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Sheffield International Documentary Festival
2002

Tim Rose - Where Was I?
Jacques Laureys


Dolan Cummings

On one level, Where Was I? is the story of a failed musician. But in a sense, there is no such thing as a failed musician. Tim Rose may not have achieved the fame and money that he had hoped for, but he made music that people loved, and that still has the power to move listeners. He died shortly before this screening.

The film's big hook is the fact that Rose recorded the traditional blues song Hey Joe as an album track, but his record label refused to release it as a single because of its dark theme. A year later, Jimi Hendrix's label had no such qualms, and the record made his name. Worse, the phrasing and lyrics leave no doubt that Hendrix ripped off Rose's interpretation. Where Was I? is the story of a near miss.

I often stumble on rock biographies and similar features about famous people I've never heard of, so it's interesting to see a film in which this is the point. There are the usual rock-biog tales of rampant sex and fall-down drunkenness, but Rose's career was interrupted by failure, and he spent several years as a stock broker at one point. He also learned to fly planes, and had a nerdish interest in aviation - quite rock'n'roll actually.

It would be nice to say that Rose wasn't bitter, except that he was. Like many musicians, Rose was driven by arrogance and, as he put it, a determination not to be ignored. He definitely resented Hendrix, and he also had sharp words for Nick Cave (who is interviewed separately), because he failed to credit a Rose song he recorded.

There are reasonably long clips of music in the film, but frustratingly these are always cut or faded. The effect is to leave the viewer wanting more, but not desperately. It's a bit sad, like the subject itself.

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