rep­e­ti­tion. Each of the vignettes promis­es an “untold sto­ry” from music his­to­ry, and while that may not always be the case, they are each well-told and sur­pris­ing and often as strange as Christie’s ani­ma­tions and Burnett’s haunt­ed, raspy bari­tone sug­gest.

In the episode below, coun­try leg­end Jim­mie Rogers, whose influ­ence “would range from Hank Williams to Louis Arm­strong to Bob Dylan,” arrived in Kenya a decade after his death, by way of British mis­sion­ar­ies tot­ing a phono­graph. The native peo­ple became fas­ci­nat­ed with the sound of Rogers’ music. They pro­nounced his name “Chemirocha,” a word that came to mean “any­thing new and dif­fer­ent.” This became a song called “Chemirocha,” about a half-man/half-ante­lope god.

It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing­ly odd lit­tle tale about cross-cul­tur­al con­tact, one that has lit­tle to do with the biog­ra­phy of Jim­mie Rogers, and hence might nev­er make it into your stan­dard-issue doc­u­men­tary. But Drawn & Record­ed is some­thing else—a hand­made arti­fact that streams dig­i­tal­ly, telling sto­ries about musi­cians famous, infa­mous, and rarely remem­bered. Oth­er episodes fea­ture a can­ny mix of the con­tem­po­rary, clas­sic, and gold­en age, includ­ing Grimes, David Bowie, the Bea­t­les, Sis­ter Roset­ta Tharpe, MF Doom, and more. Find them, notes Ani­ma­tion Mag­a­zine, “on the Net­work, avail­able on DirecTV, DirecTV Now and AT&T U‑verse” or find scat­tered episodes on Vimeo.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Nirvana’s Icon­ic “Smells Like Teen Spir­it” Came to Be: An Ani­mat­ed Video Nar­rat­ed by T‑Bone Bur­nett Tells the True Sto­ry

A Doc­u­men­tary Intro­duc­tion to Nick Drake, Whose Haunt­ing & Influ­en­tial Songs Came Into the World 50 Years Ago Today

How Talk­ing Heads and Bri­an Eno Wrote “Once in a Life­time”: Cut­ting Edge, Strange & Utter­ly Bril­liant

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Sarah says:

    Just fin­ished watch­ing the Old Dirty Bas­tard and saw at the end he was com­pared to Hur­cules (Her­a­cles) Please note that Her­cules was mar­ried sev­er­al times but slaugh­tered his first wife and their two sons. Very, very sad the artisits com­pared this won­de­ful artisit and human being with one of the most reviled of all Greek Gods. FYI: this was the rea­son the Dis­ney movie Her­cules tanked at the box office.

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