Shangri-La: (Showtime, Friday July 12 at 9 p.m.) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Sunday, June 7th, 2020  


Showtime, Friday July 12 at 9 p.m.

Jul 12, 2019 Web Exclusive
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Rick Rubin's career is so eclectic, so influential, so mind-blowingly successful, it's difficult to wrap your head around the fact that it belongs to just one person. It's fitting that the Showtime four-part docu-series Shangri-La is shot primarily at Rubin's mythical studio of the same name. The mystical location matches the person that Rubin has evolved into over many years.

A cross between Santa Claus during summertime and Merlin anytime, Rubin pads barefoot through the four episodes of Shangri-La. He has heart-to-heart conversations with musicians including Tyler, the Creator; Lil Yachty; Weezer's Rivers Cuomo; LL Cool J; Public Enemy's Chuck D.; and Beastie Boys' Mike D, to mention a few expected names. But he has more revealing and intense conversations with filmmaker David Lynch, David Blaine the magician, Laird Hamilton the surfer, and a cross section of mystics, yogis, and, most illuminating, author and entrepreneur Seth Godin, who seems to have a direct line into Rubin's psyche. Shangri-La shows the recording process for, among many others, Kate Tempest, Santana, Julian Casablancas, and Mark Ronson (producing a particularly harrowing session for Yebba). "This is the place you come to pull something out of yourself emotionally," says Ronson in Shangri-La.

But Shangri-La is not an advertisement for the studio, nor is it a biography on Rubin. It touches on the history of the space, which was built in 1976, featuring some classic footage with Scorsese and The Band, and the titular character for the television show Mr. Ed, who lived in a stable at Shangri-La when on hiatus. But to quote from Showtime's short description of the docu-series, it "focuses on creative conversation and the emotional side of music-making." Award-winning filmmaker and music documentary expert Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom, Keith Richards: Under the Influence) keeps this ethos at the center of Shangri-La. He uses abstract camera angles, creates psychedelic interactions with the Pacific Ocean, and whimsical sequences with a young boy portraying Rubin as a child, except with the same head and facial hair he has now. He also has an actor portrayal of young wild man Rubin, during his storied years starting Def Jam from his NYU dorm room, and Rubin as a marionette riding a Vespa down the Pacific Coast Highway.

The music-related knick-knacks and cultural artifacts you would expect Rubin to have collected over the years are housed behind closed doors in the extensive archives at Shangri-La. Here, they don't distract from the music making at the studio but provide a veritable museum of music history overseen by head archivist USC's Josh Kun, PhD. There is a look into this area in each episode of Shangri-La, but these archives require their own documentary.

With no extraneous items, no televisions and no clocks distracting the flow of creativity, Shangri-La illustrates the match between the studio and Rubin's clear and pristine energy. Bare and whitewashed, the space is repainted, its crevices vacuumed, the mixing board dusted with narrow brushes in preparation for each artist. Always in a white T-shirt and black shorts, we see Rubin lying down listening to music, swaying uncontrollably listening to music, all the while giving off an overwhelmingly zen vibe.

The anti-thesis of HBO's docu-series, the self-congratulatory The Defiant Ones, Shangri-La leaves you feeling at peace and ready to open yourself up to create. All four one-hour episodes are available on demand on Showtime starting on July 12, 2019. (

Author rating: 6/10

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Average reader rating: 6/10


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