Anthem: An American Road Story


When twenty-six-year-olds Shainee Gabel and Kristin Hahn quit their Hollywood jobs, packed up a borrowed car and hit the road, it was with the deeply felt conviction that somewhere, shrouded in the din of talk shows and tabloid headlines, they'd discover the real America, alive and well in all of its regions and demographics. Armed with a Powerbook, a couple of video cameras and the names and phone numbers of over two hundred Americans they viewed as visionaries or cultural icons, they embarked on a journey that ...
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When twenty-six-year-olds Shainee Gabel and Kristin Hahn quit their Hollywood jobs, packed up a borrowed car and hit the road, it was with the deeply felt conviction that somewhere, shrouded in the din of talk shows and tabloid headlines, they'd discover the real America, alive and well in all of its regions and demographics. Armed with a Powerbook, a couple of video cameras and the names and phone numbers of over two hundred Americans they viewed as visionaries or cultural icons, they embarked on a journey that would take them from historic New Orleans to the rainforests of Washington, from the skyscraper-lined avenues of New York City to the dusty roads of the Great Plains. Never did they imagine that they'd drive recklessly through the back roads of Aspen with Hunter S. Thompson, see the President of the United States lose his temper, be in the CNN newsroom on the day of the O. J. Simpson verdict, or survive the hottest day in Chicago history with America's chronicler, Studs Terkel. From cities and towns across the country, they gathered the thoughts of the people on themes ranging from the evolution of the American hero, the American dream and the future of the land to the nature of inspiration. In probing the current state of the American experiment, Gabel and Hahn capture a rich tapestry of ideas and cultures in one powerful collective voice they call ANTHEM. It is a unique, optimistic chorus that speaks of freedom, hope and vision as we enter into the twenty-first century.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The authors, 26-year-old apprentice filmmakers, cross the U.S. in planes and cars to ask "contemporary American visionaries" about their views of the American dream. They hope to produce a documentary film based on the interviews. Their cover letter to prospective interviewees explains that the goal of the film is "to compose an `anthem' about the promise and sickness of this country." Among those who accord them an hour or two are George Stephanopoulos, Andrei Codrescu, Geraldine Ferraro, Eugene McCarthy, John Updike, Rita Dove and their idol, Robert Redford. These and others respond with avuncular wisdom. Yet most of the interviewees are skeptical of the meaning of the American dream even while passionate about the country's still vibrant sense of freedom, opportunity and open spaces. The authors, who take turns describing their adventures, are engagingly nave, while their enthusiasms for the sights, sounds and people they encounter more than compensate for their lack of profundity. Photos. (Aug.)
Entertainment Weekly
Earnest, disarming account of two young women's freewheeling adventures on a caught-on-camera road trip.
Entertainment Weekly
"This roaming book of diaries and very pleasing. The two are so earnest, so honest're quickly disarmed."
"A highly personal if raw portrait of 'the unpublicized America.'"
Los Angeles Times
"Spirited and insightful"
Kirkus Reviews
The record of a four-month-long trip around America with a videocamera in 1995, in search of some defining ideas of American purpose and identity, by two young women who make very pleasant company. The virtue of the narrative (a feature-length documentary is also being released) is that Gabel and Hahn's winning sincerity gained them entry to a number of influential figures, from George Stephanopoulos to George McGovern, and from Robert Redford to Hunter S. Thompson, and their wide-eyed fascination with what they found clearly touched a number of their subjects. Some of their interviews (with the rap artist Chuck D and the environmental activist Wes Jackson, for instance) did provoke some frank answers. The drawback is that their questions tend to be somewhat simplistic, and their reactions to their surroundings are uninformed by much sense of history, focusing on matters (the extraordinary variety of American landscapes, life on the road) that may be new to them but that have been thoroughly covered by many before them. A work of modest but real charm.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380790142
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/1/1998
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 7.27 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Meet the Author

Kristin Hahn grew up in New Mexico, then moved to Los Angeles, where she spent a decade working in the television and film industry. With Shainee Gabel, Hahn wrote, produced, and filmed the acclaimed independent documentary Anthem and wrote the book based on the film. She currently lives in California with her husband and son.

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Read an Excerpt





We left the home of John Waters and headed toward two other iconoclasts known for blazing a dairy trail that had turned ice cream into a socially conscious and compassionate food group, while successfully redefining the responsibilities of business toward the community. We were drawn to the duo because they had managed to implement and sustain an unorthodox vision that challenged the self-interest of capitalism. In the spirit of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," Ben and Jerry were exercising their right to place as much importance on giving something back as they did on the bottom line.

The other thing that we found interesting about their Vermont operation is that Ben and Jerry's idea of supporting their community was not limited to the pastoral hills of Vermont but actually spanned the country with a variety of social contributions. The Ben and Jerry philosophy seemed right at home in Vermont, where communities are still very much intact and the Vermont ethos of know thy neighbor thrived in this world within a world.

Ben and Jerry were the first people to say yes to our interview re quest. I found it mildly amusing that as the catalyst responsible for putting us on the road in the first place, they were suddenly itching to blow us off. Jerry's eyes darted from left to right, distracted by the festival backstage action, while Ben attempted—fighting the noise of the live zydeco band ten feet away—to answer a few simple questions about the meaning of life in America. We were, after all, sitting together at Ben & Jerry's annual One World, One Heart Festival.

Sitting face-to-face with them, we realized that our initial call from Ben, in which he so kindly offered his advice and encouragement—inviting us to the festival to do an interview—would be valuable for not much else than the much-needed jump start. Having finally made it to Vermont, and being far enough down the road to never look back, we realized that Ben and his compadre Jerry were actually a mirage that had thankfully led us to water.

Thousands of people milled around the ski mountain that had been transformed into a mini-Woodstock: multiple stages featuring bands from all over the world, hemp merchandise booths, and of course—all-you-can-eat ice cream stands. It was an ambitious office party designed to thank their local community for its support. Although our time with Ben and Jerry was distracted and brief, they did respond positively to the questions we were asking, and they did confirm some of the ideas that we were exploring. That—and free Chunky Monkey—made the trip worth the effort.

The idea of community was one of the themes that had already surfaced in other interviews, in which people ad dressed the need for individual responsibility in order to sustain community. Ben stressed the importance of taking accountability out to the public sector, saying that he felt we weren't, as a culture, living out our values. He acknowledged that I the eighties were so focused on increasing personal wealth that a lot of people now looking at their lives and sensing that something is missing. I thought again about the phenomenal success of The Celestine Prophecy.

Ben and Jerry both believed, as did many others we met, that it was indeed possible to balance equality and capitalism if capitalism had its own system of checks and balances and if there was individual and community participation. It was apparent by the way they talked themselves and their business that they didn't consider their approach to be extraordinary, just necessary. Ben out the historical progression of influences our civilization, explaining that it us to be religion, then it was government, and then it was business. He went on to argue that when religion and government were the most powerful forces, had the purpose—the purported purpose—of working to improve the quality of life for everyone. But business has never had that purpose, operating within its own narrow self-interest. Ben believed business was going to have to start taking more responsibility for the society as a whole if we were indeed going to evolve. "If it doesn't happen," he said, "then I think there will be a revolution. And there should be."

I asked Ben and Jerry what Vermont—the landscape—gave to them personally

Ben said that one of the big draws was the cows. "Cows are very mellow creatures," he explained. Ben, a very mellow creature himself, went on to point out that the biggest things around Vermont and many other rural places were mountains. He felt that natural surroundings allowed people to see themselves realistically in proportion to the world and universe while maintaining a personal relationship to the land. In cities, he argued, the biggest things around are monstrous buildings that are man-made. "I think you can start to get the erroneous impression," Ben explained, "that people are a bigger part of the universe than they really are."

After a heartfelt handshake, the two practically skipped away. We left the festival grounds exhausted from our day in the mountain sun and crashing from the pints of heavy cream and sugar we had dutifully consumed.

Copyright ) 1997 by Shainee Gabel and Kristin Hahn

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Journal: Leaving Los Angeles 9
Doug Brinkley 11
Andrei Codrescu 27
Leonard Blair 34
James Redfield 38
Journal: A Whole New World - Dollywood, Tennessee 45
Rita Dove 48
Bill Siemering 56
John Waters 64
Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield 73
John Irving 76
Journal: A Shot Heard 'Round the World - Concord, Massachusetts 80
Michael Spinola 82
Michael Kellett 88
Journal: The Navigator and Mr. Magoo - New York, New York 98
Charlayne Hunter-Gault 99
George McGovern 104
Journal: Vietnam Veterans Memorial - Washington, D.C. 116
George Stephanopoulos 118
Journal: Chasing the Amish - Elkhart, Indiana 131
W. Deen Mohammed 134
Studs Terkel 140
Journal: Rain Machines in an Iowa Cornfield - Ames, Iowa 155
Dorothy Betts 158
Wes Jackson 163
Journal: The Importance of Being Grandpa 175
Warren Lewis 177
Marvin Booker 185
Journal: Good News and Grits at the Fig Tree Diner - Sallisaw, Oklahoma 189
Journal: An Unforeseen Breakdown in Oklahoma City 190
Journal: Misunderstood in Vega, Texas (or the Secret Life of a Speedster) 193
Jimmy Santiago Baca 195
Journal: Remembering Arizona 205
Journal: Fear and Loathing at the Owl Farm - Woody Creek, Colorado 208
Hunter S. Thompson 228
Journal: "Welcome to the Cowboy State" - Wyoming Border 235
John Perry Barlow 237
Journal: A Postcard from Yellowstone 252
Daniel Kemmis 254
Journal: Tea and Sympathy (and Glaciers) - Medora, North Dakota 261
Roger Zins 263
Winona Laduke 267
Micah Wagner and Ryan Parr 275
Michael Stipe 284
Journal: A Weekend with the Christian Coalition - Washington, D.C. 295
Jack Healey 302
Chuck D 311
Rebecca Walker 316
Ed Turner 320
William Foege 328
Ed Rendell 338
Geraldine Ferraro 343
Jim Adkisson 348
Tom Robbins 358
Willie Nelson 368
Robert Redford 377
Journal: Back in New Orleans 389
Journal: A New Chapter 392
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Interviews & Essays

On Wednesday, September 17th, welcomed Shainee Gabel and Kristin Hahn to discuss ANTHEM.

David from California:

Shainee Gabel: You missed a lot. We spent a week with Hunter, and very little was caught on camera. It is discussed in the book -- everything from dinner to parties.

Shainee Gabel: He also missed Hunter letting Shainee drive. Shainee wrote most of the chapter. It definitely captures Hunter very delicately.

Lisa Arietty from Long Island, NY: How much of an impact do you think the person's generation affected their answers to your questions?

Shainee Gabel: We found that people over 45-50 had a contextual experience in regards to Nixon and Watergate and Martin Luther King's assassination. Those people tended to answer the questions with that landscape in place. The younger generations were answering with those experiences as the aftermath.

^%=fonttexthead%^SG:^%=xfonttexthead%^ I agree with Kristin. In general it depends on how long you have been in America, ranging from five years to 80 years.

Remy H. from Austin, TX: How do you think people's view of America has changed over the past decade? How do you think this will change over the next couple of years?

Shainee Gabel: Well, I guess probably the biggest difference is what people have said. We are not trying to hypothesize. The '80s set a precedent for materialism taking over. The American dream became less about the nuclear family dream and more in line with Michael Milken's dream. And now, after the leadership has changed, things are kind of becoming more centered, and the environment is becoming more of a real issue. Human rights as well...that is probably what we heard about the most in regards to the last decade. As far as the next couple of years, we will cross our fingers.

Shainee Gabel: I can add that the last ten years have built into this crescendo into positive matters. We found there were a lot of people becoming more self-actualized, and I have a feeling that ultimately people will become so angry that they will get up and do something about it. That is what was happening when we were out there.

David Anderson from New York City: I was just wondering how long it took you to write this book? Which do you prefer, making movies or writing books?

Shainee Gabel: I want to preface that it wasn't our idea to write it so quick. We sold the book as we were going into the film editing process, and we got very wrapped up in editing the film. It took us a long time. By the time we got done, we realized the book was due in the near future so we had to lock ourselves in our apartment and write 15 hours a day. It took about three to four months of solid work, and then there was a very short period of editing. It is a first- to second-draft book, which makes it that much more real.

^%=fonttexthead%^SG:^%=xfonttexthead%^ Well, I guess I prefer making movies, and Kristin will prefer writing books, but it was an amazing experience, and both the book and movie are very dear to us. Shainee is developing a few feature films, and we both love documentary -- I could see us making a documentary together.

Gail from NY: Will there be another movie?

Shainee Gabel: As of right now we don't have any plans for a sequel ... that would be fun in a couple of years, or maybe in the year 2006.

Gary Brookstein from Philadelphia: Loved the book! When is your movie coming to Philly? Will the mayor be there?

Shainee Gabel: You are snagged! The movie will be opening in Philadelphia on October 8th, and yes, it is very possible that Mayor Rendell, who has an appearance in the book, might be coming to the premiere.

Shainee Gabel: Hi, Gary!

Mark from NYC: I assume that in your quest for interviews you got turned down a couple of times. I am curious to know if anybody that you really wanted turned you down for an interview. Who were you most excited to get an interview with?

Shainee Gabel: Mark, the list of disappointments is long. Everyone from Anne Richards.... Jimmy Carter was a big one, and Maya Angelou was another big one. We asked a number of people in many fields, so certainly a lot of them said no. As far as the second part of your question: I think I would say Studs Terkel, because he is the godfather of American chronicling.

Paul from Morris Plains, NJ: I saw the movie a couple of weeks ago and absolutely loved it! I am just curious who was your favorite interview? Why?

Shainee Gabel: It is impossible to pick a favorite interview. When you spend months in an editing room, these people become like your kids. Some stood out, but I can't say Willie Nelson is better than George McGovern. Every single day was an extraordinary experience.

Rachel from San Francisco, CA: What's next for the both of you? Any more books or movies?

Shainee Gabel: I am working on another book, an American chronicling book on another topic, and Shainee and I are entertaining other possibilities together, film stuff and possibly some kind of TV projects in relation to ANTHEM.

^%=fonttexthead%^SG:^%=xfonttexthead%^ In addition, I am working on a couple of narrative features, specifically adapting an unpublished novel for a screenplay.

Rheanne from Montreal: How did you choose who you were going to interview?

Shainee Gabel: We divided up categories of influence, from politics to education to science, and we went through and tried to fill it out with people we admired and also friends' recommendations. Our only criteria was that they had to be impacting American culture in some form. We tried to stay with people that were not the obvious choice.

Shainee Gabel: We gravitated to the mavericks.

Rory from Florida: Hey Shainee and Kristin, I have two questions for you both:

1) I am planning to write a book of commentaries very soon (I am already in the eighth grade and figured that December would be the perfect time to start). When I start writing this book, should I think of what commentaries I want to write? Do some research? What should I do?

2) How do you overcome writer's block?

Thanks a bunch!!!!

Shainee Gabel: Pick a topic to do commentaries on that you are incredibly passionate about. You don't have to be an expert, but passion is crucial because you will live with it for a long time. For writer's block, I suggest meditative swimming.

Randolph from Springfield, VA: I am just curious how this whole project started. Did you propose the idea to a film production company and a publishing house? Would you ever do something like this again?

Shainee Gabel: It started because Kristin and I wanted to make a film of our own, and we wanted to leave L.A., as anybody who has spent time in L.A. will want to do. We did not propose it to a film company or a publishing house; we only proposed it to our friends and parents. Kristin and I decided to do ANTHEM on our own and were lucky enough to get enough people to support the idea. We were able to borrow money, charge up several credit cards, and create a very complex phone tree and couches to sleep on across the country. I am sure we would do something like this again, preferably with a crew this time out, or at least a chef.

Kendra from New Orleans, LA: So what was Willie Nelson really like?

Shainee Gabel: He was just as he appeared to be: mellow, charming, gorgeous smile. He was very supportive of the project as well. Getting a yes from him was one of the easier ones to get, and we got it through his lawyer. Unlike most celebrities, he is aware of all requests sent in to him, so we were a big fan of his for being aware of what was going on. He had a great demeanor. He was really encouraging. We also spoke to him a lot about the American farmer, which he was very happy about. What do you think of the current state of America? Do you think things look optimistic? Loved the movie....

Shainee Gabel: Well, I would say that the one thing that we found across the board, regardless of demographics, was that there was no palpable defense of defeatism in the country, and that was something that we fully expected we would find. There was skepticism, realism, but for the most part, people had a really acute sense of being an American and what that meant. So I would say that the country, at least on a collective level, is in a better place than what we might have been hearing that it is. As far as the second part of the question, "optimism" is a strong word, but as everyone from Studs Terkel to John Waters put it, I am hopeful, definitely hopeful!

Shainee Gabel: Thank you for watching our film.

Karl from Denver, CO: If you had to do the whole project over again, what would you do differently?

Shainee Gabel: Win the lottery first, and date a photographer and bring him along.

Shainee Gabel: I don't know if I would do it a lot differently. We know more now than we knew then.

Jonathon from Hollywood, FL: What was the worst thing to happen to you guys on this trip? Did you ever second-guess yourself while on the road?

Shainee Gabel: The worst thing to happen to us was the first time we watched our footage. Technically, we realized how difficult it was going to be to be our own crew, and we needed to run our equipment better. It was actually pompous of us to think we could shoot the film.

Wendy from Charlotte, NC: Was it difficult to work together to write the book? Did you two ever disagree strongly on how a certain chapter should go? How did you resolve it?

Shainee Gabel: Shainee and I split the book up. Other than the introduction, we wrote the chapters separately. It was a very autonomous experience. We lived together for so long, so it wasn't a difficult experience. However, the film was a collaboration.

Jazzie from Earth: I assume you must have faced a couple of rude people in your quest for interviews. Is there any one incident that sticks out in your mind that pretty much represents a celebrity's "people"?

Shainee Gabel: Betty Ford's people were kind of apathetic. She left us a message and hung up the phone in the middle: She said, "I think Betty Ford is in Colorado for the summer (click)." My favorite one was Norman Mailer's assistant, who left us a message that he had to turn us down because he was working on a book similar to the one we were working on, and he said, "I guess great minds think alike."

Francine Miller from California: Is there anything that didn't make it into the book or the movie that you would have liked to have been included?

Shainee Gabel: There was a space issue -- we wanted the book to be digestible, we wanted to make the voices of Americans accessible to everybody. Miguel Algarin from the Nuyorican Poets' Cafe and Dave Foreman were two that didn't make it into the book. They have both made enormous contributions to the country, but some things are out of our control.

^%=fonttexthead%^SG:^%=xfonttexthead%^ There is a lot not in the movie as well, so I would say that everybody who is in the book and not the movie we wished were also in the movie.

Moderator: Goodnight and thank you.

Shainee Gabel: As a last comment, thanks to everybody for taking an interest in what ANTHEM has to say. It is a very grassroots project. Thanks for participating.

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