Kings of Leon - Talihina Sky: The Story of Kings of Leon
Stephen C Mitchell's Talihina Sky, The Story of Kings of Leon is like a cross between Deliverance and Coal Miner’s Daughter and, at times, the bitter honesty of this warts-and-all documentary is almost too painful to watch. It is about more than the rise to stardom of a bunch of hicks from the deep south of the United Sates, but also what drove them there in the first place and the demons they constantly struggle against; demons which may finally tear them apart.
The film centres on a big Followill family reunion in Talihina, Oklahoma: cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles, nieces, nephews. Interwoven with scenes of horseshoe tossing competitions, swimming, hunting for crayfish, and the KoL boys going back to their roots are clips of home movies and documentary footage of the band on tour. Members of their extended family are interviewed and the thick southern accents are going to be very hard going for some viewers. We learn of the band’s strict religious upbringing: raised as devout Pentecostals, their father a preacher who moved the family from town to town to wherever the next Revival meeting was. The Followills often lived in abject poverty and Caleb is open about his shame and disgust at those memories. The scenes of Revival meetings are often harrowing: Betty-Ann Followill speaks candidly of those early years, and those "proud" moments of her children “receiving the Holy Ghost”, rendering them practically insensible and “speaking in tongues”. We see early footage of a teenage Caleb and Nathan singing gospel songs on local TV shows, their remarkable voices already in full evidence.
Religious fanaticism and rock and roll are common bed-fellows. Performers like Elvis, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis all came from the strict Bible-belt region of the U.S., and all commanded the same zealous fanaticism from their fans that the preachers received in the tents and churches. Religious intolerance sometimes breeds the most flamboyant rock star, living in the opulence and excess denied them in their youth. And it is no different for the Kings of Leon. The starling dichotomy of that rigid upbringing to the rock and roll hedonism they would later embrace speaks volumes - and is a cautionary tale to unyielding parents everywhere. Denied TV, rock music, alcohol, cigarettes, these vices - and worse still - they would succumb to wholeheartedly when they eventually found success.
Video footage swings back and forth from clean-cut children praying with their families and opening presents by the Christmas tree to the band watching porn videos and smoking weed in their hotel rooms. Scenes of maddened preachers screaming from the pulpit to a throng of devout parishioners, their arms and voices raised in delirious adoration, is interspersed with footage of Kings of Leon concerts, the hysterical audiences worshiping the band with equal zeal. We learn that Caleb had thought to follow in his father’s shoes and become a preacher himself, until that man’s “double life” as an alcoholic shattered the boy’s dream, as well as putting in question his own faith: "As soon as I knew we were about to get a record deal I never slept. All night long I knew I was going to Hell, and I wasn't going to be a preacher."
Also telling are the scenes of infighting, rivalries and Caleb’s increasing erratic and domineering personality. One scene in particular has an outraged Nathan screaming at a volatile (and then cowed) Caleb: “You do not realize: you get drunk and you talk shit to everybody that made you who you are. Your band cannot fucking stand you 'cos you're a God damn piece of shit!”
Talihina Sky, The Story of Kings of Leon is a remarkable, no holds barred project and actually quite brave of the band to let their dirty laundry be aired so publicly. Yet it does much to answer the questions surrounding them; their insatiable need for acceptance by their peers, their thirst for success, for security, luxury, debauchery, and the close family ties that they still cling to. Whether it will do much to clear away their tarnished reputation it does at least give you a grudging respect for a flawed, yet hard-working and talented band desperately trying to make their mark on the world the only way they know how.