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Man in the Sand
By Billy Bragg

Billy Bragg documented his year-long research on Woody, and the weeks spent in the studio recording Mermaid Avenue, in a feature length film titled MAN IN THE SAND, released by Palm Pictures on VHS and DVD.

The film crew followed Billy on a journey to Okemah, Oklahoma (Woody's childhood town) where he talked to the locals and relatives, and on to Pampa, Texas, where Woody started playing music professionally.  He visits some of the places in New York City where Woody lived and worked and strolls down the streets and beaches of Coney Island, where Woody wrote many of the lyrics.

In his first performance of the MERMAID AVENUE material at Irving Plaza in New York City, Billy prefaces the show with the line "I'm on a quest.  I'm searching for the spirit of Woody Guthrie," and proceeds to sing "Ingrid Bergman".  Woody's ode to the alluring actress whom he had a crush on.

The camera crew accompanied him into the studios where the recordings were made and reveals the often emotional collaborative process between Billy, Jeff Tweedy and the members of Wilco.  The final scene was filmed at the Fleagh Festival in New York, where Billy and Wilco first performed the material live together, casting the fate of MERMAID AVENUE to the listeners.

MAN IN THE SAND is as much a portrait of Billy's own creative process as it is an almost anthropological study of Woody's.  The man in the sand is both Billy Bragg and Woody Guthrie.  It is the simple outline of both their figures, drawn fifty years apart, in the sands of Coney Island's beaches.

 

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