Folk singer Elliott spotlighted in new documentary film

The Los Angeles Times (7 September 2020, The Michigan Daily vCX No.95.)

LOS ANGELES - Legendary folk singer and storyteller extraordinaire Ramblin' Jack Elliott is never at a loss for words. In fact, in the award-winning documentary "The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack," Elliott's longtime friend Kris Kristofferson jokes that the folkie got his nickname not because of his nomadic wanderings, but from his rambling conversations.

But he has been at a loss when it comes to talking with his daughter, filmmaker Aiyana Elliott, who directed, produced and co-wrote the documentary. During the three years she spent making the film, she tried repeatedly to get Elliott to open up and talk about their relationship. He never would.

After completing the film, Aiyana, who was born in 1969, came to the conclusion that their relationship would never change. Elliott would never talk about the fact that he was a less than fantastic father, that he was barely around while she was growing up. And she still didn't know him even as an adult.

"I felt I would have to accept our relationship as it is," she says, during a recent joint interview with her father in Los Angeles.

"Making the movie was very difficult. But then since completing the film, though, I think we have had good talks. I think we had a big breakthrough about six days ago."

Elliott, who at 69 resembles Gene Kelly in his later years, perks up when Aiyana mentions the breakthrough.

"Where was that?" he asks her. "Was I there?"

Trying to find out about the breakthrough takes a while as Elliott lives up to his ramblin' reputation.

Question: So how did the breakthrough happen?

"I don't know," says Aiyana, looking over at her father, who is sitting next to her in a conference room at the office of the film's publicists. ``Maybe because my other dad was there.Maybe that helped."

"He's always very helpful," adds Elliott. ``I call him my brother-in-law for lack of a better term."

"He's Jerry Kaye," explains Aiyana. "In the movie, we call him a friend, he was a friend of Jack's, but he's more than that.

"Jerry, he was the real hero of this story," says Aiyana. "The fact that Jerry provided some great stability enabled me to appreciate my dad for what he had to offer."

Question: Well, what happened six days ago?

"We were in New York for the premiere," says Aiyana. "Jerry was there."

"That was a big thing," pipes in Elliott. "I was thrilled with that."

Question: So what happened at the premiere?

"We were in New York and Jerry was there and we were sitting around and my dad just started telling me he appreciated what I was doing," says Aiyana, beaming ever so slightly as she glances over at her dad. "He thought we had gotten to know each other better making the movie and he had gotten to respect me and what we had done."

"I don't know why, but I get really sad when I think of a time when he might not be around," she says. "I think part of it is because my dad is somebody who has lived life to the fullest and really enjoys life and because there is nobody around to tell the stories he's telling. There is no one like him."

Staring at the window, Elliott interrupts his daughter: "I am going to have to write some songs," he proclaims. ``The time has come to try to write some songs. I don't know what it is about me, lazy I guess. I don't have a typewriter."

copyright 2000 The Michigan Daily.