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Stills, Taylor, Marley and Withers. No, it’s not the moniker of an imaginary ’70s-era all-star group, but rather the subjects of Born Into the Gig. Kate Davis and David Heilbroner’s (Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland) documentary, chronicling the efforts of famous pop stars’ offspring to enter the family business, lays bare both the advantages and pitfalls of bearing a well-known name. While the film, recently showcased at DOC NYC, offers few revelatory insights, it offers enough amusing tidbits to intrigue music fans. Be warned, however, that you may never quite feel the same way about the song “Lean on Me” again.
Chris Stills, Ben and Sally Taylor, Skip Marley and Kori Withers are the children or grandchildren of Stephen Stills, James Taylor and Carly Simon (a twofer!), Bob Marley and Bill Withers, respectively. All of them have endeavored to become singer-songwriters, with varying levels of success, although none have yet come close to achieving the renown of their forebears.
Chris comments that his father didn’t have much to offer in terms of words of wisdom. When Chris asked for advice about how to further his career, all Stephen could say was, “I don’t know, we were 18, and we had a hit out of the box.” Chris’ childhood as the son of a rock star wasn’t exactly conventional, as he often accompanied his father on the road. “Our parents would all be in jail today,” he jokes about the lack of supervision he experienced while growing up. He found more emotional support from his maternal grandparents than from his distracted father and mother (French pop star Veronique Sanson).
“I was always praying that he wouldn’t get the bug, but he did,” Stephen comments about his son. One of the film’s most revealing moments comes when Chris tells a story about his father letting him perform a solo set during a Crosby, Stills & Nash concert. The younger Stills received a triumphant ovation, only to have his apparently jealous father tell him, “Fuck you!” when he left the stage.
Ben and Sally Taylor were born during the peak of their parents’ careers (the film includes footage of the pop star couple performing their hit duet “Mockingbird,” among many other vintage clips). “When I say their names, I feel totally uncomfortable,” Sally says. She admits that she hasn’t always felt that way, recalling a time years earlier when she attempted to ingratiate herself with fellow residents at a youth hostel by casually making her lineage known.
Ben, who’s inherited his father’s lanky good looks, clearly has less angst about the situation. Receiving a phone call from a friend while the cameras are rolling, he refers to his being filmed for a documentary about “celebrity brats.” Like Chris Stills, he recalls an unconventional childhood at the hands of very distracted parents. “You are essentially being raised by adolescents,” he points out. While their clearly proud mother Carly is a frequent presence throughout the documentary, father James apparently declined to participate. A vintage interview shows him revealing that he was unfit to be a father and husband at the time, when he was suffering from addiction issues. It’s not for nothing, his children point out, that he wrote a song called “Daddy’s All Gone.”
Skip Marley, daughter of singer Cedella Marley and grandson of the legendary Bob Marley, was a late entry into the family dynasty. His uncles Ziggy, Stephen and Damian, among others, are all reggae performers as well. When he was brought onstage by his uncles during a tour, his uncanny vocal resemblance to his grandfather wowed the crowd. He’s currently signed to Island Records, the same label for which his grandfather recorded.
The documentary’s most poignant subject turns out to be Kori Withers, who clearly suffers from her father Bill’s standoffishness toward her burgeoning career. Ironically, he’s the star most prominently featured in the film, and he makes his position adamantly known. “This is not nepotism,” he insists. “This is serious. This is a worldwide competition.”
“I leave Kori to her space,” he adds. “I don’t have anything to teach anybody. It’s like trying to teach height.”
Kori points out the irony. “You’d think that the person who wrote ‘Lean on Me’ would have a good heart,’ she says, failing to hold back tears. It’s one of the film’s vivid reminders that being born into the gig doesn’t necessarily mean it’s handed to you on a silver platter.
Venue: DOC NYC
Production: Gig LLC
Directors: Kate Davis, David Heilbroner
Producers: Tamara Weiss, David Heilbroner
Executive producers: Jack Davies, Kay Kendall, Geralyn Dreyfous, Laurie David, Manri Grossman, Regina Scully, Andrea Van Beuren, Michelle Freeman, Jesse Fink, Betsey Fink, Nina Fialkow, David Fialkow
Director of photography: Kate Davis
Editors: Kate Davis, David Heilbroner
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