This May Be the Last Time
Film Review: Sterlin Harjo’s partially autobiographical film, “This May Be the Last Time”, is one of the most intimate and accurate films ever made on contemporary Native American culture in the United States. This is a must watch for all Native American descendants and music lovers.
Life is like a box of chocolates – Parte Trois: So many moons ago that it is frightening, I was the drummer and co-leader of a teenage rock band. The two songs that my fellow teenyboppers requested the most from us at sock hops were: “House of the Rising Sun” and “This Could Be the Last Time” as sung by the Rolling Stones. If you have forgotten the song or are too young to know it, here are the Rolling Stones in 1965: (Kids at my high school were definitely NOT dorky dancers like the ones on this TV program! LOL)
Now are you sitting down? One of the many surprises that Sterlin Harjo provides us in this award-winging 2014 documentary is that the Rolling Stones adapted “Last Time” from a hit African-American Spiritual by the Staples Singers, “This May Be the Last Time.” The Staple Singers didn’t tell anyone, but their African-American spiritual was actually an English translation of an old Muskogee-Creek spiritual with the same name . . . that is still today sung in rural Oklahoma churches!
The documentary film weaves together several plots. Harjo takes an introspective look at the Native American churches of his childhood and also explores the story of how his Seminole father went missing in a river. The tapestry is completed by the research of a music science professor at Yale, who has become fascinated with Muscogee and Seminole church music. The professor states in the film that he believes Muskogee spirituals were the first truly American music. The climax of the film is when choirs from several parts of the United States and Scotland get together at Yale. To tell you anything more would be a spoiler.
What deeply impresses me about all of Sterlin Harjo’s films are their deep and authentic spirituality. This spirituality is not the New Age Princess Buffalo Calf Woman looking up at the moon and being serenaded by a wolf thing. It is the deep faith of people, who endured an unimaginably horrific holocaust then were deported to a strange land.
My only negative comment on this film is that it projects the cultural experiences of Muskogeans in Oklahoma as being universal, when in fact, their culture has changed during the 180 years of being away from the Motherland. What little exposure I have had to traditional Creek music in eastern Georgia was very different music. It was much happier and syncopated like Latin American music. In fact, it was almost identical music to what the Taino descendants of the Caribbean region are playing today.
“This May Be the Last Time” is currently available on Netflix and may be available on other streaming services. Do try to watch it.
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