There is something about singer and guitarist John Mayer. Clearly, he is talented. He is a 19-time Grammy award nominated recording artist, and of those nominations, he has won 7, the last win in 2009 for his song “Gravity”,, for which he won the Best Male Rock Vocal Performance. But for some, his tabloid fodder exploits and his less-than-rock-n-roll persona fail to give him street cred. A new documentary, produced by Eastwood Allen called Someday I’ll Fly, highlights each and every accolade and milestone along Mayer’s road to success. And that’s really about it. If you’re after some sordid, little-known struggle in Mayer’s life, I’m afraid you won’t find it here.
The title “Someday I’ll Fly” is a line taken from his 2003 song “Bigger than my Body””, and for die-hard fans will fawn all over this doco. But if you’re merely interested in getting a little dirt on Mayer other than whatever we’ve been fed via Who Weekly, you won’t be flying very high here. It’s a good enough documentary, outlining Mayer’s upbringing in a fairly nice family in Connecticut, USA, and it’s here you think, “And does he suffer some terrible loss and fight his demons from here on in, thus empowering him to play guitar like a man possessed when he comes of age?”. Nope. By his own admission, Mayer says that he loved the Blues and was (and still is) a massive Stevie Ray Vaughan fan, and says, “Blues music framed in a way that a 13-year-old kid from the suburbs could understand”. The documentary is a blow-by-blow, concise (maybe too concise) account of Mayer’s journey through each of his album’s creations.
And yet, throughout the whole documentary, you wait patiently to hear of something raw about him, but it never comes out. There are no sordid tales of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, just little pearlers of Mayerisms like, “I appreciate the blues better than I can play it”.
And maybe that’s the thing about the whole John Mayer Juggernaught. In the era when Outkast released “Ms Jackson”, Incubus released “Drive” and Jay Z released “Izzo”, John Mayer comes out with “Your Body is a Wonderland”. He’s the good guy in the pop/rock world. He’s the vanilla flavour in your Neapolitan ice cream. He’s the … whatever, you get the picture. And if there’s anything Someday I’ll Fly shows, it’s that Mayer, without his full sleeve of tattoos or celebrity relationships, is a good musician, and he should be very proud of that.
The documentary very clearly shows that he loves music, much more so than anything else that comes with it, and that it’s the celebrity he probably isn’t so comfortable with. Not in a “shy-away-from-the-camera” kind of way, but in the “I’m-not-sure-how-to-deal-with-this-so-I’m-just-gonna-act-like-a-brat” kind of way. He explains that “Playing music to me is as close to having super powers as you can get”, and if you’ve ever seen his solo performance during Michael Jackson’s televised tribute concert, where he played an acoustic version of “Human Nature” that blew away Usher’s, or seen him live in concert playing “Come Back to Bed” and used his guitar to “speak” to the audience, you’ll know he’s a guitarist’s guitarist.
He loves Buddy Guy, The Police and Eric Clapton. He dated Kerry Perry, then dumped her. He dated Jennifer Aniston, then dumped her. He dated, quite famously, Jessica Simpson, then slagged her in an interview, then dumped her. You think, “What a douchebag”, but take it back when you hear “Daughters”. The documentary skims over his tabloid-related infamy and instead focuses on his musical ability. Which is probably a good thing, because his infamy doesn’t come from his graduation from the School of Hard Knocks, and it’s tiresome to judge this documentary on its lack of tell-all details, just because its subject matter is quite possibly an average guy with an above-average talent who happened to turn his dreams into a reality.
Despite this though, as documentaries go, it does a good job of stitching together the John Mayer Story from birth to now, but it lacks any insight from other people in his life, both professionally and personally, because it’s just Mayer’s voiceover we hear throughout the entire film. There are no interviews with his old or current producers. No interviews with high school buddies, old music teachers or even ex-flatmates. It would have been great to get an interview in there with Questlove or Dave Chappelle (imagine!) about the Chappelle’s Show skit where Dave Chappelle uses Mayer’s music to highlight what white people like and Questlove’s music to highlight what black people like. How did it feel, John, to play the theme song from Diff’rent Strokes at the end of the episode with the founder of OK Player and the drummer from The Roots?
For true John Mayer aficionados, it’s heart-warming to hear him speak so fondly of his fans. It’s great to see that music means so much to him that he would rather scale back his celebrity than burn out in the spotlight from overexposure. But for those interested in getting a little bit more beef on the man, it’s a bit like watching old episodes of WH1’s Behind the Music. But that’s fine, because at the end of the day, John Mayer’s longevity will rely more on his musical ability than any douchebaggery the celebrity world will want to heap on him. He has not lived a bad bad life, he has not suffered poverty or social class system struggles, and his music therefore doesn’t come from the desperation to escape his world, but rather from a lighter place – a pure love of music.
Review Score: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Someday I’ll Fly is streaming in full online now. Watch it below!