Miscellaneous Music Education Non-Music News

Shaken Nerves and Rattled Brains – “Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind”

Every rockstar has their peccadillos and predilections, but very few have eclipsed the trouble conjured by Jerry Lee Lewis.

From drunken rages, pill-induced furies, mysterious deaths and all around rambunctious activity — Jerry Lee Lewis was a man possessed — in every sense of the word.

Released in 2022, “Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind” presents Ethan Coen’s attempt at reconciling the man’s frankly tricky legacy with his indelible, foundational rock and roll.

A scant 73-minutes long, the documentary is entirely comprised of archival material: television footage, photographs and recordings all championing the wild man of rock. In other words, it’s one hell of a highlight reel.

Beyond the obligatory 70s Johnny Carson appearances, Coen keeps the private and intimate life of the Lewis house just that — private.

There’s no mass-reckoning with the man behind the piano and there’s no unmasking of “Killer” — it’s a portrait of Jerry Lee Lewis as the piano shaking, party making pioneer — no more and no less.

Honestly, I expected more from Coen on his solo debut, a tricky story told by a filmmaker who seems to revel in the trick.

The juxtaposition between the sane and insane — or rather, the insane and mundane — that makes the Coen Brothers’ films so enticing is noticeably absent in this first-person portrayal of Lewis’ meteoric rise, fall and unlikely return from the ashes time and time again.

If anything, Coen seems to pull his punches towards Lewis, falling back on the routine excuse: “It was a different time.”

In conversation surrounding the scandalous marriage to 13-year-old cousin Myra Brown, Coen and his team seemingly absolve Lewis of fault.

By the age of 22, Lewis had already been married twice, the first of which happening just after his sixteenth birthday.

While there’s no blanket statement absolving Lewis of his sins, the inclusion of the factoid is eyebrow-raising in comparison to his child bride.

Similarly, his notorious temper is treated with similar grace; a violent feud with Elvis boils down to nothing more than career misgivings and undo praise no different than Little Richard and James Brown with no mention of Lewis’ drunken threat to shoot Presley while on a visit to Graceland.

Similarly, one of the many incidents of gun violence against his band members is only mentioned in a brief talk show appearance and largely written off as just another legendary quirk.

For a man of such scandalous, tabloid-type character, Coen seems to skirt much of it for reason’s I’m not quite sure of.

It’s a good film and a highly entertaining watch, but that’s where the buck stops with “Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind.”

Coen isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel or run a mass expose on Lewis; he’s simply spotlighting the tour-de-force of the pioneering rocker.

For fans willing to brush aside their personal quibbles and those who are new to the spectacle of Jerry Lee Lewis, Coen’s documentary is a wonderful, cursory glance at the life of a legend.

– Bodhi

By Bodhi

Human Dewey Decimal System for all things music and movies, purveyor of useless knowledge.