One can argue about the greatest musical achievement ever overseen by legendary producer Rick Rubin (*cough* Slayer’s Reign in Blood *cough*), but there’s no denying his immense impact on the last four decades of popular music, be it in rock, country, or most famous of all, hip-hop, via his Def Jam Records label. Thus, he’s a deserving candidate for a laudatory tribute. Showtime’s Shangri-La, however, is more than that, functioning as a celebration of his guiding ethos as well as his oeuvre, both of which are intimately connected to Shangri-La Studios in Malibu, California, that he’s called his own (and virtual home) since 2007.
Alternately fascinating and frustrating, the four-part Shangri-La—directed by Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’s Morgan Neville and Jeff Malmberg, and premiering July 12—isn’t interested in chronological recitation; those looking for a timeline of Rubin’s triumphs will instead have to turn to Wikipedia. Rather, it’s an intimate snapshot of the master at work, which as one quickly learns, takes a most unconventional form. Known for his giant white beard and disinterest in shoes (this after he initially defined himself via a black beard and dark sunglasses), the 56-year-old producer moves with a Zen-like grace through the squeaky-clean Shangri-La, shepherding young and established artists alike to become their best selves by listening to their interior voices.
It’s a process that, per Rubin, requires that he become something like an absence, only providing guidance and encouragement when necessary, while fashioning a peaceful utopian environment—marked by stark white walls and furniture, and no TVs or decorations—that’s safe, free from distractions and conducive to turning inward. Rubin’s core philosophies about music and life involve being as open as possible to the new; taking risks rather than repeating yourself; and bravely following your instincts. To him, there’s nowhere better to accomplish those goals than Shangri-La, whose own mythology (replete with stories about Elvis, Bob Dylan and The Band, the last of which were furthered by Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz) dovetails with his own.
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